is a regular feature of DePauw Magazine, which is published three times a year.
I grew up in Newton, Massachusetts, a liberal suburb that, of all places, one would think could handle racism right. However, in high school, I didn’t learn about the Chinese Exclusion Act or Japanese internment. I didn’t even know that Asian Americans counted as people of color.
To this day, when meeting people, I brace myself for the detested, “Where are you from?” I’m from Boston. Yet saying this risks a followup, “No, where are you really from?” They want to know that my parents are from Taiwan. But I am from Boston.
I’ve been asked, “Are you adopted?” and “Are you ‘half?’” People’s surprise that I’m not betrays their assumption that fluent English is impossible if one does not have a white person in the immediate family. How do white Americans learn to speak English? By growing up in the United States, immersed in English. Same for me. I have lived in the U.S. my entire life.
Anti-Asian insults and graffiti peppered my time at DePauw. There were so few Asian Americans that the Asian American Pacific Islander Initiative became defunct my junior year. As an overscheduled music student, I wasn’t able to bring it back. And my experience of racism is tame.
I realized that I had to stand up for myself as an Asian American, or else there might not be anyone who could. At DePauw, I miraculously got the chance to learn how to do so. I took professor Eugene Gloria’s Asian American literature course and a poetry workshop with Marilyn Chin, and had an amazing counselor who deeply understood Asian American identity.
After graduating, I connected with the wonderful Asian American mental health community in Boston. People there encouraged me to turn a brewing idea into a reality: DisOrient, my YouTube series on Asian American mental health, neurodiversity and representation (www.emilychenstudio.com/disorient). I hope DisOrient can give my AAPI community language and guidance for our complex experiences, and our allies a glimpse into what we face.
Racism exists. In Greencastle, it was overt, while Newton oppressed through omission. There’s so much to be done, and yet I’m invigorated knowing there’s so much we can do, if we’re brave enough to do it.
To my AAPI family: You are not alone, and there are so many ways to support yourself and our community. Report hate crimes at Stop AAPI Hate (https://stopaapihate.org/). Learn about mental health and AAPI history through DisOrient, PBS’s “Asian Americans” film series and beyond. Seek help when you need it, through DePauw’s Counseling Services or the therapist directories at Asian Mental Health Collective or Psychology Today. Share your stories, even just with supportive friends. Connect with the AAPI community. We can be well, and we can belong.
To my friends who are Black, Indigenous and people of color: I see you. I’m doing my best to listen to your stories and make sure there’s space for you alongside the AAPI community, so we can move in solidarity toward a better world.
To white allies: Acknowledge our existence. Investigate and question your assumptions. Accept what you can’t understand with humility and grace. Make space for us. Listen to our stories. Stand up for us. The work of self-reflection and anti-racism is never comfortable, but it can turn the insidious tide of hate. And who knows? You might be surprised by the AAPI luminaries you find, who make this world a brighter, richer place.
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