Fémmoirs: It’s time for Asian Americans to check our privilege

Dear Asian Americans: It’s time to check our privilege.

Sometimes, we all have the feeling that the world is going insane. This past week — especially in the wake of Hurricane Irma, the impending Hurricane Jose nearing the Caribbean islands, the 8.1 magnitude earthquake that shook southern Mexico and the political turmoil currently disrupting American society — I find it futile to write about myself and my struggles. (Note: I am not depressed; I’m simply melodramatic.)

My problems don’t compare to those of the people affected by natural disasters or the undocumented individuals who face even more uncertainty in their daily lives.

Last Tuesday, as President Donald Trump formally rescinded the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, I realized the position of privilege I lived in as an American citizen and how that privilege can easily be translated into willful ignorance through a decisive lack of action.

The DACA program has been a beacon of hope for 800,000 undocumented individuals — and possibly to even more of those who were seeking to apply. As an American citizen, I lacked exposure to and education about challenges facing immigrants in the U.S. naturalization process growing up. It was easy to think that the conversation surrounding DACA applies only to people unlike myself: a Vietnamese American, born and raised in the United States.

To Americans who are not of Asian descent, the word Asian American conjures up a specific image — arguably, a stereotype — of an individual. Asian American identities, however, are so uniquely complex and multifaceted that this categorization of a group of people who stem from the large Asian continent is unfair. The description fails to discount the economic disparities and, in some cases, hostilities between ethnic groups.

All the talk surrounding the Asian American community as successful, high-achieving and hardworking further disguises the reality that we are America’s fastest-growing immigrant group, with some emigrating from poor, second-world nations that lack sufficient resources to promote higher education. According to AAPI Data, about 1.6 million of the 11 million undocumented people living in the United States are Asians — and it’s frustrating to not see the Asian American community condemn a detrimental political action that destabilizes the future of its own undocumented youth.

Asian Americans have been silent, remaining on the sidelines of politics, for far too long. Although we are not as immersed in the conversation around illegal immigration as Latinos are or as profiled by the color of our skin as African Americans, we are not exempt from the same institutional barriers that they face.

The Migration Policy Institute estimates that Asians made up 10 percent of the population eligible for DACA enrollment. Although the bulk of DACA recipients originate from Mexico and other Latin American nations, a sizable number of recipients hail from South Korea, the Philippines, India and other Asian countries.

On Thursday, the USC Latina/o Student Assembly hosted a Defend DACA rally on campus to protest the White House’s announcement. Considering the aforementioned statistics, why, then, were no Asian American assemblies present to protest this issue?

And generally, why do so few Asian Americans advocate for political issues? Why are we not willing to condemn injustices within and outside our community? Why do we hesitate to stand in solidarity with other movements?

Many of our parents were immigrants to the United States and were barely able to navigate the sociopolitical potholes of the system; therefore, it was almost impossible for them to be advocates in political movements they didn’t understand.

This generation is now responsible for the next wave of Asian American activism, but it’s disappointing to see our lack of political participation and advocacy compared to our minority counterparts.

It’s time for Asian Americans to check our privilege — the privilege of silence and willful ignorance that has coined us the phrase “model minority.”

Terry Nguyen is a sophomore majoring in journalism and political science. She is also the news assignments editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Fémmoirs,” runs every other Monday.


6 replies
  1. John
    John says:

    DACA, as it was implemented, is unconstitutional. If you want it, it cannot be an executive order. It must be legislation.

  2. Kiwi
    Kiwi says:

    Social justice activism is dominated by non-Asians, so Asians are expected to support other races while they get attacked for supporting their own causes (eg: SCA5). Because Asians are seen as “privileged”, they are constantly told their problems are non-existent or don’t matter.

    Terry Nguyen sees nothing wrong in stereotyping Asians as a model minority and calling them “privileged” yet if someone stereotyped Blacks as musical and athletic and called them “privileged”, she would quickly turn around and condemn that as racist. People like the author are part of the problem.

  3. MarkG
    MarkG says:

    I wonder if Asian Americans — like people of other races — do not get politically involved because there are divisions not only among Asian groups (E Asian, SE Asian, S Asian)…but because there is a division in how much we support other POC.

    Whether we Asian Americans support other POC sometimes seems to break down like this:

    (1) “if my family, Asian friends, or I were discriminated against, bullied or worse by Group X, then Group X is my biggest threat and biggest enemy, bigger than Group Y.”

    (2) “those of you who ally with Group Y, why don’t you look at how Group X bullies/discriminates against/kills Asians too”

  4. Khoi Nguyen
    Khoi Nguyen says:

    Generally, I find the lack of empathy in the Asian American community toward other races is quite disturbing. It is saddening that older generation of Asian immigrants refused to speak out for what they believe in because they are afraid that it would no long make the the “model minority.” That is the problem with Asian American community; they are afraid of criticism and feedback. Younger generations should change that because the community should face the reality as a whole rather than keeping up our pride and reputation.

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