How Asian Are You?

The concept of an Asian American identity is entirely artificial.

May, in case you missed out, was Asian American Heritage Month. Chances are it passed you by.

The idea of some sort of broader Asian American identity is probably alien not just to most Indians, but I suspect other Asian subgroups as well. Asia is a geographic concept and nothing more. Most Asian countries have far greater trade and travel linkages with Europe and America than they do with other Asian countries. There are few cultural bonds between the various Asian countries, except perhaps some bordering ones. And the continent does not share a common religious heritage, history or language, which can sometimes form the basis of cross national identity, such as is true for Hispanics and African Americans.

Fact is, the Asian American category is an artificial construct, drawn up in the bureaucratic maze of the Census Bureau as an artifact of convenience to lump the disparate groups – and even it is not very accurate, considering that several major groups (such as people from Israel and some Arab countries) are excluded.

There have been well-meaning attempts by socially conscious groups to attempt to bridge the different Asian communities, who by happenchance discover themselves lumped together. But these smattering of efforts, driven often by crass political (and sometimes economic) expediency have received only a tepid response within the different Asian communities.

Identity cannot be imposed. It is not some artificial construct that can be willed. It has to felt and shared. Its rhythms are found in the music we strum to, in the jokes that we erupt at, in the fashion trends that we emulate, in the celebrities that we hoot, in the food that we lap up. It is constructed not by high-minded sermons, but in the mundane business of life.

You wish it were different? That we could rise above our narrow parochial shells to embrace the larger us? The funny thing is that we have. Remarkably, Indians and Asians more so than any other group. It is hreflected most dramatically in the one voluntary step we take that is most far-reaching in its impact on individual and group identity – marriage. Asians have the highest proportion of interracial marriages in this country. But few of these marriages are with other Asians; the vast majority of Asian interracial couplings are with Whites.

The encounter with America has most surely transformed us. But expanding it to an Asian American identity is not one of them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *