Aloha! I'm on vacation, taking a much-needed break from blogging for a bit. But it's all good, because I've enlisted the help of some great guest bloggers to keep things going around here. Here's California Assemblymember Warren Furutani on defining and redefining the Asian and Pacific Islander American community."Back in the day," as my sons would say, the term Asian and Pacific Islander American was born of the need to define ourselves rather than let others do it for us. Much like in the African American political movement where Negro became Black and Black became African American; Oriental became Asian and Asian became Asian and Pacific Islander American (APIA) and all are subject to change because the terms are dynamic and demand to be redefined as our reality changes.
"Back in the day," you couldn't find our newly defined identity in the dictionary or the library card catalogue because the term wasn't historical in nature. It wasn't anthropological or biological. If anything, it was political.
"Back in the day," the use of color to define groups of people prevailed. Black, Brown, Red, Yellow and White all dominated the dialogue about race, racism and how people viewed each other and themselves, but then someone said "I'm not yellow. I'm more brown." We had yellow Asian Americans and brown Asian Americans, and we realized that color was not adequate to define such a diverse community.
"So back in the day," we started ethnic studies programs to do research and find out more about our histories and cultures here in the United States. When we did that, we realized that our history and culture was alive in the stories of our communities, families and in ourselves. It was as dynamic and ever changing as our lives were, and it didn't fit into only one subject area or category.
After the exclusion of all Asian immigration in the mid-1930s, the re-opening of immigration in 1965 and the end of the Indo-china War in the mid-seventies which connected the refugee experience to the immigrant experience, Asian and Pacific Islander America grew by leaps and bounds and created a critical mass whereby we are not a small minority anymore only living in certain geographic areas and regions. Asian and Pacific Islander America had arrived with the new millennium ready to take its rightful place with our other sisters and brothers in the American family.
Furthermore, the natural law to redefine ourselves is still in play because our realities have changed. Even though we continued to define ourselves as one collective group, we always knew that APIA was not homogeneous. Should Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders be a sub-group while sharing equal billing in the term APIA? Of course not, and as they define and redefine their communities both here and abroad, we shouldn't stand aside; we should support, work with and learn from their self- determination. What of the growth of interracial and interethnic relationships and families, how are they to be defined? They are to be embraced, loved, and welcomed because their realities will add more texture, color and substance to our ever-growing tapestry of community. The same holds true of all APIA communities that come to the United States with individual religions, culture and customs. It is also true of our children, sisters, brothers, aunties, uncles, moms, dads and elders who are loved ones to us all and demonstrate the connection from one generation to another and the uniqueness of each generation's experience. Embracing individuals within the APIA community also includes those of the LGBT community who are another important voice in our collective experience.
"So today, not back in the day", where do we go from here? To me, the Asian and Pacific Islander community is a big tent with room for many more. A horrific event, 9/11, connected one community with another who felt the same impact of another terrible event, December 7, 1941. Some from the Muslim and Arab American and Japanese American communities have been able to share their experiences as a result of xenophobia from war. Because of these external events, lives and histories in America were transformed with negative consequences. But this connection, this community bonding, redefines Asian and Pacific Islander America with Muslim and Arab Americans becoming sisters and brothers not based on anthropological or biological terms but by common experiences in our paths to becoming part of American society.
How do we define Asian and Pacific Islander America? It is dynamic and ever changing based upon our collective changing American experience. We can define it any way we want.
Assemblymember Warren T. Furutani (D-South Los Angeles County) represents the 55th Assembly District, which includes the cities of Carson, Harbor City, the Harbor Gateway, Wilmington and parts of Lakewood and Long Beach. He serves as chair of the California Asian & Pacific Islander Legislative Caucus. More information about Assembymember Furutani can be found here.