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Truxal Library Special Topic Guide: AAPI (Asian American and Pacific Islander) Visibility & Identity

by Mea Lee

Asian Pacific American Heritage Month

Introduction to special topic library guide

'Asian American' is an ambiguous term that does not explain the cultural diversity of the AAPI (Asian American Pacific Islander) community. Too often, the AAPI community is not visible enough, but when they are, their identities are not addressed. Truxal Library investigates this critical issue in order to support AAPI visibility and identity and celebrates AAPI Heritage Month.

What It Means To Be Asian in America

The following quotes are excerpted from the Pew Research report:

  • I guess … I feel like I just kind of check off ‘Asian’ [for] an application or the test forms. That’s the only time I would identify as Asian. But Asian is too broad. Asia is a big continent. Yeah, I feel like it’s just too broad. To specify things, you’re Taiwanese American, that’s exactly where you came from.
    • U.S.-born woman of Taiwanese origin in early 20s
  • You know, I spoke English fine. But there were certain things that, you know, people constantly questioning you like, oh, where are you from? When did you come here? You know, just asking about your experience to the point where … you become fed up with it after a while.
    • Immigrant woman of Filipino origin in mid-30s
  • There are just so many different subgroups of Asians and all that stereotype gets lumped into all Asians. But each Asian ethnicity has their own struggles. When you just lump in that one stereotype with the whole, it’s very difficult for the people underrepresented to kind of fight. So I think it’s a tough issue. I don’t even know how to answer.
    • U.S.-born man of Chinese origin, 30
  • I belong to the [LGBTQ] community … before, what we only know is gay and lesbian. We don’t know about being queer, nonbinary. [Here], my horizon of knowing what genders and gender roles is also expanded … in the Philippines, if you’ll be with same sex, you’re considered gay or lesbian. But here … what’s happening is so broad, on how you identify yourself.
    • Immigrant woman of Filipino origin in early 20s
  • Yes, as for me, I hold that I am Khmer because our nationality cannot be deleted, our identity is Khmer as I hold that I am Khmer … so I try, even [with] my children today, I try to learn Khmer through Zoom through the so-called Khmer Parent Association.
    • Immigrant man of Cambodian origin in late 50s
  • In my opinion, no matter how multiethnic a country is, in the end … I don’t think they can be blended in. People even tell my husband, who was born and raised in the U.S., that he speaks good English. Even though my husband was born and raised in the United States, he has Asian skin, so he hears that he is good at English and he is treated like a stranger. … I’m a minority and have a boundary between races that cannot be crossed, but sometimes I ignore it, have a job and friends.
    • Immigrant woman of Korean origin, 31 (translated from Korean)
  • Now if I go to my work and do show my Bengali culture and Asian culture, they are not going to take anything out of it. So, basically, I have to show something that they are interested in. I have to show that I am American, [that] I can speak English fluently. I can do whatever you give me as a responsibility. So, in those cases I can’t show anything about my culture.
    • Immigrant woman of Bangladeshi origin in late 20s
  • I definitely consider myself Japanese American. I mean I’m Japanese and American. Really, ever since I’ve grown up, I’ve really admired Japanese culture. I grew up watching a lot of anime and Japanese black and white films. Just learning about [it], I would hear about Japanese stuff from my grandparents … myself, and my family having blended Japanese culture and American culture together.
    • U.S.-born man of Japanese origin in late 20s
  • I would also say [that I am] Indian American just because I find myself always bouncing between the two … it’s not even like dual identity, it just is one whole identity for me, like there’s not this separation. … I’m doing [both] Indian things [and] American things. … They use that term like ABCD … ‘American Born Confused Desi’ … I don’t feel that way anymore, although there are those moments … but I would say [that I am] Indian American for sure.
    • U.S.-born woman of Indian origin in early 30s
  • As soon as I arrived, I called myself a Burmese immigrant. I had a green card, but I still wasn’t an American citizen. … Now I have become a U.S. citizen, so now I am a Burmese American.
    • Immigrant man of Burmese origin in mid-30s
  • [I used to think of myself as] Filipino, but recently I started saying ‘Filipino American’ because I got [U.S.] citizenship. And it just sounds weird to say Filipino American, but I’m trying to … I want to accept it. I feel like it’s now marry-able to my identity.
    • Immigrant woman of Filipino origin in early 30s
  • I have to convince people I’m Asian, not Middle Eastern. … If you type in Asian or you say Asian, most people associate it with Chinese food, Japanese food, karate, and like all these things but then they don’t associate it with you.
    • U.S.-born man of Pakistani origin in early 30s
  • As an Asian person, I feel like there’s that stereotype that Asian students are high achievers academically. They’re good at math and science. … I was a pretty mediocre student, and math and science were actually my weakest subjects, so I feel like it’s either way you lose. Teachers expect you to fit a certain stereotype and if you’re not, then you’re a disappointment, but at the same time, even if you are good at math and science, that just means that you’re fitting a stereotype. It’s [actually] your own achievement, but your teachers might think, ‘Oh, it’s because they’re Asian,’ and that diminishes your achievement.
    • U.S.-born woman of Korean origin in late 20s
  • There is a joke from foreigners and even Asian Americans that says, ‘No matter what you do, Asians always do the best.’ You need to get A, not just B-plus. Otherwise, you’ll be a disgrace to the family. … Even Silicon Valley hires Asian because [an] Asian’s wage is cheaper but [they] can work better. When [work] visa overflow happens, they hire Asians like Chinese and Indian to work in IT fields because we are good at this and do not complain about anything.
    • Immigrant man of Thai origin in early 40s
  • I always get that question of, you know, ‘Where are you from?’ and I’m like, ‘I’m from America.’ And then they’re like, ‘No. Where are you from-from?’ and I’m like, ‘Yeah, my family is from Pakistan,’ so it’s like I always had like that dual identity even though it’s never attached to me because I am like, of Pakistani descent.
    • U.S.-born man of Pakistani origin in early 20s

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Library photo courtesy of Barry Halkin Photography