Beneath the Label

Interning at the Asian American Resource Center has exposed me to the multi-faceted aspects of the Asian American identity and has changed the way I thought, or to an extent has created my understanding, of what it means to be Asian American. The phrase itself, “Asian American”, was a simple string of words that at first merely described my ethnic heritage. Before coming to Claremont, I had usually, if ever, thought of myself as Chinese American, an American of Chinese descent, rather than Asian American. The label of Asian American only appeared on tests and was one I inconspicuously took on. Being in CMC’s Asian Pacific American Mentoring Program (APAM), simply seemed to validate that understanding. Almost everyone was of East Asian descent or from Asia, and I was basically having fun and meeting other Asians, everything seemed how it should be, right? Working at the AARC though introduced me to a different way of looking at those two words. My understanding of what it means to be Asian American has definitely changed for me personally. The importance of community and conversation has become evident to me. Talking with other interns and participating in different committees have exposed me to different ways students approach their Asian American identity. For example, some discuss the issues that Asian Americans face as a whole, while others explore their heritage and family history. I have found it helpful to do both. Only this last week I was interviewed to help someone write a thesis on the Taiwanese American experience and during the interview I realized that I did not even know the answers to some basic questions such as “Why did your parents come to the United States?” and “Where are your relatives today?”! I wondered to myself, how much do I really know about my family? I always thought I knew, but I realized I didn’t know for sure! These questions have become important to me to understand how I came to be here, and are questions I should have answers to. Working in the Empower U Committee has also helped me grow in various ways. Besides the experiences of curriculum planning and leading workshops, I have also been exposed to various socio-cultural and economic issues that Asian Americans and people of color face. Learning about issues such as educational tracking, privilege, micro-aggressions, and the model minority myth have conceptualized events and experiences that I myself had gone through. Listening to what the high school students and other committee members have to share has been inspiring and revealing for me. Eventually I hope to bring these discussions to CMC, and at the very least provide a space at CMC for these conversations if people want to. This was my rationale behind holding APAM’s first API Roundtable discussion event, which I enjoyed. Coming to the Claremont Colleges has proven to be an eye opener and has led to an inward examination of myself, opening up a desire to learn and talk more about what it means to be Asian American. For me this journey, which is still continuing, can be summed up in one word – discovery.

Aaron Yang
CMC ’17

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