By May Young | Faculty Contributor
As a Chinese-American professor at Taylor University, I am aware that my perspective provides only one facet to the Asian-American experience. The variety that exists is far too vast to treat in this limited article. With this in mind, I will share a personal challenge I face as a minority, as well as an exhortation for fellow Asians and Asian-Americans.
Perhaps one of my greatest challenges as a member of an Asian-American minority is dealing with a mindset that has, without distinction, grouped all Asians together. To be sure, there are many who are sensitive to the cultural, ethnic and intergenerational differences. However, many have not worked out the necessary categories in their minds. I hope sharing my own experience will begin to provide some needed distinctions.
Although I was born in Hong Kong, most of my life has been spent in the United States. I came as a baby and have visited Hong Kong only a few times. My Cantonese is proficient at best, and I definitely prefer to speak in English. I also typically use a fork instead of chopsticks, and I can't really cook Chinese food, but I do, on occasion, crave authentic Chinese cuisine. I do not consider mainland China my motherland and have never actually been there, which some find shocking to hear. I am definitely not averse to the idea of visiting the place of my heritage, but I don't necessarily feel strong ties to China. This is difficult for some to understand, given my physical appearance. My situation is complex because I feel like I can identify better with the American experience since I was raised in the States, but I was also raised in a home with parents and grandparents who were first-generation immigrants and whose experience was quite different from my own. Like most first-generation Chinese immigrants, my parents stressed the value of hard work, a good education, respect for elders and the importance of harmony. For better or worse, my disposition has been shaped by these values.
I share my own experience because I believe that it is critical to recognize the diversity that exists in the Asian population, both internationally and domestically. If we want to cultivate a culture that is embracing and inclusive, we need to be sensitive to the differences around us.
The following is my challenge for fellow Asians and Asian-Americans. Recently, I stumbled across an article titled "Why are the Asian American Kids Silent in Class? Taking a Chance with Words" by Carol A. Tateishi. This article addresses the passivity that I have both observed and exhibited in the classroom. While for some this passivity may stem from language barrier insecurities, many who have been raised in the States still display this behavior. As I write this, I know that I am still guilty of falling into this default behavior on many occasions. The article poignantly points out that our behavior may be shaped in part from the following shared values in our home life: oral language tends to be used functionally, speaking publicly about one's problems is discouraged, restraint in talking is valued and people don't talk about feelings or personal experiences.
To be sure, not all Asian or Asian-American homes stress these values, but many do instill into children that silent compliance and submission are signs of respect and qualities of a "good" child. This goes against the messages that emphasize participation and engagement.
Having been raised in a home that stressed respect of elders and harmony in relationships, I am often hesitant to engage as well. However, we have been invited to the table to converse with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ as well as other community members. We need to take this invitation seriously and move forward with confidence, recognizing that God has given us a voice with a unique perspective. Silence is not necessarily the only or the best way to exhibit respect and harmony in relationships. Let us take greater strides to know and be known at Taylor University.