When I was hired as Head Teacher for the Chinese Church day care center I was invited to the reverend’s house in Chinatown for a celebratory dinner. As I was enjoying the most amazing home cooked meal, his voice suddenly became solemn. He looked at me and confided that his older son had died in the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. I went numb, stung not only by the sadness of his loss, but sudden hyper-awareness of who I was. In my family there were militarists and my grandparents had been part of the colonizing civilians in China.
The minister followed that shocking statement by telling me that he was hiring me anyway, because he believed that I would understand the children better than a white person. He explained that while Chinese and Japanese were from different countries and bore scars of aggression and oppression, in the U.S. we were now all Americans and it was our commonalities that mattered, our shared cultural heritage, as well as political and social realities, that united us. That was my introduction to the meaning of Asian American.
Photo by zhenzhong Liu