voices*

In March, we asked individuals across the world what their Asian-American identity meant to them. We received responses from California, New York, Illinois, to India, Korea, the Philippines; we heard voices of brazenness and introspection, humor and solidarity, unity and uniqueness.

Here is what they said. 

quotes may be slightly edited for clarity or grammar

quotes may include graphic language 

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notes on
identity

 

“But before any of us are white, black, or Asian, we are people first. I am a person before I am Asian.”

–Jing

"I think it's really important for [Asian-American transgender] people like me to be vocal about my identity, too. Some of the most well known Asian American trans masculine people are half white—which innately gives them more traditionally masculine forms (i.e. taller, more body hair, etc.), if you think about that in a binary way. I feel like that image gives young Asian trans boys a false idea of what they desire to look like to be "passing" as a masculine person, or at least it did for me for sometime. I'm 5'2" and virtually hairless because of genetics, and there really isn't anything I can do about that. I'm also quite emotional, sensitive, expressive, loud, and bold, which I feel like I haven't seen from many trans masculine people overall. Maybe I just live under a rock, I don't know. But I want to be a role model for young Asian trans masculine and nonbinary people who can see and feel themselves in me, because I used to want a role model like that too. I never found one, but I realized that I don't need anyone to be who I want to be. I am my own role model. But I just also think it's a nice thing for young people to find comfort and connection in someone, because it's really scary in the early stages of finding yourself when you think no one else feels the same way you do."

–Leo Xander Foo, 17

Read our full interview with Leo here

See Leo's full photography portfolio and statement featured on visions here

“I want the Asian-American narrative to be a part of the American story. I am tired of being an honorary American only when it is convenient to the agenda of the majority. I am a child of immigrants. I am a product of two unique cultures. I am an Asian-American."

–Anonymous submission, 16

 

"My Asian-American identity has taken maaaany different shapes throughout my life. My father is Dutch/Swiss, and my mother is Chinese, from Malaysia—where all of her family still lives. When I was a kid, my parents always used to ask me if I felt more white or more Asian, and I would flash them an exasperated look, and say, 'I feel like Gabby.' Little did I know, exasperation is the theme song for the Biracial American Experience!"

–Gabby, 22

Read our full interview with Gabby here

 

“I can be classified as 华侨, meaning a person of Chinese ethnicity living in a country outside of China. Coincidentally, the second letter sounds like the Chinese word for “bridge.” As a child of immigrants, it feels like I’m on a bridge between my Chinese roots and my “American” future. This is why my art attempts to understand two things: my individual experience with my Chinese heritage, and my role as a Chinese American in this day and age.”

–Angela Bi, 18

See Angela Bi's full art portfolio and artist's statement featured on visions here

“My self-esteem plummeted when I started school and noticed that I looked different from everyone else, and I spent years of my life wishing I had all the Eurocentric beauty features. I spent countless nights obsessing over wanting my wide nose and my flat side profile to change.”

-Khylle Ilagan, 17

“Being an Asian-American is like being a girl: it’s simply part of who I am; it’s something I generally don’t think of until a mirror is held up to me; it’s a mental safety net reminding me that no matter what kind of existential crisis I’m going through—teen life, mid-life, nihilistic, etc.—there’s at least one part of my identity that I can be sure of. It is an unrestricted comfort zone where I find myself, my family, my cultures (plural).”

–Sarah, 16

 

“I’ve shared a thought that I think many Asian immigrants’ children have: ‘I want to be white.’”

–Ambika, 17

 

“Only by coming together and sharing our stories can we make others see us as individuals of flesh and blood and not as a marginalized minority that can be disregarded.”

–Sandra Hsu, 55

Read our full interview with Sandra here

See Sandra Hsu's full art portfolio and artist's statement featured on visions here

“It sounds pretty cliché but since I'm technically a first generation immigrant, I've literally had to adjust to so many changes from language barriers to social customs (dining manners, greetings) to something trivial like using Fahrenheit instead of Celsius. So I'd really like to hope I've become a very understanding person because of my personal experience.”

–Raymond, 17

 

"I'm continually trying to understand what Asian-American identity means to me. Because for a long time, I didn't embrace my Asian heritage, as I often subscribed to more white American culture. It wasn't until my late teens and early 20s that I truly started to embrace the diversity and vibrancy of my Asian roots. It's still tricky to define Asian-American identity and navigate between two very different cultures. So many within the Asian diaspora, myself included hadn't allowed ourselves to previously hold space to fully explore what that means. But I've seen that gradually shift this past year and especially in the last few months. More Asian-Americans are speaking out and paving a different path than our predecessors. So currently I define Asian-American identity as being colorful, dynamic and resilient."

-Rei Lo, 26

See Rei's full artwork and statement featured on visions here

“Growing up I felt like my Korean-American identity was something I didn’t want to flaunt for fear of being categorized as nothing more than an ‘Asian person.’ I desperately wanted to detach from the stereotypes to prove something to others. It was easy to ignore my cultural identity because I spoke English and so much of my life was defined by Western elements of culture.”

–Grace, 17

“My Chinese-American identity is everything I am. It represents where I am from, where I am now, and where I am going. It makes me unique, but also unifies me and binds me to a larger community. Without my Chinese and American identities I would not be who I am today.”

–Christine

 

“​Like many children of immigrants, I was taught the value of good work ethics by watching my parents toil and overcome endless hardships. I believe I am celebrating my Asian-American culture and honoring my parents as well. My identity is everything to me, its what defines me, its who I am. Its is what built me. I am proud of who I am.”

–Anonymous submission

 

“Being Asian-American in 2021 is a mixed bag: you walk a fine line between both parts of your identity trying not to compromise either; and it comes with its own trials. A large hurdle for me has been trying to find the line that divides cultural acceptance and appreciation from cultural appropriation. But to me, being Asian-American means that I have to, now more than ever, be a voice to push for change and understanding so that the future to come for the next generation of all Americans is brighter and better.”

–Amy, 18

“I am adopted, so identifying with my Chinese heritage is always something I struggle with. I think throughout this pandemic, I've had time to reflect on what it means to me to be an Asian-American. As someone who is adopted, I feel like because I’m not necessarily culturally aware, I can’t represent the community ‘properly’ through my ideas. Still, I think the increase in anti-Asian sentiments throughout the past year has reminded me that I am still a part of a larger community, and it kind of made me change my tune to a feeling of belonging.”

–Sam Balaban, 17

“I was born almost immediately after my parents immigrated so i was raised in a very traditional environment. I played piano did extra math, did art, had micromanaging parents—the whole package deal. My friends never bothered asking me to hang out because they knew I would be busy and say no. People avoided me during lunch because they said my food smelled bad. I spent hours practicing piano everyday etc etc. Everything accumulated and really led me to despise being Asian-American, and I used to wish that I was white so that I wouldn’t have these burdens.”

–Andrea Ma, 18

 

"It has taken me a long time to come to terms with my identity as an Asian-American. I was definitely ashamed and embarrassed of being Asian, having grown up in two predominantly white towns, where I was often made fun of the food I brought to school and the way I looked. Racist jokes would also get tossed around me all the time as if they were nothing."

–Alan Wang, 17

 

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notes on
hate

 

“More recently though, I have seen numerous headlines with hate crimes done against Asians. It broke my heart and I was so shocked. I knew that hate crimes were increasing against Asians since the start of the pandemic, but why was it only now being publicized? On one hand I was glad to see people start to realize the seriousness of racism against Asians but on the other hand what took so long? I used to be so proud of being Asian American and I still am to this day, but these days I am more scared of going out in public, I try not to attract any attention to myself and I constantly worry for my grandparents, who live in New York. The fact that I went from being afraid of the coronavirus to being more afraid of getting beat up, raped, killed, as an Asian American throughout the pandemic is really hard to think about and process.”

–Katie Ko, 16

Read our full interview with Katie here

See Katie's full dance portfolio and statement featured on visions here

“The undertones of racial othering of Asian-Americans in this country are more prominent than ever, exacerbated by changes in the current stage of the world. It’s easy to pick on the vulnerable, the innocent just because they look or act a certain way.”

–Jing

 

“People think Asians are the cause of this virus. They are wrong.”

–Anonymous submission

“My family doesn't like to talk about the anti-Asian violence. We don't talk about it at all, besides brief expressions of disgust when we see it on the news. We never really talk about our fears at all—we're not a family to be open in that type of verbal way. But I know what we feel. Of course we're scared. I'm scared for my parents because of how they're older, and the elderly are the usual targets of the hate crimes. I know my mom is scared; she hasn't left my neighborhood or my private family proximity in a while. I know my parents worry for me too, though, as they told me to watch my back whenever I go out. You never know what can happen. My irrational invasive fears of being randomly shot or stabbed don't seem too irrational anymore.”

–Leo Xander Foo, 17

“The recent surge in anti-Asian Hate Crimes are truly frightening. My 'irrational' fear of going outside as a young, Chinese woman is suddenly becoming rational. Never have I been more uneasy about leaving my home. I should not have to feel this way. Asians across the country should not have to feel this way. Minority groups will not go on feeling this way. This nation, let alone this state has no room for anti-BIPOC rhetoric. We as a collective need to do better, whether that means signing petitions, being an ally in absence of minority groups, or organizing rallies.”

–Rachel

 

“There was one case where a Filipino lady was attacked in New York. This incident terrified my family and me because my mom is a Filipino woman who also works in New York. But even though the people are being hurtful towards Asian, it just makes me even prouder to be one because it shows how strong we are.” 

–Nichole Gonzales, 15

Read our full interview with Nichole here

“I have gotten more concerned about the treatment of Asian-Americans. These attacks on Asian-Americans are harrowing.  if the current mentality of the country remains stagnant, I feel terrified for the future generations of Asian-Americans.”

–Kalp, 17

 

“Seeing other people's grandparents being beaten on the street feels eerily close when I think of my grandmother who goes on daily walks and could be the next target for a hate crime.”

–Juliet

See Juliet's full photo and statement featured on visions here

“For the past year we’ve taken precautions out of fear of these occurrences happening to us, trying to stay home as much as possible. In the times that we do go to Manhattan, we avoid using the subway despite it being the most accessible form of transportation. Just this past weekend there was an AAPI rally held in Manhattan’s Chinatown that I wanted to go to to show my support for my community. My parents were heavily against me going and refused to allow me out of fear of there being a repeat of what happened in Atlanta.”

–Khylle Ilagan, 17

 

“With the massive increase in anti-Asian hate crimes and attacks, my family and I were honestly scared to go out in big public spaces out of fear of being attacked.”

–Alan Wang, 17

“It would be really nice if there was no Asian hate, but unfortunately, that's far from the truth. Some students at my school have been mean to me in ways that are often racially motivated. I must confess that I have sometimes tried to rationalize this by thinking of other reasons they might have had for bullying me, but in the end it always comes down to race. I have reported the perpetrators to the school administrators, but unfortunately, I believe that this will not be the last time this will happen in my lifetime.”

–J.L., 16

 

“My Asian-American Identity means a lot to me; over the years I did not really acknowledge being Asian, as I was taught to suppress my culture to avoid confrontation with others. I was always faced with hate; people using slurs or squinting their eyes at me. I remember a specific incident where I brought ethnic food into school, and my "friends" called it stinky, disgusting, and vile, right before throwing it into the trash. But despite this, I am now slowly learning to expand my knowledge on my background, and love my culture. However, just as the pandemic began, my love for my culture began to become an insecurity, as people would insult blame Asian-Americans for the virus, just because of its origin.”

–Hanna Elise Lee, 15

Read Hanna's full poem and statement featured on visions here

“Non-Asian people in public also seem to stare at me and my family more when we go out which always made me self-conscious, ashamed, and frustrated all at once. However, this has also made me realize how fear and ignorance can control people and sometimes make them irrational; but this is not an excuse to harass and oppress people, especially those of minorities. I truly hope that a lot of this will die down soon, but I know that there will be much more prejudice towards the Asian community even after the pandemic is over.”

–Jessica Han, 15

“Throughout the pandemic, we’ve increasingly seen hate crimes and racism against Asians go up. This only made me realize how much of it still masked and normalized. People will say ‘Stop Asian Hate’ and then continue to make casual racist jokes and tell us it’s just a joke. My relatives started to say ‘Be careful, you might be hate crimed’” and that’s scary to think about. As well as people who think that racism against Asians didn’t exist before COVID, when it’s only now prevalent because of how obvious it’s become. I’ve always felt out of place in American and my Asian culture because I wasn’t enough of either because of the shame I had of being Asian. I still struggle with it, but I am trying to embrace my Asian culture now.”

–Rachel Wanagosit

“Disturbed, disappointed, and definitely a little more cautious going outside and in public now.”

–Michelle Ji, 17


“Watching and reading about these horrid hate crimes and violence directed towards the AAPI community breaks my heart. And sadly, this isn't something new. The recent spike is simply the release of deep-rooted racism existent within our country's history and society. I fear for my Asian-American friends, their families, and the countless others who work hard to serve, lead, innovate, and protect our country.”

–Navya, 17

See Navya Sinha's artwork and full artist's statement featured on visions here

“Once the pandemic hit, I felt like I had taken 100 steps back in my journey to become proud and appreciative of my Asian identity.  It has been really frustrating and exhausting seeing headlines popping up every single day of Asians being attacked, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic and people pointing fingers at Asians for starting this pandemic and spreading the virus.”

–Alan

 

“Sometime around March of 2020, when people were in a hurry to restock their supply of toiletry, food, and other household items, my parents and I went to a supermarket to look for hand soap. I was alone, looking for the isle that had hand sanitizer, and suddenly I felt that I had choked on my own taste buds. Just like how any bodily function works, I coughed. I had a mask on properly and had coughed into my elbow. But when I was done, the old man that was 2 yardsticks away from me had shoot me one of the dirtiest look. I didn't say anything and quickly walked away, I couldn't help but think "was it my fault that I didn't hold that cough?". Well no, it was not my fault, but the look was definitely not very friendly. It doesn't take that much to educate yourselves and find out that just because some people are Asian or look Asian doesn't mean that they are a walking virus.”

–Anonymous submission

 

“My family and I’s reaction to the violence in Atlanta was sad and worried. My mom and I have gone to the same family owned Asian nail salon since I was young, and I was not only scared for them, but was also scared of the constant paranoia that someone I love or even myself could be beaten and hurt at any moment.”

–Nichole Gonzales, 15

“I am deeply horrified that these blatant acts of discrimination are still happening. It's 2021, and Americans are still committing acts of violence against other fellow Americans. I understand the pandemic originated in China and everything, but physically and verbally harming Chinese Americans is not going to make the pandemic go away. Ultimately, since I consider it impossible to entirely prevent discrimination against Asians, or any other marginalized minority, because the world will never be perfect, what we should be doing is teaching these groups to stand up for themselves and not let the nastiness get to them.” 

–J.L., 16

 

“As the pandemic hit, Asians were put at fault and it became difficult to go out without fear of being judged or blamed. Politicians and social media portrayed the coronavirus a result of careless acts in Asian countries, which made it seem like we were all responsible. Even so, I have never felt any less about my race and who I am.” 

–Emma Chu

 

“Following the tragic shooting in Atlanta, my family and I have been outraged as to why such a monster would want to exterminate our people as we have personally done nothing wrong. The fact that the origin of the coronavirus was in China does not necessarily mean that we were the ones responsible for spreading it to America.”

–Tim Kuang, 17

 

“COVID-19 created a hyperawareness in me of my Asian-American identity. The wave of anti-Asian racism that spiked when the pandemic began made me realize that my family and I were targets because of our racial identities. While the coronavirus' impact on Asian-Americans makes me scared, I've never felt more connected to my culture as I've made an active effort to represent and defend the Asian-American community.”

–Juliet, 15

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notes on
activism

 

“No matter how much hate is thrown towards us, we will always stand back up.”

–Nichole Gonzales, 15

 

“I don’t know when or where I learned to feel relieved when people said I looked white, or nervously laugh along when people made fun of my mother’s accent — but it wasn’t until college that I finally began to undo that understated, internalized, sugary sweet Midwestern racism.”

–Gabby, 22

“We are the overlooked minority, denied citizenship until the twentieth century, herded into internment camps, passed over for promotions and pushed down, all without protest, because for generations we just wanted to belong. No longer. It’s time for all of us to speak up, step up, and stop being invisible.”

–Sandra Hsu, 55

“The numerous rallies that people have organized have given me hope - hope that us Asians are breaking out of that shell and having the strength to speak out and protect our community against racism and xenophobia. Racism is ultimately taught and is systemic, so I personally think an effective way to tackle racism against the AAPI community is through education. There are many great Asian authors out there, like Grace Lin, who have written amazing children's books that tell authentic Asian stories. If we can get elementary schools to include these books into the curriculum, and encourage young Asian kids to be proud of their identities through reading these books and sharing their cultures with their classmates, I think we can definitely make some impactful progress.  In addition, especially in history classes, students definitely need to learn more about the history of oppression against Asians in the US - not just about the Chinese Exclusion Act or Japanese Internment. Ultimately, if Asian kids are old enough to experience hatred and racism, the other kids of the same age deserve to learn about it. The recent spike in anti-Asian hate crimes shows how much more work and progress needs to be done and achieved before members the Asian community that have found their way here, as well as future generations, can feel as if they are valued as people.”

–Alan Wang, 17

"Several months have passed and I still haven't fully processed the violence that unraveled in Atlanta. When I recall the events, the women involved and their stories, it still pains me to think about. I remember having a talk with my mother one morning. We rarely speak about such current events, but I felt it was really important to address, to hear her thoughts and I wondered how the Chinese media was reporting the news. My parents often receive their information from Chinese news outlets based in China and Taiwan, so I questioned whether the media there was able to capture the depth, complexity and nuance of these attacks. Would it allude to white supremacy, provide context about the hundreds of years of fetishization toward Asian women in the U.S. and the problematic nature in which American news outlets framed the narrative? I remember the pained expression my mother had as she recounted the news and expressed her dismay. I remember trying to explain the multilayered aspects of these attacks, how it was due to racism, fetishization, sexism and classism. I stumbled with my words, often alternating between Mandarin and English. By the end, my mother said something along the lines that this is how things are here, how the world is, you're bound to come across bad people. That is where she and I differ. This reckless violence I can't begin to accept."

-Rei Lo, 26

 

“Part of the problem with the movement to stop anti-Asian racism is that many people don't realize how serious and deep-seated it is in our country. This article aims to correct the misconception that the spike in COVID related violence is solely about the virus . There's so much more to it.”

–Grace Doh, 17

Read Grace Doh's full essay featured on visions here

 

“Atlanta was a wake-up call, but it was not shocking. Hate crimes against Asian-Americans have been consistently dismissed, and this racially-motivated mass shooting was a result of society's ignorance. While I am glad that this tragic event is raising awareness about anti-Asian sentiment, it is heartbreaking that it took this long and far too many innocent lives for people to realize that anti-Asian racism is a huge problem.”

–Juliet, 15

 

“The model minority stereotype serves no purpose but to further divide people of color. It harms the Asian community greatly, painting us all to be living the lifestyle that people saw on the big screens in 'Crazy Rich Asians.' In reality, a large portion of the Asian American community lives in the lowest standards of living—take New York’s multiple Chinatowns for example. And yet we see this notion perpetuated, as if it makes us the opposite of all other minorities.”

–Khylle Ilagan, 17

“This nation, let alone this state has no room for anti-BIPOC rhetoric. We as a collective need to do better, whether that means signing petitions, being an ally in absence of minority groups, or organizing rallies.”

–Rachel

“I feel like during the pandemic, I've been more close to my culture, and I have been expressing it more! This past year I started an art account on Instagram, where I express my culture and represent it. this past year, we have seen a huge amount of injustices around the world, and I use my account as a voice :)”

–Anonymous submission

“Next time you want to speak or do something based on your assumptions, what you have heard, or what "everyone is saying", please educate yourself on the topic. It doesn't take too much effort, time, or money to do a quick Google/Safari/Bing/Ecosia/Yahoo search. Or if these choices aren't available to you, you can always just politely ask someone, I'm sure they will be more than happy to answer any of your questions.”

–Anonymous submission

“A lack of unity, dissension, and bigotry is promoted through racist words, among the already-divided minority groups.”

–Rachel, 16

“During the pandemic, it's been really scary seeing Asians being specifically targeted just for looking a certain way, and it's made me become more aware of times I feel nervous or scared in particular situations. What is making me feel the way I do? I used to believe that letting things like microaggressions slide was okay, but in reality you need to stand up for what you believe in and tell people that what they're doing is wrong. I've been trying to learn more about things like white-proximity, the model minority myth, and how the history of Asian racism in American has impacted what we are seeing today.”

–Adel Wu, 21

See Adel Wu's digital artwork and full artist's statement featured on visions here

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notes on
outsiderism

 

“I wanted to fit in. As kids, everyone at one point or another wants to fit in.”

–Ngan Le, 15

 

“I was once sitting in the lobby of my dance center when I was around 4 years old when I realized that I was the only Asian girl there. I started to cry, and I have felt this sense of difference and ‘otherness’ often growing up in a district which had both a large Asian and white population. I don't know what else to say.”

–Serena, 17

“I feel like Asian Americans are in a weird gray area because although we may have grown up in America, we will always be seen as outsiders. Yet even when I go back to Taiwan, my relatives there as well as strangers can immediately pinpoint that I am an American—not even because of my poor accented Mandarin, but the way that I act and the way that I dress. I feel like I don’t exactly belong in America, but also I don't exactly belong in Taiwan either.”

–Eveline Shiao

 

“I wished for the erasure of my entire Asian-American identity.”

–Khylle Ilagan

 

“I was 6 or 7 years old when I had returned to the United States to start my first year of school in New York. The only English vocab that I knew before school was "thank you" and "bye," which my grandfather had taught me on the way to school. The experience of my first semester was horrible. The one thing that I remembered most clearly was how a group of girls from that grade had circled me against a brick wall during recess, and each one of them took turns to say something nasty to me. I didn't understand a word, but their expressions, body language, and actions had told me enough. The next day I found a corner where not too many people could see me and cried with my face buried in my arms. At the time, I had felt so miserable, I couldn't think of a reason for them to treat me like this. The principal somehow found me and comforted me with words I didn't understand. They next day he was watching kids play around and the groups of girls were very friendly to me. The 7 year old me haven't seen anything more fake. When it was lunchtime, I didn't know how to pronounce the name of the food, so I just pointed at it and looked at the lunch lady. I could clearly hear the snickering and see the looks from the people behind me. It wasn't too long until my grandparents had found out and told my parents who were busy with work to transfer me to new school.”

–Anonymous submission

 

“I saw sometimes that people would respond to this feeling of ‘otherness’ in a majority white area by alienating themselves, usually cracking jokes at their own expense or simply sticking around other Asian-American people where they felt as if they belonged. I realize now that this kind of behavior is really self-destructive and I regret that I wasn't able to accept my identity earlier.”

–Serena

 

“While I am proud of my culture, it is impossible to ignore the isolation of being a first generation Asian-American. I would never just be “American.” Every single time I was asked 'Where are you from?' as a child, I would immediately respond with 'China,' not because I was born in China, but because both the questioner and I made the assumption that I was not 'American.' My classmates who found me and my family’s language “exotic” never really recognized that I grew up in the same world as them.”

–Anonymous submission, 16

 

“I’ve always struggled with embracing my Asian-American identity. Since I grew up in a predominantly white town, I always felt isolated from my white classmates and I learned to resent my Asian heritage including food, language, and so much more. These feelings only heightened throughout the pandemic as I feared I would be targeted for my race. I’ve often regretted losing a sense of connection to my roots but seeing many Asian-Americans advocating for the stop of AAPI hate has made me feel loved and part of a community again.”

–Angela Deng, 16

“Seeing as my childhood experiences did not align with my peers', I felt embarrassed and confused. I clung onto what I saw as the 'norm' and if that meant hiding my culture, I was okay with it. I never fully understood the depth of the model minority myth until I was in high school. Looking back I realize that I sat and laughed when people would make racist jokes against Asian-Americans instead of speaking up against these microaggressions. The normalization of racist jokes about Asian people is a prime example of how the model minority myth is engrained in society and has blinded people from realizing that racism against Asian-Americans is real.”

–Juliet

 

“I did grow up in a predominantly white area, and I never really had many Asian friends that I could find in school and at my dance studio, my sister and I were the only Asians that I knew of. Since then, I still yet to have many Asian friends and on my dance team, everyone else is white while I am Korean. When I was younger, I did not really mind but more recently, being the only Asian in this environment has affected me. I wish that I had friends that were Asian, people who I could share my culture with and share foods with that I know would not judge me.”

–Anonymous submission

“I was always so proud of being Asian American, I loved having a larger variety of foods to eat, being able to speak two languages since birth, and having cultural practices that were beautiful to me. But since the pandemic, my eyes have been opened up further about how people perceive Asians. I always knew that people were commonly racist against Asians, I have been made fun of myself, people making fun of Koreans, pulling their eyes back, and more. It always bothered me, but as I got older, I think that I was not affected as much as I used to be with these racist comments because racism against Asians was so normalized. I would see others try to stick up for themselves and if they did, everyone else would say that it was just a joke, and that they needed to ‘chill.’”

–Katie Ko, 16

“I really wished I was white.”

–Hanna 

 

“Growing up, I honestly had internalized racism. I went to Catholic school on Staten Island and was the only Asian person in the building. All my friends were white and I went along with the racist bullying they put on me because I wanted to be cool and included in the popular group. Of course I was popular, though; I was the only one who looked like how I do. I didn't really feel upset with the bullying, though, and I didn't know what they were doing to me was wrong exactly. It was a rather aggressive social circle and I thought everyone just treated each other in a friendly-rude way.”

–Leo Xander Foo, 17

“Growing up in a predominantly white area, I rarely disclosed elements of my Asian culture to peers. I was essentially the ‘token Asian friend,’ often making jokes about my Asian-American identity and laughing with my classmates as they took turns erroneously pronouncing my last name. I implicitly associated whiteness with ‘coolness’ and popularity.”

–Alexandra Xu, 17

Read our full interview with Alexandra here

See Alexandra's full speech featured on visions here

“Literally never secure. I’ve always straddled a weird middle ground between the white culture of my birth parents and my own family's Asian culture. My parents, i think, have done their best to expose me to a lot of aspects of Chinese culture, but it’s different learning from isolated experiences than it is to have that be your life.”

–Sam Balaban, 17

“I have always identified with being Chinese-American my whole life. Other than eating traditional Chinese foods and sticking to my cultural roots, I enjoy eating American foods as well, particularly mac and cheese, which is a personal favorite of mine. However, there have been some challenges to my identity, including when sometimes my friends would playfully make fun of my lunch at the table during school, and I would take their jokes to heart. Afterwards, I would take out my lunch secretly so they could not see it and lean it towards me to not give them a clear glimpse of what I was eating.”

–Tim Kuang, 17

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notes on community

 

“Even if we have different skin colors, there is only one race: HUMAN.”

–Beck Hong

 See Beck Hong's full portfolio and artist's statement featured on visions here 

“Growing up in various predominantly white towns in the East Coast made me aware of the fact I was an Asian-American. Fortunately for me, my heritage was never the subject of ridicule. My classmates in elementary school were amazed by my subpar Chinese skills and were always eager to learn where my family came from. Despite moving around a lot in my early childhood, finding a new friend was always easy because of my identity. Every time I started at a new school, my first friend would be the one other Asian girl in my class or grade. We would stick to one another to the point of constantly being confused for one another by the teacher.”

–Anonymous submission, 16

“I’ve joined a Filipino Club at school to connect with more people that share my culture. Since the pandemic, my relationship with my Asian-American identity has grown even stronger. I’ve learned that the attempted erasure of it will do nothing but harm me. I’ve placed more of an emphasis on regularly checking in with my fellow Asian friends because I know they’re probably hurting and fearful as well. I simply wish to help out the community as much as I can with the pandemic going on. I’m currently aiding my Filipino Club in a community service project where we organize Filipino food baskets to give out to our local elders that miss their favorite dishes so deeply.”

–Khylle Ilagan, 17

 

“For all my life, I have lived in a very kind and accepting community, and my naïve younger self assumed that the fairness and respect that I got as an Asian American child was something to be take for granted. As I got older, I realized that such a thought could not be further from the truth, especially when you are a minority. Though I have never personally experienced real racism, I have been touched and disgusted by the stories of anti-Asian hate crimes. For the future generations of America, I hope the sanctuary my innocent self grew up in can become a reality for everyone.”

–Andrew, 16

 

“I learned to embrace my Asian-American identity thanks to the founding of a new Chinese Culture Club at my school. It helped me acknowledge Chinese culture and want to take part in it, even though I had disassociated myself for so long. It taught me community and how I can come together with a supportive community during times of turmoil, and I hope everyone is fortunate enough to have a similar network.”

–Anonymous submission

“Growing up, I generally felt extremely secure in my area and especially my neighborhood, which consisted predominantly of Chinese and Indian people. I even became friends with some of my neighbors' kids, and today we still talk and hangout frequently. I think living in New Jersey and the New York metropolitan area in general has influenced my perception of my Asian-American identity as well, and participating in my school's Asian Club has been a tremendous factor in me embracing what is happening around me.”

–Tim 

 

“I like that the Chinese Culture Club at my school addresses these relevant issues and provides a safe space to talk and hang out. Everyone is very nice and accepting. Personally, I got to learn about different regions in China, practices, and differences in cuisine.”

–Anonymous submission

“Currently, I attend a private high school that is far more racially diverse. This has enabled me to forge strong bonds with fellow people of color, including Asian Americans. My appreciation of Asian culture has indubitably grown. Over the pandemic, I have also become increasingly cognizant of microaggressions (which I used to construe as humorous and unmalicious), the model minority myth, and the blatant white supremacist violence enacted against the Asian-American community. I have consequently assumed a more active approach in combating white supremacy and xenophobia, instigating discussions at school and engaging in community organizing.”

–Alexandra Xu, 17

 

“I think it’s really special to grow up in a Chinese-American household, actually, because even growing up with a lot of Asian ideals/traditions, my home is still the US, and I definitely consider myself to be American. And I’m incredibly lucky to live in an accepting community, so I’ve never felt as marginalized as I know others have.”

–Alexis, 16

 

“When I was in elementary school, I was one of the seven Asian students in a class/grade of over forty students. However, this did not make me feel alienated or awkward in my small class, as I had a fellow Asian friend who had similar cultures as I did. Although we were not of the same ethnicity, looking back, I realize that having a friend with many cultural similarities probably helped me retain my sense of identity throughout those few years. Then, middle school rolled around, where my class of forty students suddenly became a class of hundreds. The transition was overwhelming, but I was able to make several friends of the same ethnicity, outside of church and family friends, which was something completely foreign to me. With a much larger Asian population in school, I felt safer and more secure in the building itself as well as in social situations.”

–Jessica Han, 15

“I love being Asian because of the culture and overall Asian community is so supportive and interconnected--you can learn a lot from other Asian families and their paths and stuff. Even the WeChat community is really strong and the parents talk a lot, so I think that sense of bonding is always a positive.”

–Christopher

“As president of my school's Chinese Culture Club, I realized many of us initially felt different from others when we were young due to our Asian backgrounds, and tried to assimilate to our white peers to fit in. However, our mindsets started to shift as we grew up. Here at the Chinese Culture Club, we have been encouraging members to embrace their cultural identity, and we hope to represent a beacon of light, casting away the feeling of difference that many have felt before. We hope to continue doing so in this time of civil unrest.”

–Lawrence Han, 16

notes on stereotypes

 

“As an ambitious student, failing meant more than solely hardship—it meant letting down the representation and stereotype that Asians are smart. In a society where many ‘successful’ Asians thrive off of meritocracy, I did not want to shatter that image that had been molded from the model minority stereotype; an irrational fear to say the least, potentially coupled with imposter syndrome and personal perfectionism.”

–Ngan Le, 15

 

“There was one time where some old lady came up to my mom and said "tell your Chinese people to stop abusing dogs, what they do to those dogs are disgusting. It is so fucked up.” She ended up ranting about the unforgivable actions that ‘our’ Chinese people are doing to dogs for about an hour. I have lived in the same province and traveled to many others when visiting my relatives, and all my of time there, all that I could see the Chinese people doing to dogs and cats were nothing more than walking them in the morning, giving them a warm home with a roof, pampering them, and playing games with them just like how any owner would treat their pet. What my mom had explained to that poorly educated lady was how we as average citizens have no power to control what other people are doing, even if they are the same race as us.”

–Anonymous submission, 15

 

“As an athlete that plays a sport filled predominantly with white and black people, it sometimes does feel like there are stereotypes about being Asian that are quite annoying. Sometimes you're seen as soft and weak and people kind of discount you as an athlete, because Asian boys are seen as ping pong or volleyball rather than basketball players. So sometimes people joke around and act like I'm a ‘nerd’ and think that Asians are supposed to be so ‘smart’ and ‘geeky.’ I'm not sure how to explain it but it's funny when people think being Asian equates to books and studying, and it absolutely gets annoying.”

–Christopher

 

“Maybe it isn’t very tragic, but I have been constantly insecure about my Asian-American identity I struggled with minor stereotypes about Asian-Americans—for instance, ‘You are Indian/Asian. Shouldn't you be smart?’ Obviously, hearing that didn’t impact me in a positive way and just made me feel more insecure, continuing to feel down on myself and constantly comparing myself to others.”

–Anonymous submission, 15

 

“I lived up to their stereotypes of being the smartest, which I am proud of regardless of the racist motives, and I also was a track runner who would be called a "Chinese Chihuahua" whenever I beat the white boys in a race.”

–Leo Xander Foo, 17

 

“The assumption of just because you’re Asian means you’re smart is not always true, especially in my case. The widening of the eyes and the gibberish that mocks Asian languages was stuff I was used to.”

–Nichole Gonzales, 15

 

“Growing up in suburban New Jersey, I was raised in a primarily white environment and attended a predominantly white private school. One can imagine that my tolerance for racial remarks, microaggressions, and gaslighting was heightened exponentially over the years. My school environment made me feel invalid, made my parents feel invalid, and my daily presence as a whole was made unwelcome. ‘How do Asian parents name their baby? Just throw pots and pans down the stairs and you got one!’ ‘Did you have dog or cat for dinner last night?’ The normalcy and commonness of these remarks is astounding. What certain individuals do not understand is that comments like these perpetuates outdated ideas and misconceptions about the AAPI community that paints people like me as the enemy.”

–Rachel Zhang, 16

Read Rachel's full speech featured on visions here

 

“Asian culture is filled with so much beauty, but those beauties can unfortunately be taken and reinterpreted for us. Since COVID-19 began spreading, it has often felt like our Asian identity has been stripped down to fit a mold created to blame us for the pandemic. My culture, the culture I’m so proud of, has been taken and turned into simply ‘eating bats,’ and previously existing stereotypes have been further emphasized to make Asians a more blame-worthy subject. These generalizations are untrue, unfair, and detrimental to society in a time where unity is more important than ever.”  –Eleanor Park

“Another thing that bothers me a lot actually is how others mimic an Indian accent in a rude way, say stuff about the word curry, and how Indians smell bad. I genuinely don’t understand the point of those comments, they make absolutely no sense. And its kind of frustrating seeing the Asian-American community having to face those comments made so casually.” 

–Anonymous submission, 15

“I don't know if I'm supposed to be proud of being Asian--which I should be, but I'm more often embarrassed by it. The stereotype is to be smart and everything, but when I look at my beautiful C in chemistry, I'm just struck by ‘wow, I'm kind of a disappointment.’ I don't know--it just feels like I've let that stereotype define me, which is sad obviously, but what can you do about it anyways?” –Connie

“If pain is a commodity, then being Chinese-American is suddenly top dollar. Our racial net worth and socio-cultural influence have spiked in light of recent events and for the first time the people now want to hear from us. Nowadays, being a Chinese-American is suddenly a quirky/trendy new conversation-starter. I could get used to it but I’d rather not.”

–Bryan

“Throughout my life growing up, I had internalized racism, resulting in a negative view of my ethnicity as Chinese; I exclusively associated my identity with my Canadian nationality and would find myself frequently embarrassed or ashamed of being Chinese, even though I had no real reason to be. I had experienced teasing and bullying in elementary school due to being Asian, and while it did not affect my mental health much, it still changed the way I viewed my race. I find that people often consider Asians to be the "less discriminated against" minority group, or that Asian stereotypes are "positive" (such as being smart), when in reality, no stereotype is a good thing, and they all have negative/harmful effects on a community. Hate against Asian Americans is very real, and is more prevalent now than ever.”

–Lawrence, 15

“In 7th grade, there was this one white male student who made fun of my small eyes, and, no pun intended, that was a really big eye opener for me.”

–Michelle Ji, 17

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notes on
culture

 

“As a kid, my mom did her best to share her culture and experiences with me. My most cherished memories involve sporadic trips back to Malaysia; the (somehow) comforting sounds of Chinese, Malay, and Hokkien dancing across the dinner table, kuih sticking to my fingers, the smell of durian and cigarettes carried by the thick, languid wind. But back in Minnesota, there were so few venues to explore my heritage. A (questionable?) generalized “Asian” mosaic took shape instead; dressing as a baby Geisha for Halloween, making Vietnamese spring rolls with my mother, working at a ramen shop, etc. It was watered down, contorted, and something I never felt particularly connected to. 

–Gabby, 22

“When I was a kid, my parents signed me up for lessons in Chinese Dance. At the time, it was just a thing I did for the sake of it - to be fair, I was only five at the time. But it's taught me so much about my heritage, and today I can proudly say it's a huge part of my identity. I believe art is such a powerful force in connecting people, especially in divisive times, so I am always excited to perform on stage and share Chinese culture to my audience. This is what my Asian-American identity means to me, this chance to explore and share diverse and beautiful art forms.”

–Annabelle, 16

“As an Asian American, I’ve always grown up with a different culture, celebrating different traditions or holidays that others never understood. To this day, my family has constantly reminded me of the importance of manners as it is emphasized in the Asian culture. For me, these teachings of etiquette have become common routine in my daily life. Additionally, I admit that I used to be embarrassed by my culture, finding it difficult to explain different holidays/traditions we celebrated or how the Chinese spoken in my household is not Mandarin or Cantonese. However, now I understand that my culture should not be something I am embarrassed of. I should be proud to be an Asian American and not let others impact my life since they have no place in doing so.”

–Justyne Truong, 17

 

“I'm grateful to have learned so much about my culture through Chinese Dance. I think one of the main reasons I chose Chinese Dance over any other genre would be because of its familiarity. It's been with me since I moved to the United States at age four. Through dance, I'm able to experience and share the stories my parents told me as a child. It educates me about my culture and reminds me of how beautiful my culture really is.”

–Jia, 16

 

“My personal identity as a Chinese American has always involved how I relate to my community and family, and through the pandemic, I was not able to meet my relatives in China, but I was still able to explore my Chinese identity through spending time with my family, cooking Chinese food, and making art related to my experience.”

–Angela Bi, 18

“A large part of [learning to embrace my culture] was learning about Korea’s history and how my family was a part of that history. Spending time with my extended family makes me feel as if I’m being immersed in Korean culture and I’ve established very positive associations with my identity because of that.”

–Grace Doh, 17

 

“When I first started Chinese dance, I honestly thought it was embarrassing because, whereas other dancers wore leotards, we wore costumes that were bright red and yellow, held frizzy, pink fans, and even had a feather hat at one point. It didn’t feel like real dance to me, at least not in the same sense ballet was real dance to other girls in my school. However, throughout the years, I’ve really started to love Chinese dance because it became a way of connecting me back to the thousands of years of Chinese culture, traditions, and styles. Through each dance, we were telling a story of that time period — even the questionable costumes were indicative of the culture at the time. Being able to perform so many different styles of Chinese dance truly allowed me to not only better understand China’s diverse history, but to partake in it myself.”

–Haley, 14

notes on
pride

 

“What used to be nerdy, unable to pronounce Ls, and chink eyes now is a unified, resilient, and powerful ethnic group throughout. And all this encompassed by one word: Asian.”

–Eric, 17

 

“My Asian-American identity grants me the privilege of being a part of one of the most passionate and loving communities on Earth. Not only are Asian Americans connected through Asian culture and heritage, but also through hardship and centuries of oppression. I am eternally grateful that I now can wholeheartedly be proud of my ethnicity; be proud of my immigrant mother and father; and be proud of myself for loving my own heritage when the rest of the world currently does not.”

–Rachel Zhang, 16

“I found some sense of solace on social media and on TV - YouTubers such as NigaHiga, IISuperwomanII, and WongFu Productions who openly talk about their struggles and experiences as Asians ultimately validated my own experiences. The new films and TV shows released in the past several years, such as "Fresh Off the Boat," "Killing Eve," "Crazy Rich Asians," "The Farewell," and "Minari," have continued to push for increased representation of Asians in the media. This type of representation has been really important to me and most definitely other Asian-Americans because our authentic stories are being shown through the silver screen. Obviously more can be done to continue to push for more representation and diversity in the media.”

–Alan, 17

“I've learned to love myself and my body over the years. The pandemic really pushed me into that, too. Being alone with myself for such a long period of time is one of the most sacred things and most important things that has ever happened to me. It might sound dramatic when I say that this isolation is the best thing that has ever happened to me, but it really is. I would not be the Self that I am right now if it weren't for the long months of being alone. It was sort of like an unintentional mediation that has brought me to a new state of enlightenment. If this pandemic didn't happen, I probably wouldn't have embraced my transness as much as I have.”

–Leo Xander Foo, 17

“I have begun to embrace my Asian American identity more throughout the course of the pandemic. Whether it is solely due to the fact that I am more educated about my rich roots, more passionate about my culture, or fascinated by the diversity that Asian Americans bring to the table, this past year has allowed me to mature in a way that allows me to appreciate my uniqueness, rather than feel embarrassed or repulsed. It has shined a light, opening deep and dark doors that I had never known before.”

–Ngan Le, 15

 

“My parents immigrated from Asia around twenty years ago and built a life in America. They raised me with the values that helped them succeed in life, in the hopes that it would help me do the same. Their parents taught them persistence, tolerance, and respect, and so they made sure I followed in their steps. My Asian heritage is an important aspect of my identity, and I’m thankful for the ways it helps me be a better person.”

–Jaden Chen

 

“Above all, I'm proud of my Chinese heritage. I used to struggle to find a balance between my American and Chinese cultures; I've now learned to embrace them together: my Chinese-American identity. And it has made all the difference in the world.”

–Anonymous submission, 16

 

“Throughout the pandemic, though, I have learned to be proud of my Chinese ancestry and not care about anyone else's judgments of me. From being quarantined over a year, the pandemic has taught me to appreciate myself and my potential capabilities, boosting my self-confidence and enabling me to recognize my uniqueness from others.”

–Tim, 17

 

“Although the increase in violence against Asians during the pandemic has made me fearful for my own and my family’s safety at times, the solidarity among Asian Americans in response to the violence has been very empowering and has made me less afraid to embrace my cultural identity.”

–Grace, 17

 

“My parents have always made sure to keep the Asian heritage in our family alive. My brother and I received Chinese lessons from a very young age; we always knew where the best and most authentic Chinese restaurants around town were; every other year or so, we packed our bags and flew to China to visit our Chinese relatives and immerse ourselves in Chinese culture. At first I was quite reluctant to go along with these activities, because they made me stand out from my non-Chinese friends at school. But over the span of many years, I gradually came to appreciate my parents' efforts, and realized that they were doing this not to endow on me extra burden, but out of their familial love, and willingness to keep my family's Chinese heritage alive. Now, I am very grateful for my parents' efforts, and am proud to be Chinese-American.”

–J.L., 16

 

“Being Asian American has allowed me to see the world through two different points of views. Although there are benefits of seeing life through an American lens and experiencing a certain lifestyle, I go home and live under a different but unique setting that makes me proud of my own skin. I know I can benefit to the cultural diversity in this country and stand out in a good way.

Being Asian American gives me a rich culture and identity that I appreciate. What I especially admire is how my parents instilled values such as respect and hard work in me. These qualities are not only important in Asian cultures, but they also benefit society in general. I'm proud of my Asian heritage and it should be treasured, not belittled.”

–Allen Zhao

 

“I can unequivocally assert that I am a proud Asian-American.”

–Alexandra Xu

cover artwork taken from khaled hourani's "dispersed crowds" series