BLOGS

Growing up, I can’t remember a single book written by an Asian American in my school’s required readings.

The lack of Asian representation in our K-12 education system is astounding, knowing that over 20 million Asians live in the U.S and thousands of books are written by Asian Americans. I would read books like Harry Potter, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Romeo and Juliet and Jane Eyre, all by white authors. Out of these books and the many more I read in school, the only Asian character I could recall is Cho Chang from the Harry Potter series, which to me, was astounding because I had never seen an Asian character in a book before. However, Cho Chang was another minority by not only being a minor character in the story, but also being stereotypically placed into Ravenclaw, the house of intelligence.

The first work by an Asian American author that I had ever read was written by Marie Lu. I came across her when I needed to pick out a dystopian novel for my English class, but found myself uninterested with the list of authors my teacher provided. When I started searching for other dystopian novels, Lu’s book, Legend, popped up. I immediately Googled her name and read that she was Chinese American and a #1 New York Times Bestselling Author.

I couldn’t wait to read Legend for my class because someone who looked like me wrote it. The opening chapters were thrilling because Lu introduced a fifteen-year-old boy named Day, who was the main character and Asian American. I felt shocked because I never imagined an Asian person as the central figure of a story. Contemporary media conditioned me to think that Asians can only exist as sidekicks; someone that fights well, has brainiac qualities, or excels in technology. Lu’s creation of Day was a breath of fresh air because he is multi-dimensional and serves more than one purpose throughout the story.

What I loved most about Lu and her novel was that they became an example of what should be included in schools: Asian authors portraying Asian characters. When Asian authors write about Asian characters, they no longer sit in the backseat of the story. Asians become the characters that shine. When Asian characters shine, their culture and history shine through them as well, to educate those that know little about Asians and expand on the knowledge of those who do.

I know that if I grew up reading authors that were like me in school, I would have had more interest in reading and have related to the curriculum more. When Asian children read about someone that looks like them and that they can relate to, reading becomes an educational and personal learning experience.

I never thought that as a Pilipina-American, my Pilipina identity would feel foreign to me.

I grew up at a small American Naval Base in Yokosuka, Japan and was encased in an American bubble. My mom did not speak a Pilipino dialect, so I grew up in an English-speaking household and did not understand when other Pilipinos would talk to me in Tagalog. I was more accustomed to eating chicken tenders, spaghetti, pb&j, and Japanese foods instead of traditional Pilipino dishes like pancit and adobo.

When my family moved back to the Bay Area in a predominantly Pilipinx community, I experienced a culture shock. For the first time in my life, I felt truly separate from my Pilipina identity.

I went to school and was clueless when my classmates talked about Pilipino games and dances. Most of my friends were “way more” Pilipino than I was. They would make fun of me for pronouncing Pilipino words with an American accent, which was embarrassing. It’s a feeling that has never quite shaken away, even as I’m starting college. I felt especially uncomfortable when my friends would ask me what my favorite foods were and I would answer with Japanese cuisine, then they would bombard me with questions wondering if I liked Pilipino foods I had never heard of.

While school life made me feel ashamed of not knowing what being a Pilipina meant, my new situation at home living with my grandparents made me feel differently. My grandparents regularly spoke Ilocano, so I couldn’t understand them, but it was exciting to be introduced to a new language inside my household. I had never heard of The Filipino Channel (TFC), which was a huge part of my grandparents’ day. My grandma would watch her teleseryes and translate for me, and I would sit with my great-grandma on Sundays and watch Pilipinx celebrities sing and dance on ASAP.

Through my grandparents, I finally had the chance to explore my Pilipina identity. Once I was introduced to it, I couldn’t wait to learn more about who I am and where my people come from.

I began to appreciate how family-oriented and community-oriented my people are. When I visited the Philippines a couple years ago, I met more of my family members who all lived in their own little complex, and they welcomed my sister and I with open arms. Having family gatherings where my elders tell stories about when they were young in the Philippines and we all eat yummy Pilipino food, enjoying each other’s company, makes me feel connected to my Pilipina culture in a way that I hadn’t felt growing up.

I cherish being a Pilipina because my culture is so rich and authentic. I went to the Pistahan Parade & Festival in San Francisco and watched Pilipinx’s from all around celebrate our culture through food, dance, and activities. The more I learned about the colonialism my ancestors faced and social issues such as skin brightening, the more I valued being informed on the struggles that my community faces and having the chance to discuss these problems with friends.

Being able to explore a part of my identity that I had previously ignored is one of the most enriching experiences because I have opened doors that will continuously let me learn more about myself and my Pilipinx community.

In four short weeks, America has undergone a drastic change. To some, these four weeks have been an overwhelming wakeup call and to others, just a numb notice of what they already knew was going to happen. Either way, the majority of Americans are now taking part in what I’m calling the “Cheeto Nazi Resistance”. For those of you who are feeling helpless in a time when support is so desperately needed, here is a list of things you can do right now to take part in fighting back, as well as various ways to practice self care.

  1. Donate to the ACLU, Planned Parenthood, Council on American Islamic Relations, NAACP or Everytown for Gun Safety (Here is a complete and thorough list of other places you can donate).
  2. GO to Planned Parenthood and get your yearly physical done or birth control. Take care of your body! Available for men and women!
  3. Boycott certain products and stores.
  4. But also remember to treat yo’ self to a shopping spree if that’s what you’re into.
  5. If you really haven’t done so already, register to vote and then ACTUALLY go vote. Project Vote Smart and Vote 411 are great places to get bipartisan information on candidates and ballot propositions.
  6. Meet likeminded people and volunteer at a local campaign. There will be special elections across the country for certain public offices in 2017. Find a campaign to work on here and here.
  7. Sick of seeing his face? Download this chrome extension that will replace pictures of him with cute kittens.
  8. Donate old books you may have lying around to the Prison Book Program.
  9. Get out of the bubble and take a hike or explore a national park near you.
  10. Stay informed and download BBC News or NY Times on your phone and allow notifications for news alerts.
  11. Adopt or foster an animal; they need love during these times too!
  12. Write an Op-Ed for your local newspaper, or newsmagazine.
  13. Be a millennial and learn which photos you should share.
  14. Participate in a local march and show solidarity for the issue at hand.
  15. Don’t completely spiral — keep a sense of humor. Luckily the internet is the best place for that.
  16. Run for office. No seriously, there are tons of local elections that will be coming up and the best place to make change is at that level.
  17. Find your Zen and try some yoga to take care of your mind and body. Many studios offer free trials.
  18. Attend town meetings of your local representative or senator! Not sure who your rep is? Find them here.
  19. After you do that, make sure to sign up for their email list so you can stay informed on what they’re doing in Congress as well as upcoming events where they will be present.
  20. Pretend to be Picasso and dabble in some adult coloring books.
  21. Protect our access to free press and give to National Public Radio.
  22. Remember that change happens at a local level, so stay informed of your State Legislature. Track what bills are being brought up. Support the ones you want, and fight the ones you don’t!
  23. Unplug from social media and delete your most addicting apps for a day or two (Yes, scary but 100% possible).
  24. Make sure you’re carrying a government issued photo I.D. with you at all times.
  25. Keep your calendar cleared for April 15 and be prepared to march.
  26. Remind yourself that this won’t last forever.

 

Dear My Immigrant Parents,

I want to start by asking you both a question. What was it like moving to a country where you would start off with a clean slate, from your social circles to your education, and even the way that you would assimilate into society as individuals? I ask because I cannot imagine the work that must have been put into moving from a culture that stressed the importance of collective identity such as India, to one in which the focus is on the individual before the family.
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Mom, this must have been so hard for you. I know this to be true because you pride yourself on family values and have built your maternal empire in the U.S. on the importance of family. I can only imagine the loneliness from sitting at home waiting for Dad to return from work so you could have a sense of familiarity in an unknown country.

Dad, I know those nights were not easy for you either: having Mom wait for you at home while you work during the day and take classes at night to attain your graduate degree to make ends meet. You had a lonely bride and tons of responsibility both here in the U.S. and in India. That responsibility came from taking care of your family back in India and your family out here in the states.

How did you two do it? How could you share such a small apartment in Culver City with multiple people? I am sitting in my apartment in Westwood attending the same university that you did Dad, but the main difference here is my support system is 30 minutes away, while your support system was oceans away. I am not on my own.  I am not putting in the same amount of work for my opportunities. I have no burden of responsibilities on my shoulder. Why? Because my parents made the choice to move to this country and give me the freedoms that they did not have. I visualize the struggles that you both went through to make it in this country. There were  cultural and racial barriers to overcome, and you went the extra mile when it seemed impossible, with all the sleepless nights, blood, sweat, and tears to achieve your dreams.

Mom, when you tell me “It’s not that I did not have a career Sabreen, I did work when we first moved to the country,” tears roll down my eyes because you never have to justify that you were a career woman, my respect and appreciation for you is trifold. The work that you’ve done to support Dad when he was rising in his business, and the buses you took through the Rodney King Riots to get to work were enough to generate multiple opportunities for many generations to come. The sacrifice you made to stay at home and raise Shefa and me, gave us plenty of opportunities for the future. You made it Mom, your career will pay back in the best dividends, we promise. Thank you Mom.

Dad, you came to this country with less than a thousand dollars in your pocket. Yet, my tuition at UCLA is much more than that. You allow me to study without the fear of not having fees for the next quarter, compared to the time you wondered whether you would be able to pay fees and the apartment rent while you were a student.

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Without your sacrifice, I would not have the type of time freedom that I do right now, the ability to pursue my dreams without having to worry about my constraint on time during the day, whether it be from a part time job or work study. I am grateful, that I can allocate all my time to pursuing my goals without any responsibilities weighing me down.

To my immigrant parents, I thank you with every cell in my body; your efforts will be paid back in the smallest amounts of happinesses throughout your life, but never will we be able to pay you for all that have you done for us. The sacrifices you made for us were so monumental that they will impact many generations of our family to come.

Yours Truly,

Ever Grateful Child

    1. You learned to refuse gifts until the the 3rd time before you finally allowed yourself to accept them.
      screen-shot-2016-10-16-at-1-27-03-pm
      Photo courtesy of @butterchickenlover (Instagram)

       

    2. Your household had a collection of complimentary hotel soaps, shower caps, conditioners and shampoos.

3. When you were growing up the kids at school thought you had a disease because of your mehndi but now it’s “aesthetic.”

screen-shot-2016-10-16-at-1-31-56-pm

4. When you had at least one year of school where you dressed up as an “Indian Princess” or “Jasmine from Aladdin.”

Me with my 4th grade teacher, circa 2004
Me and my 4th grade teacher, circa 2004

5.When you asked your parents if you could hang out with friends you got this response:

Photo courtesy of @butterchickenlover (Instagram)
Photo courtesy of @butterchickenlover (Instagram)

 

6. You give your grandmother/mother a heart attack when putting marriage on the backburner.

Photo courtesy of @insta.single (Instagram)
Photo courtesy of @insta.single (Instagram)

 

7. When “maths” were more important than anything else.

8. You had to clean your room whenever anyone was coming over.

9. Your mom always lies about the time.

10. Which makes you never, never trust anyone who says “We’ll be there in 5” (IST FTW)

 

 

 

  1. Myth: Muslim women are being forced to wear hijab by their husbands or fathers.
    Fact: It’s entirely their choice, some choose to wear hijab and others don’t. Islam, like any religion, can be interpreted and practiced as strictly and as loosely as individuals want to. Women choose to wear a hijab to feel empowered, not oppressed. Many women choose not to wear the hijab, yet are still considered practicing Muslims.

HIJAB       Additionally, women wear hijab because they feel strongly connected to the religion and feel as it is a part of their identity.HIJAB2       The hijab is a form of self-expression and devotion to one’s faith, not a symbolism of oppression.

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  1. Myth: Jihad means a violent, religious war
    Fact: Jihad is often translated to “holy war” but more linguistically it means struggling, surviving, or effort. The term jihad is thrown around loosely in American media today, using it as a buzzword to incite oppressive thoughts against Islam. Jihad in the Quran is used in the context of “striving with one’s self and one’s money in the cause of God.” Also stated in the Quran are several verses prohibiting fighting, killing, and forced compulsion of religion. With these verses explicitly stated, extremists have chosen to ignore the Quran and holy book they claim to fight for and instead, pursue the opposite.

 

  1. Myth: All Arabs are Muslim
    Fact: Muslims come from all different parts of the world and from many different ethnic backgrounds and countries. The countries with the top five largest Muslim populations worldwide are all non-Arab countries. Indonesia is ranked number 1 with roughly 205 million Muslims, Pakistan next with 178 million, India with 177 million, Bangladesh with 148 million, and Nigeria with 78 million. With these statistics, Islam is more an Asian religion if anything than an Arab one.Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 11.30.56 PM
  1. Myth: Muslim women have no say in who they marry
    Fact: In Islam, a couple, both parties, must mutually consent to the marriage. This requires a clear proposal and acceptance in the presence of a legal guardian or family member from the woman’s side. The Quran explicitly gives women a extensive role in choosing their own husbands. Women’s consent in a marriage is extremely important and is not forced. Many women choose to have an arranged marriage in which their families are more involved in the process of finding a suitable partner. Arranged marriages are a wonderful process because it becomes a partnership not just between two people but between two families.

 

  1. Myth: All Muslims Speak Arabic
    Fact: No they do not. Muslims, because they come from such diverse backgrounds, speak many different languages found all over the world. There are more Muslims who speak Indonesian, Urdu, and Chinese dialects than those who speak Arabic. Muslims are however encouraged to learn Arabic as it is the language of their holy book, the Quran. Just as not all Muslims speak Arabic, not all those who speak Arabic are Muslim.Screen Shot 2016-04-08 at 11.26.31 PM

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