Friday, May 28, 2010

Asian American Heritage Celebration: Guest Bloggers

Here at OMSA we appreciate our students and their dedication to sharing their stories with us. In celebration of Asian American Heritage Month, we have contacted two of our Graduate Students as Guest Bloggers to share their thoughts and experiences as students of color at University of Chicago.

OMSA welcomes further dialogue around some of the issues of inclusion and marginalization that the guest bloggers have written about. We welcome the opportunity to speak with students in a safe space regarding any innovative ideas around programming and events that could better represent our student population.

Emy Cardoza is a 3rd Year from Jacksonville, FL, student receiving her Masters of Divinity at the University Of Chicago, School Of Divinity. Emy has enjoyed her time working as the intern for the Chicago Multicultural Connection mentoring program at OMSA.

"As a woman of mixed heritage, with a Japanese mother and a Cape Verdean father, I have often struggled to find my cultural identity reflected in my studies. Growing up in the suburbs of northern Florida, I spent most of my childhood and teenage years in predominantly white communities trying to blend in. While I sincerely believe that each of these communities valued diversity, they lacked the ability to truly engage distinctive cultural perspectives. Intentional or not, our curriculum, course selection, and programs always seemed to focus on Western European history and texts from white authors.

During undergrad, my struggle to connect my cultural identity with my academic pursuits only increased. As a Religious Studies major focusing on Christian theology, I rarely had the opportunity to take courses that included works by non-European or non-American authors. Though I appreciated my time in college and feel that I learned a lot from my professors, I struggled with the notion that my identity as a person and work as a scholar were meant to remain separate.

To my surprise, the University of Chicago Divinity School has been a place where I have had the opportunity to engage questions of cultural identity in my studies. While shopping for course books at the Seminary Co-op Bookstore in the spring of my first year, I stumbled upon an interesting course being taught in the Div School. The course, which was entitled World Christianities: Asian Theologies, exposed me to the vast array of resources for examining the importance of cultural context in the academic discipline of theology. Theologians like C.S. Song, Kozuke Koyama, and Kwok Pui-Lan weave narrative with Asian imagery, folklore, and sometimes elements of the Buddhist and Hindu traditions, into their rich theological discourse. Whereas before I felt somewhat distant and disengaged with the experiences and examples of our readings, this class allowed me to make sense of how my identity as an Asian female influenced my approach to theology. Although I still value traditional Western approaches to the study of religion, reading texts from individuals who speak to a unique cultural experience has reignited my passion for the field and possibility for future studies."

Bruce Thao, who identifies as Hmong-American, is a second year Ph.D student at the School of Social Service Administration. He is concentrating his work and research with the United States refugee youth and international community development.

“So it’s May 2010. The one month of the year where Asian Americans are visible. University Asian student groups are putting on their culture shows. Public service announcements declare that it’s Asian American Heritage Month underneath a picture of the quintessential Asian American nuclear family. Large cities hold an array of events to commemorate the month. It comes and it goes. And then we can continue to ignore that the silent, model minority exists.

We can continue to act like there is not a glass ceiling for Asian American males in the television, film and music industries. That it is okay for M. Night Shyamalan to direct The Last Airbender, a film based on Asian and indigenous characters, Asian martial arts and Asian themes, but cast with all White leading roles (except for the villain).

We can pretend we haven’t realized there are no Asian American leading males in any mainstream American films who are not villains or kung fu masters. That it is not bizarre that there are no Asian American solo artists in the mainstream music industry or promoted by record labels.

Yes, after May passes we can continue to act like Asian Americans are the model minority, swarming ivy leagues and tech companies. When in reality Southeast Asians and Pacific Islanders have some of the highest poverty rates and high school drop out rates and Asian American women have the highest suicide rates in the country.

Let me be clear: This is not a cry for pity over how oppressed we are. Rather, it is an acknowledgement that as proud as we are of our heritage and our history, we recognize how far we still have to go to truly have a seat at the table.

This month we celebrate the long, complex history of our Asian American heritage. But we cannot forget the 11 months out of the year that we are relegated to the corners of the American dialogue. The black-white discussions of race in America continue to happen every day. Brown and yellow folks are an afterthought—unless we are taking jobs or invading borders. This month, we celebrate being Asian in America. The rest of the year, we fight to be a part of it.

Let us continue working towards the day when we have a seat at every table: in academia, in politics, in media, in film. Beyond stereotypes. Beyond one-dimensional caricatures. We are not only Asian American; we are biracial; we are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender; we are young; we are old; we are Democrats; we are Republicans; we are anarchists; we are activists; we are Christian, Buddhist, Shamanist, Hindu.

We are American. And our voices deserve to be heard—our faces deserve to be seen—every single month of the year.”