One’s Experience On Being Asian-American at Villanova in 2019

Kathryn Tsai

A few weeks ago, an op-ed in the Villanovan was published on China.  It argues that the US should place social, political and economic sanctions on the dystopian Chinese dictatorship that is insidiously trying to take over the world.  As the article is based on misguided falsehoods about China instead of evidence, it perpetuates popular but harmful stereotypes about China.  It exaggerates the deeds of the Chinese government and labels it as brutal and tyrannical.  It assumes the U.S. is a bastion of freedom when it is not.  Ultimately, it tries to create an East versus West dichotomy, when in reality everyone exists on a spectrum in between.

Upon reading it, I questioned whether the author has ever been to China, has spoken to Chinese or Chinese-Americans about this issue, or understands contemporary China.  I would not be surprised if it antagonized international students and caused prospective readers to see Villanova as a close-minded and racist community.  In the future, there is a responsibility upon the Villanovan to review articles with discretion, whether they are conservative or liberal.  There is a responsibility for authors to express their ideas with maturity and a degree of cultural sensitivity.  There are ways to condemn certain actions by the Chinese government without alienating the people who reside under its authority.  

I do not intend to infringe on anyone’s right to free speech.  I am not here to argue U.S. foreign policy.  Even I do not agree with many decisions by the Chinese government.  I only implore a more nuanced and elevated tone to discussions.  Without this tone, the article is noise, nothing more.  But, as current events remind us every day, even noise can lead to prejudice and tragedy against vulnerable and innocent individuals.  

I did not always speak up about my cultural identity and “what it means to be Asian.”  My senior year of high school, I chose to attend a university that is not known for its ethnic diversity, declining offers to schools with higher Asian populations and schools with better name recognition in Asian communities.  Being one of so few Asian-American faces at this school, however, has warranted a mix of responsibilities.  To demonstrate I’m not a grade-grubbing Asian with an obsession with bubble tea and an aptitude for mathematics.  To convince my other peers that there’s nothing wrong with being one.  To correct misconceptions about my culture.  To defend my tiger parents against those who decry “my lack of childhood.”  To be “unique,” not “one-dimensional,” as I apply for summer internships and jobs and graduate schools.  To continue expanding my boundaries as a student and global citizen.  To maintain straight A’s but know that my value as a person is not tied to my transcript.

To inspire others to overcome the discrimination and exclusion and isolation that comes with being raised with fundamentally different values than everyone else in your major.  To earn the respect, recognition and validation that every college student seeks to an extent.  To be “that” Asian that can do everything and get along with everyone, even if it means hiding parts of my personality or losing ties to my identity in the process.  To be happy when I cannot express crucial parts of myself to people who would not understand.  To understand that the experience of being Asian-American at Villanova is more variegated and diverse than can be captured in a “24 Types of Asians at Villanova!” Buzzfeed listicle.  

Since coming to Villanova, I’ve done my best to rise to these responsibilities, but I’ve learned more importantly to take significant pride in being Asian-American — in my family, in my culture and in my heritage.  For the sake of this op-ed, I speak to the accomplishments of all ethnicities of Asian origin, including East Asians, Southeast Asians, and Pacific Islanders.  Asians and Asian-Americans, especially those in college, are at a unique crossroads in history.  2018 and 2019 have included so many watershed moments for Asian-American representation in film, in television, in comedy, in politics, in research, in literature, in the awards circuit, in the news and more.  

I’ve been so proud to see Andy Kim become the first Asian-American to represent New Jersey in the U.S. House of Representatives, to witness presidential candidate Andy Yang reach the minimum threshold of donors to qualify for the first Democratic primary debate in June 2019, to see all the achievements Asian-Americans have made in all three branches of government, on the federal, state and local levels.  I admire Jin Park, a senior at Harvard University, who has become the first DACA recipient to win the prestigious Rhodes Scholarship this year, as he speaks up for immigrants everywhere and voices his fear that he won’t be able to re-enter the U.S. after finishing his education abroad.

The media has already noted with glee all of the records broken in film and television by Asian Americans.  Personally, it has been enthralling to dissect Bao with my friends after Incredibles 2.  To celebrate Sandra Oh hosting the 2019 Golden Globes (AND being the first actress of Asian descent nominated for the Emmy for Leading Actress!) and Darren Criss winning an Emmy and Hasan Minaj host Patriot Act on Netflix.  To laugh as Awkafina and Oh host SNL.  To hear my classmates discuss Tidying Up with Marie Kondo.  To discover Marvel is greenlighting a movie starring an Asian superhero.  To know Disney’s Mulan live adaptation will feature an all-Asian cast.  To be inspired as To All the Boys I Loved Before and Crazy Rich Asians made romantic comedy history.  To hear the actors advocate for more Asian-American stories and role models in Hollywood.  The success of the film and even some of the criticism has also proved that there is a U.S. audience ravenous for more variety in Asian-American films and TV shows.  

As a group, Asian Americans still face many hurdles and controversy, from illegal immigration, to deportation of Vietnam War refugees, to the bamboo ceiling in the business and corporate world, to model minority stereotypes, to “Asian incels” that persist on Internet forums, to mental health issues and even to social and economic disparities within our own community.   In many communities, we are still frequently overlooked in discussions about race relations and affirmative action.  As Inkoo Kong discusses her 2018 Brow Beat article, “Hopefully…at least for the next few years, Asian Americans can stop worrying about mere visibility and consider what kinds of representations we’d like to see, and what we should see more of. Among the latter: queer Asians. Older Asians. Poor Asians. Southeast Asians. Non–English-speaking Asians. Undocumented Asians. Asians outside the context of Asian-white relations. Asians in dramas. Asians in reality shows. Meathead Asians. Scammer Asians. Messy Asians who love drama….True Asian American representation can only take place if it reflects the infinitely different ways Asian Americans can be.”

While the bar for “enough Asian-American representation” is not known, while being “Asian American” is an artificial identity, while representation on a screen is not enough to combat the prejudice and policies and hate crimes (re: the January 25 attack on a Chinese restaurant in Brooklyn) that happen outside the theater every day, I have watched solidarity emerge to strengthen and empower those within the Asian-American community. 

It is extraordinarily, breathtakingly exciting to be an Asian-American college student today.  I am constantly impressed by the numerous ways that Asian and Asian-American Villanovans explore their identities on campus and speak up on Asian issues.  So long have we been a “forgotten minority” that our spotlight feels long overdue.  We can only work to help others be more open and aware of the richness of our experiences and ideas on Villanova’s campus.