Nuance over monolithic narratives

15 May 2023

This month, we’re sharing a collection of personal stories exploring the joys, challenges, and complexities of the Asian American and Pacific Islander experience
“We are treated as a monolithic group, despite comprising more than 19 groups speaking over 38 languages,” Ellen K. Pao and Tracy Chou explain in a popular bout being Asian American in tech. It’s a good reminder that, though May in the U.S. is “Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month,” those words encompass an enormous range of experiences and histories. It can be easy to gloss over those nuances in favor of a monolithic narrative — but AAPI experiences are not singular, and true understanding comes from tuning into the details.
With that in mind, this month we’re sharing a collection of personal stories about the joys, challenges, and complexities of the AAPI experience. You’ll find essays and reflections like journalist Lam Thuy Vo’s ode to the notebook her grandfather used to learn English. You’ll also see a few timelier perspectives like doctoral researcher Julladonna Park’s review of Netflix’s BEEF. Plus, historic family photos, original artwork, and profiles of the people and places that have shaped individual writers’ lives on a very human level.
Here are a some of the stories we’re reading this month…
“When Worlds Collide” by Aimee Liu
Sun Yatsen appointed my grandfather to edit San Francisco Chinatown’s revolutionary newspaper, Ta Tung Daily. The paper’s agenda was to raise funds for rebel action from overseas Chinese — including the journeymen who had come to seek their fortune on ‘Gold Mountain’ and wound up doing laundry and building railroads…
“‘Everything, Everywhere, All at Once’ Oscars victories moved me more than I expected” by Laurance Lem Lee in The Bold Italic
It was Ke Huy Quan’s speech and energy early in the show that did it for me. Holding back tears, he said, “My mom is 84 years old and she is at home watching. Mom, I just won an Oscar! My journey started on a boat. I spent a year in a refugee camp. And somewhere I ended up here on Hollywood’s biggest stage.” I don’t remember the rest of what he said. That guy could make a piece of cardboard cry.
“‘Ako ay…’ (I am)” by Anna Jenella
It is unfathomable that at one point all my thoughts were in Tagalog. Who knew, that once I stepped foot at Ninoy International Airport at 8 years old, I would leave behind these thoughts, completely forget, and be ashamed of speaking a different language? Now it has been replaced by my version of Taglish, broken in nature and spoken in desire for fluency.
“The Joy of Being a Bad Asian” by Lisa Lee Herrick
Should I credit King of the Hill for showing me that I could crawl out from under my family-sized invisibility cloak to talk about what it’s like to live in a Laotian refugee family and growing up Hmong American? I feel like I should.
“Netflix’s BEEF is the Opposite of ‘Identity Politics’ Representation” by Julladonna Park in Fanfare
At its core, BEEF is a story about the tragedy of invisibility. Its most ostentatious hijinks arise over false identity and the grotesque consequences of hiding one’s truth.
“Laughing with white people.” by Alicia Modoor
I often think about the concept of laughter and whiteness. I think about all the groups of friends that laugh together, not knowing that their one friend is climbing back from the Sunken Place to laugh alongside them.
“Grandpa’s notebook” by Lam Thuy Vo
The immigrant of the second generation comes into her own twice: first in adolescence, trying to emulate that which is around her but that which rejects her. And then, a second time, when she finds her way back home by researching the journey her ancestors took…

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