It’s a strange thing to mourn strangers — six women I’ve never met and will never meet. For hours after I first read news of the shooting in Atlanta where a white man killed eight people, six of whom were Asian American women, my throat stiffened with a sadness I couldn’t swallow. I didn’t understand the very real grief I felt when I read their names: Soon Chung Park, Suncha Kim, Yong Ae Yue, Hyun Jung Grant, Xiaojie Tan, Delaina Yaun, Daoyou Feng and Paul Andre Michels.
I kept thinking their names were just another headline in a year long newspaper reel of attacks against Asian American elders and women. I told myself that it was a privilege to read of their deaths from a distance understanding that, as a Cornell student, I enjoy the insular privilege of a family background and an Ivy League education that separates me from older working-class Asian American women. There was a part of me that even felt like I didn’t have the right to mourn them, that it was overdramatic to feel real sadness over their deaths.
ByShivani Parikh, Aashka Piprottar, Hansen Tai, Jeannie Yamazaki, Jong Han & Kumar Nandanampati |
The question of whether Asian Americans qualify as people of color has become increasingly pertinent, especially after The Sun published an article about admissions statistics for the class of 2023, stating, “Nearly 55 percent of this year’s admitted students are ‘students of color’ — underrepresented minorities or Asian Americans — a new record for Cornell.”
So then, are Asian Americans people of color? It’s complicated. Takao Ozawa v. United States (1922) was a case in which the United States Supreme Court found Japanese-American Takao Ozawa ineligible for naturalization because the courts deemed him to not be white. United States v. Bhagat Singh Thind (1923) was a case in which the Supreme Court unanimously decided that Bhagat Singh Thind, an Indian Sikh man who identified as a “high caste aryan, of full Indian blood,” was racially ineligible for naturalized citizenship in the U.S. Associate Justice George Sutherland said that authorities on the subject of race were in disagreement over which people were included in the scientific definition of the Caucasian race, so Sutherland instead chose to rely on the common understanding of race rather than the scientific understanding of race. Concurrently and subsequently were the advents of calls to action for the government to address the “Yellow Peril,” Japanese internment during World War II, and fear of the “Hindoo Invasion.”
Asian Americans in the 1960s joined the fight for ethnic studies departments and for courses in higher education to teach them about themselves through a lens that was not anthropological or militaristic, but through focusing on the history of people of different minority ethnicity in the U.S. The combined determination of the Latin American Student Organization, the Black Student Union, the Intercollegiate Chinese for Social Action, the Mexican American Student Confederation, the Philippine American Collegiate Endeavor, La Raza, the Native American Students Union and later the Asian American Political Alliance galvanized California and the rest of the nation with the first student strike.
I’ve been assimilating all my life, and so I’ll do what’s traditional and start off with a personal anecdote. A year ago, I was playing basketball with a friend of mine on the public court near an off-campus fraternity house. As four of its members were driving by, one of them yelled at me, “Jeremy Lin!” When that happened, I wasn’t offended that they forgot that Yao Ming had a way better record, or that I was actually Korean, and I wasn’t wondering why my friend, who was Polish, wasn’t called Marcin Gortat. To the contrary, I was much wiser than that. I’ve heard these “jokes” and others like them over and over again throughout my whole life.