New RSO: Asian American Apathetics?

By Juliana Wu

If a new Asian cultural club arose on campus, I wouldn’t be surprised to see RSO status granted to AAA, Asian- American Apathetics. The volume of Asian-American news and buzz on campus is at most a mild hum, if anything above mute. Searching the Maroon archives for articles with the phrase “Asian American” in them, I found few references to the term: a recent article about Margaret Cho’s upcoming appearance on campus, and a review in Voices on last spring’s cinema release of Better Luck Tomorrow, to name a few.

I happened to read the review of the film (“Another bad teen movie, just with Asians,” 11/22/03), which said the “hackneyed plot” did little more than deliver the characters from the “widespread stereotype of overachieving” kids. I doubt the producers were aiming for an Oscar. The author failed to recognize the film’s landmark portrayal of Asian Americans. For the first time in popular cinema, these actors were not cast into roles of the all too familiar Jackie Chan Kung Fu master, the gangster creeping around the slums of Chinatown, the asexual math and science geek, or the tempting and exotic mistress serving the sexual needs of the strong, white man. The author’s insensitivity to the movie’s real objectives leads me to wonder whether anyone on this campus is aware of the very real and very present issues surrounding Asian Americans.

The lack of social awareness of issues concerning the biggest minority population on campus seems to be severe at this University. Did anyone know that Asians and Asian-Americans do not receive minority status from the University? Until a few weeks ago when I sat down to lunch with a board member of the Pan-Asian Students Club (PASC) here at the U of C, neither did I. Asians are considered minorities under U.S. law, along with African Americans and Hispanics. Yet the lack of recognition on campus excludes us from the Office of Minority Student Affairs, which gives minorities extra funding, help with job searches and notification of national scholarships for minorities. Currently PASC is campaigning for these privileges, but I doubt that any of the rest of us has heard of the effort. Maybe this is because we Asians are too timid to speak up; an illustration of our universally obedient nature, just in case you forgot.

Even more disturbing, I found no articles in the Maroon commenting on the Abercrombie and Fitch t-shirt incident that outraged student bodies across the nation in April 2002. I was in high school at the time and I can bet there was more buzz on my campus about the company’s parody of the Chinese laundryman stereotypes than there was here.

As a second-generation-Taiwanese-American growing up in a predominantly white environment, I had always looked forward to the racial diversity of college with the expectation that there would be numerous opportunities actively to participate in a collective Asian American voice. Recently, the University was ranked seventh in the nation for political activism. This ranking is not due to our apathy for Asian-American matters in the nation or even in the University.

The dominant Asian cultural clubs such as Chinese Undergraduate Students Association (CUSA), Korean Student Organization (KSO), Samahan, and Hong Kong Students Association (HKSA) undoubtedly provide social outlets for Asians and Asian Americans to unify and participate in activities celebrating their respective cultures. I support the presence of these cultural clubs on college campuses as a means to preserve and share culture. However, when it comes to deconstructing the model minority stigma or the general misrepresentation of Asian Americans, our campus lacks any substantial movement. I find no concern for such issues.

Those of us who have declined from participating in these Asian clubs, have often been seen by other Asian Americans as rejecting our culture; we are whitewashed Asians: “bananas”—yellow on the outside, white on the inside. On the contrary, I see no direction of progress in educating others of the misconceptions of Asian Americans when one chooses strictly isolate himself from those outside of his ethnicity. While racial segregation is certainly not what cultural clubs on campus aim to achieve, and not everyone in these clubs chooses to racially isolate themselves, the Asian cliques seem to be a naturally large and inevitable byproduct of them.

Call me a banana for whatever legitimate reasons there may be, but my absence from CUSA, KSO, Samahan, or HKSA isn’t detracting any from this campus’ nor my own awareness of our Asian Americaness. It’s going to take something much greater to keep AAA from becoming the umbrella Asian organization on campus.