by Racialicious Special Correspondent Latoya Peterson
And here I was thinking the AZN network was dead. I heard about all the layoff and industry shakeups and noticed when the channel was banned from my regular line up to reside in the 200 block which is not included in my cable plan. (Off topic – I hate Comcast.)
With a heavy heart I bid adieu to The Bridge, Popcorn Zen, and What’s Up Thailand and went back to surfing the internet for my music video/short film fix.
So, imagine my shock when I got an email saying that AZN Network had a blog. Titled Outspoken, the blog encourages viewers to “unite in a new movement of Asian American thoughts.”
After paging through the archives, I ended up adding the blog to my bloglines reader. While there are lots of excellent writing to be found on the blog – covering a multitude of topics – here are excerpts from three of my favorite posts:
Everything I learned about Asian Americans in my K-12 education can be summed up in one sentence: Chinese laborers built one half of the Transcontinental Railroad. I accepted that that was all there was. Here it was, my people’s greatest and sole contribution to the country: getting exploited.
I remember that the Chinese were good workers willing to risk their lives blowing up mountains to make way for train tracks. Some died from the dynamite blasts. They were well-behaved in contrast to the Irish workers who drank and gambled. Because of their diligence, the Chinese finished their half of the railroad before the Irish.
This is a pretty racist version of history to learn in the fourth grade. While the stereotyping of Irish people is obvious, the depiction of the Chinese laborers seems like a compliment. “Positive” stereotypes are deceptive like that. Good, diligent, and hard-working is the model minority stereotype about Asian Americans, which shades how elementary school kids learn Asian American history. Everyone who goes through the American education system gets the standardized version of U.S. history—from which Asian Americans are largely absent.
Asian American Studies gives the alternative to the standard curriculum. I re-learned about the Transcontinental Railroad in Asian American History class. I think my mouth fell open when the professor cited Ronald Takaki and told us that the Chinese railroad laborers organized a strike in 1867. They demanded the same wages and hours as the Irish laborers. What? I thought they sacrificed their lives setting off dynamite inside mountains so America would be the first to have a transcontinental railroad? Oh, this makes so much more sense.
Recovering this information reversed everything I knew about Asian Americans (my people!) from years of U.S. History—all one sentence of it. They weren’t entirely obedient. They contested their exploitation. The strike wasn’t successful, but they had fought back. I’m addicted to this empowering kind of information. I’ve been taking Asian American Studies for a year, and have had the privilege of getting five hundred thousand more sentences about Asian Americans (rough estimate).
I’ve been performing and living out of my suitcase for a few years now and I’ve been feeling rather gypsy-like, and everywhere I go, people never fail to ask ~ where are you from? Where’s home?
My stock answer has been that I’m a Korean-American homegirl from Queens. As if that will explain the accent, the swagger, and the Triple Five S(e)oul to curious strangers. But being abroad amongst Kiwi, Irish, Zulu, and Trinidadian friends makes me really examine my cultural makeup and national identity. Who am I? I could never simply answer “American”, because while I am a U.S. citizen, Korea is still my split motherland.
Which Korea? Both Koreas. When people ask me, ‘North or South?’ I always say ‘both’, because it’s important for me that folks remember that Korea was one country for more than 5,000 years and has only been divided for about fifty. And with our awareness, it’s possible to work towards Korean reunification in our lifetime. My grandfather was born in Pyongyang, way before North Korea was dubbed an axis of evil, so when you look at me, you’re also looking at a North Korean face.
You’re looking at the face of a Queens girl too. In a way, it’s as important for me to rep Queens as it is for me to represent Korea, because my neighborhood has colored my personality so much and is partly responsible for making me the gum-snapping, hot-tongued homegirl I became.
“We don’t have your size.”
I had barely set foot inside and the shopkeeper blurted out the words in Korean. Literally, the words she used translate to mean, “As for us, your size does not exist.” Not the best way to start a sales pitch.
One of the biggest culture shocks for me when I went to Korea this summer was the way Korean people judged me by my body type – which is curvy but not plus-sized by American standards.
My 5’6”, size 10 body felt huge next to the 5’0”, size 0 girls I stood next to on the subways. I was afraid if the trains stopped suddenly, I might crush the person standing next to me. I felt like my size gave me away instantly as being American. I hadn’t felt that self-conscious about my body since middle school.
In the States, I buy clothes in size medium at most stores, and my pant size is smaller than the American average for women (size 14). In Korea, I had a hard time finding clothes that fit at all, especially from street vendors, where most of the items are “one-size-fits-all.”