Hi friends! If you’re wondering about the title … well, Hudson originally sent me this post in 2019. I cringe even now thinking about it. I nearly (figuratively) died when I saw earlier this year I’d totally dropped the ball, so I contacted Hudson and was graciously given permission to post it now. (I will say … in May 2019 I was recovering and re-learning how to walk again so … it wasn’t as if I was totally just not doing anything…) But I still feel terrible. So – my apologies to the wonderful Hudson Lin, and thank you!
Diversity 201: We are not a monolith
By Hudson Lin
When I think of the words Asian American, I get a very specific picture in my mind. This person has yellow skin, grew up in North America, speaks English fluently and perhaps a second Asian language. This person fits most of the mainstream stereotypes of Asians in the West. This person looks like me.
But my mental picture of an Asian American is wrong. Because not all Asians have yellow skin, not all grew up in North America, not all speak a second language. Not all Asians are good at math and excel in school. Not all are quiet keep our heads down hard workers. Not all Asians are good at badminton.
I used to think it strange that a Chinese Canadian friend didn’t speak Chinese. I grilled her on it once, and she graciously explained that her family had been in Canada for generations and the language had petered out along the way. I couldn’t fathom how un-Asian her family was compared to mine, because in my mind if we shared the same skin color, then we should share the same experiences.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve rolled my eyes at people shouting Chinese at each other while in public. They’re not arguing, they’re just talking as if they’re in the middle of an airfield. You’re in Canada, I’d think at them, keep your voice down. I judged them without knowing who they were, where they were from, or what their story was.
But all those people are as much Asian American as I am. It took a while for me to understand that my experience as an Asian American (I use this term loosely because I’m actually Canadian) is not ubiquitous. In fact, there are as many different Asian American experiences as there are Asian Americans in the world. We are not a monolith.
The first Chinese immigrants came to North America in the mid-1800. They were manual laborers working in gold mines and blowing up mountains to build railroads. Other East Asians followed soon after to fulfill increasing demands for labor. South Asians arrived in the early 1900s to work on farms.
The descendants of these early immigrants have roots that run just as deep as any European settler. They may or may not speak the language of their ancestors. They may or may not still have relatives in Asia. Their connection with their Asian-ness may be just as tenuous as a white person’s connection with their European-ness.
On the other end of the spectrum, new immigrants from all parts of Asia arrive in North America every day. People of all ages and of all colors come looking for opportunities they might not have back home. Some will slip into the stream of life with ease, while others may find it more difficult to adjust. Some come with bank accounts lined with cash, some come with nothing. Language skills will vary.
The date of our arrival on this land is only one thing that differentiates us. Asia covers a wide swath of geography that spans half the world and it is impossible to reduce everything from Japan to Indonesia to Sri Lanka to Pakistan down to one word.
Some countries have been blessed with prosperity, others have been ravaged by war; some countries have seen both. Some countries are deeply religious, others are atheist; some countries host a multitude of beliefs. People bring all these unique threads of history with them and then weave in new threads found in this new land.
No two tapestries are the same. Each bears the fingerprint of its weaver. Let’s celebrate the diversity that is among us, because we are not a monolith.
Even though this post was written more than two years ago, I think it’s still so relevant today. And hopefully at least more people are realizing this – the multitudes of differences, and that all of us still have work to do. Thank you again for sharing, Hudson, and for your thoughtfulness.
So friends, what are your thoughts? Comments? Anything to add, anything you’d like to underline? Lessons learned? I think this topic is important. <3