To My Younger Sister

This is weird, I know. It’s weird because I can’t find the right words to fully and eloquently express the important things I want to say when I’m right in front of you. It’s weird because you probably have never seen me this serious or have ever witnessed a time when I’m not making light of a situation or roasting you.

This is weird but bear with me.

You’re a young adolescent now so things are changing. Your body’s changing, your philosophies, your relationships with loved ones, and quite possibly the ways others treat you are changing as well. I write this letter to pass on a few things I’ve learned when I was a young, antsy, teenager with anxiously charged particles running through my veins. I don’t mean to be patronizing or anything, but let’s be real, I’ve been there and probably have done a lot of that.

Lesson 1.

Our culture is different. We’re brought up with Western ideals and thoughts (much gratitude to our more privileged education and our family’s constant reminder of it) but don’t forget, we’re still very much immersed, molded, and sculpted by our conventional culture. Our family won’t always understand our retaliations and reasonings, and yes, they will disregard it as angst-y teen behavior, and may even regret their own decision to give us Western education. Likewise, we will be confounded by their rebukes. It won’t ever make sense to us why girls aren’t allowed to whistle, or why men are supposed to be textbook heroes and romantics every second of their life (don’t worry, I’ll write another letter to our brother too). The reason why we can’t clip our nails at night or why our people would rather start a conversation by commenting on your body than by a simple, “How are you?” (see Lesson 2) won’t ever resonate with us. So, be patient. If there’s anything I learned from my childhood years is that there’s no upside in heated arguments. Trains of thoughts will collide, diction choices will be lost in translation, confused yells will be exchanged, all for what? Sometimes, there’s really no convincing the other party if both participants fail to understand the other side of the pond. Listen, calmly defend yourself, absorb in good rebukes, and listen some more.

Lesson 2.

Aunties and uncles will comment on your body. You’ve experienced this even before you started growing. The remarks they’ll make are just coin tosses, really- there will be a 50-50 chance of them either ruining your day or making not much of a difference to it. I’ve been told that they come from good intentions but I doubt they see the scars their comparisons to our thinner, conventionally prettier friends or family members leave on us. They won’t ever see your skipped meals but they will spazz on how hollow your collarbones look. Your confidence is a pyramid of Legos they will knock down over and over again, until the words ‘building blocks’ turn meaningless and numb. To them, the comments are innocent. They are simply ‘facts’ about your body that are just conversation starters, nothing more.

Fuck them. Seriously. Thin and fat are all relative. Beauty is subjective. Uniqueness, however, is for yours to keep. It’ll take a while for you to turn a deaf ear to the naysayers but trust me, once you manage to build yourself a good foundation, your wall of self-esteem can reflect all kinds of bull.

Lesson 3.

If you’re anything like me, you’ll agree that intellectual insecurity takes precedence above all else. And if you’re as competitive as I am, life won’t be as relaxing as you would’ve hoped. This is important- every time you feel as though you are constantly a few miles behind even though you’ve been sprinting as fast as your limbs allow, remind yourself that not everyone started at the same place and that not every blank was shot in the air at the same time. Some of your friends and colleagues may have had a better education, more attentive parents, and/or money than us and some, less so (this will become even more apparent in college). However, this does not mean that you should coax yourself into lethargy. Being from a third world country means you’ll have to work that much harder to be on the same level as most of your first world counterparts. Prepare to make strides but remember to treat yourself kindly.

Lesson 4.

The lesson I’ve been dreading to write about. I’ll be quick.

Okay, we can talk about love. As we both know, mom is super strict, just like any other stereotypical Asian parent, about dating. I personally don’t care. Why? Because I see dating through a scientific lens. It is human nature to mate and breed, and dating is nothing but a simple social construct to speed up the process. You may not see it the same way as I do (which is perfectly fine) but I hope that my point of view will help deconstruct the seemingly mystical aura of this forbidden fruit. If and when you do find a boy or girl whom you deem lucky enough to be with you, don’t forget to remind yourself of your priorities. Always think about the long run, always set goals, and act accordingly. I trust that you will be responsible in your decisions.

Lesson 5.

Be kind. Smile at strangers. Help someone bring their groceries to their car. Donate. Compliment someone. Root for a cause. Smile at strangers.

That’s all, really. I genuinely hope that these lessons will be of help to you (I would have done so much better in life if I had me as an older sister, seriously). I see so much potential for your goodness to be great one day. Never drop that paintbrush, never stop crafting. I love you.

From Ma Chaw

Moving Forward - Frank Huang

    Like many of my friends and colleagues, I was concerned when Donald Trump won the 2016 Presidential Election. However, I was also optimistic and hopeful that this wasn’t the sign that judgement day was upon us. I felt relief that now we could move beyond the walls of heightened, ignorant rhetoric and try to address issues that face America in the present. However, I feel like it needs to be stressed that the concerns and fears of Americans over the hatred that Donald Trump promotes is very real, and must be addressed with seriousness. That being said, I wanted to write about a facet of the election that has always been of interest to me: the Asian American voting population.

           The AAPI community is one of the (if not the) fastest growing racial groups in the United States, making up the majority of recent immigrants. There are an estimated 20 million Asian Americans in the United States, and yet there is a paradox that seems to plague the community year after year: voter turnout. Asian Americans seem to consistently have some of the lowest voter turnouts of any other minority group. However, to me this isn’t a surprising fact. Growing up, my parents never really got themselves involved in politics. “It’s a waste of time. They never really do anything anyways.” It’s a sentiment that has always bothered me. One of the core lessons taught in any grade school civics class is voting and representation. Democracy works because the people elect leaders that carry largely the same interests as the people they represent. Yet my parents are hard-working American citizens that have no real faith in the system.

           When I talk about this issue with friends who are also members of the AAPI community, I hear much of the same. Many Asian American parents have never voted at all or vote very infrequently. They would usually have a candidate that they favored but couldn’t be bothered to invest more time into finding out policies and taking the time to cast an educated vote. The causes for this are numerous and at times hard to pin down. One reason my parents tell me is that nothing really ever affects them. You don’t really turn on the television and see anybody talking about Asian American issues or hear about politicians trying to pass policy for their Asian American electorate. A lot of people within the APA community feel abandoned and ignored, perpetuated by decades of bias and stereotypes. The Model Minority Myth definitely plays a role in the ignorance of issues the AAPI community faces, and that’s a topic I want to revisit in another article. Of course, these aren’t the only reasons. There are language barriers, cultural conflicts and concerns, among many others.

           So why do I want to bring up this issue now? One of the most divisive presidential elections in history has already ended, and short of a TARDIS showing up it’s not like my parents can cast a ballot now. Of course, this isn’t the only election that matters: there’s tons of critical elections not just on the national level that affect our everyday lives. Local and state elections are just as important, and voices need to be heard if we want problems to be addressed. Many people have pointed out that one of the main causes of Donald Trump’s victory was the voice of the neglected white, middle-class voters. While it is painted negatively in media as a “whitelash” and marker of white privilege, it can also be used as an example where your voice can have an incredibly large impact. Asian Americans need more representation, and that also involves being more active in politics and promoting awareness. It doesn’t have to be just in the form of voting in elections, it can be as simple as talking about issues with friends and family.

Over the past few years, what actually got me into learning more about AAPI issues were conversations I had with friends. Being an Asian American, there were many things even I wasn’t aware about, and neither were my parents. There are already efforts to try and bring more awareness to the voter turnout issue as well as many other AAPI issues. It’s not just up to the younger generations of US-educated voters, it’s also up to the older generation to learn more about the issues and really value the power they hold in being able to vote for their representatives. We’re a long way from gaining widespread recognition, but it’s my hope that voter turnout will at least start to grow steadily.

*** Disclaimer: this article is an opinion piece and does not explicitly represent the political ideas or affiliations of Asian Student Union or the University of Virginia **

From Then till Now - Khine Mon Thant

I knew what America was ever since I could ask questions and roll jumbled up sentences off my tongue. I’d point at the TV and ask where these cartoons and funky colors and strange sounding lullabies were made. My mom would consider for a while; the colors were far too cheery, the animation too advanced, and the language too foreign and sharp to be Burmese. She’d say it’s from America.

Some people told me they dreamed of castles on clouds when they were little. Some say it was scaly dinosaurs and humanoid robots that filled their days. I dreamed of America. It was where all the candy factories were (I was devastated when I was told that Willy Wonka’s chocolate factory is merely pretty fabrication). It was the birthplace of all my favorite cartoons, stuffed toys, and movies. It was where children ran wild in the streets, not hid indoors because there was a protest a few blocks from home.

When asked what my favorite colors were, I’d proudly say red, white, and blue.

My infatuation with the country subsided as I matured, of course. Not every childhood fantasy persists into adolescence but I always knew I wanted to go to America for college. It didn’t take too long for my dreams to become a reality and when I first set foot on American grounds, I knew this was going to be another page break. I was a nervous, blinking cursor on a whole new slate.

So, how electrifying was culture shock? Every bit of new information came in the form of short zapping waves, some of which are particularly delightful. Mustard was new. And so were eggs in milk cartons. ‘How are you?’ is usually not a conversation starter but a simple greeting (trust me, I learned this the embarrassing way) and the open door policy is no longer just a topic you learn in History class but it is this rule in dorms to help you socialize (yuck).  A lot of the people here also had an unusual affinity for bodily contact; I can count on my fingers the number of times that I’ve hugged my family during my 19 years on this planet. All of these small bits and pieces of exposure to American culture made for fun conversations and anecdotes to laugh over a meal at Newcomb. What didn’t was the occasional backlash I received for being foreign.

No, I didn’t think everything in America was pristine, good, and right. What I did believe, though, was that everyone here was more informed about the world and unfortunately, I was incredibly naïve to have formed such a general assertion. According to some of the people here, I am ‘clearly Chinese’ and I ride elephants to school everyday. These comments were unpleasant to say the least but they paled in comparison to the presidential election of 2016. Ignoring the potential disaster Trump’s presidency could have on my professional future here in the States, what hurts the most about all of this is finally confronting my inner child and telling her, “You were wrong”.

I could tell you about how frustrating this is. I could tell you about how mad I was to have an overly baked sweet potato that is president-elect Trump shatter the good I see in America and how uncertain my professional future here in the States is. But I won’t. I won’t because no matter how disappointed I am after the turbulent ride that was the elections, I still love red, blue, and white. From my roommate buying me a bottle of mustard just to cheer me up, to the many strangers who smiled at me as they walked by, to all the kind souls I have had the privilege to meet here, there are so many things that scream greatness in America. This country is far from being a lost cause so cheer up, roll up those sleeves, whistle a tune, and get working.

Sidenote to children everywhere: Adults should be fact-checked too. Yes, even if it’s your mom.

***Disclaimer: this article is an opinion piece and does not explicitly represent the political ideas or affiliations of Asian Student Union or the University of Virginia***

The Continuance: Facing the Fallout of the 2016 Election - Lauren LeVan

“The struggle is a continuance, but you were built for this shit” Junot Diaz at the Charlottesville Human Ties Festival, Fall 2016

The excitement in the air on Tuesday November 8th was almost tangible. Students at the University of Virginia lined up at the polls as early as 6am, many of us voting in our first presidential election. Professors emphasized the importance of the vote. Sorority girls snapped photos complete with donkey and elephant filters. Articles were shared. Statuses were updated. Stickers were distributed. We had watched the news; read The Skimm; seen the campaign advertisements; followed every scandal and twist and turn this tumultuous election cycle brought before us. We were educated on the issues. We worked hard, and we were prepared.

The electoral votes began trickling in, and we (or at least the majority of us in Albemarle County, Virginia according to Poltico) felt our hearts drop to the floor, and our blood run cold. Our excitement and hope turned to ash in our mouths. A Trump victory had ensued.  

For countless students, myself included, this election became about more than tax plans, trade deals, and the right to choose. Regardless of party affiliation this election became about what America does or does not tolerate. It was about whether we support anti-establishment candidates, who we welcome into our country, and on what grounds. It was about how we are supposed to build communities, ensure peace, promote education, and protect our citizens from violence. It was about making history.

And we chose his history. He was the choice we made.

As a student leader and political activist I found my peers demanding of me and of themselves:

How can I reconcile with my identity as an Asian American knowing that the majority of my country doesn’t want me?

I am not welcome here.

Was the American dream just a wasted effort?

Why don’t I belong?

My voice doesn’t matter compared to theirs.

This isn’t my home.

I am scared and don’t know what tomorrow brings.

I felt myself being sucked into the rabbit hole of despair, consumed by the weight of the heartbreak my closest friends were experiencing, powerless to heal them or ameliorate their grief. I became involved in advocacy and social justice to prevent this very sense of hopelessness from touching the lives of those I love, but it happened anyways.

To the marginalized groups at UVA that were ultimately hurt by the outcome of this election: Do not give up, for the fight has not stopped and it cannot end with us.

I was raised by two immigrant parents whose every accomplishment served as validation for their existence. Their stories of heartbreak, isolation, racism, and exhaustion are as essential to my identity as the genes I inherited from them. My father came here as an orphan following the fall of Saigon. My mother moved here when she was twelve and was asked if she lived in trees.

But for every tale of hardship is one of triumph. My father mastered the english language in less than 5 years, becoming salutatorian of his high school. My mother won the spelling bee the year she came to this country--her  winning word was immigrant. My parents juggled working multiple jobs while being full time students to earn their college degrees. I ask them what their greatest life accomplishment is; what, in their long list of achievements, are they most proud of?

They say unanimously and consistently that it is my brother and me. It is watching us chase our dreams with wild abandon, to have created something better than themselves, to watch as we charge into the future with a confidence absolutely inaccessible to them at our age, and still overwhelmingly denied to our relatives abroad.

To the women, LGBTQ students, students of color, and immigrants of UVA and this country, I beg of you one thing: remember who you are, and where you have come from. Remember that our communities have always faced hurdles. We have always been pushed away, violated, ostracized and de-valued. We are a community of struggle. This struggle did not begin with this election, and it will not end with it.

But we are built for this. We have always faced obstacles, and we have always overcome them. We have always outlasted, outsmarted, and outnumbered those who wish to keep us on our knees. We are the sons and daughters of fighters and survivors. For every moment that someone told us we were lazy, strange, undeserving, unintelligent, and unwelcome, there was a moment that we proved them wrong. With chains around our ankles we built railroads that linked our country together. With heavy hearts we created art and music that inspired and connected. With broken bones and blackened eyes we earned the right to vote. With little recognition and sparse equipment we made scientific discoveries that helped millions. We wrote books and advocated for policies that changed the world. We lost our brothers and sons and fathers in wars. We made a place for ourselves in this country, and we should be proud of it.

We are the deliverance of all those who came before us, just as surely as we will be the heroes of those who come after us. But that can not happen if we let today defeat us. Find solace in one another, for while the struggle is a continuance, it is not one to be suffered through alone.

***Disclaimer: this article is an opinion piece and does not explicitly represent the political ideas or affiliations of Asian Student Union or the University of Virginia***