“Authentic” Performance as Agent for Social/Political Change

When I attended the spring conference for MAASU (Midwest Asian American Student Union) last year, most of the workshops that were offered in the program were crucial to forging the attendees’ identities individually. However other than a few mentions of senseless hate crimes in the opening ceremony speech, not much was done to understand the foundational work laid by past generations or, much less, the history of sacrifice. I believe that as an APIA community, we are obliged to learn the history of oppression among all target groups, so that we are not only aware of our heritage but also able to engage as effective activists. Especially in the current political climate, the legitimate use of factual information or anecdotal experiences across different target groups is crucial in drawing awareness to various issues and initiating proper political change.

Internment camps and the Holocaust weren’t a sudden escalation of hate: it started with the “otherness” sentiment. Decades ago, caricatures of Asian people were drawn and the derogatory terms of “chink” and “zipperhead” comes from oppressed periods of American anti-Asian history. Now, the administration’s attention is primarily on Muslims and Hispanics. These are just a few of the disastrous consequences as the direct result of electing a rotten orange to run this hopeless landmass.

When we are able to see a lot of the parallels between past treatments among marginalized groups and the current stigmas or the fucking immigration laws, we can recognize that a political pattern of capitalizing on the irrational fear of marginalized groups being used a political tool to promote the stratification of social power. There is undoubtedly a hierarchy of oppression and its inverse relationship with current social status in relation to the hegemonic group.

When people whitewash themselves out of safety, it is not out of complete surprise but it comes with shame. But it does explain why Asians as a whole do not support or even associate themselves with movements such as Black Lives Matter. If a history of oppression among Black people did not exist, it would be a much different world altogether, but I digress. The hegemonic group oppresses “good” and “troublemaking” minorities and everyone else in between with varying degrees and as a result, our calls to unite and stand against oppression remain divisive. While we arguably exist as the “best” minority, we get picked on because of specific stereotypes. We have hegemonically silenced ourselves out of safety, and yet this silence also backfires and acts to perpetuates the current senseless hate crimes.

In activism, the thought of being likable or marketable goes out the window. As performers, activists have complete agency in genuinely voicing their feelings in response to the blatant forms of racism and in taking a stand against notions of the model minority myth perpetuated by “visible” representations in mass culture. Activism provides many marginalized individuals the space to share their narratives as well as call for awareness to these social and economic injustices because rarely are these stories picked up by mainstream media.

While the idea of an “American dream” promotes individualism as a key to success, renouncing one’s cultural identity produces numerous harmful consequences. This again draws attention to performers and artists grappling with their ability to genuinely represent their ethnicity and not perpetuate one-dimensional characters in mainstream media. Maybe this is a way for the hegemonic group to ensure that we do not come together as a cohesive unit to uphold a political revolution. Much less as Asians, our acceptance of being the “silent minority” benefits us in that we do not cause trouble and in return, we are not given a hard time politically compared to other target groups. But at the same time, our problems are also considered smaller in size and worth, compared to those of the hegemonic group.

At MAASU, I attended different workshops such as hip hop and slam poetry led by people at the forefront of these artistic, political movements, but they did not speak of cultural appropriation: instead, time was spent on creating our own narratives and deeply reflecting on our stories. In the past ten weeks of this class, we discussed many notions about cultural appropriation such as ownership and appropriation, but really, it is about credit and erasure. Maybe through being aware of the hegemonic power play of pitting minorities against each other based on race, we are able to have a distinct voice through panethnic bonds against racism and use these as an agent to social change. While my experience at MAASU did not teach me the sacrifices and foundational work laid for us by past generations as this class has, it did enable me to build a future identity past an identity many people regard as largely silent and one-dimensional.

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