Exploring Identity: The Asian American Experience at Harvard
The Harvard Crimson: The University Daily since 1873
Maia R. Silber, Crimson Staff Writer
While last year’s “I, Too, Am Harvard” focused on identity and belongingness on a multiracial campus, Harvard’s AAPI students will also examine these concepts within the context of their own community.
It is a Saturday night, and it is raining—two factors counting against attendance at the talk co-hosted by Harvard’s Asian American Brotherhood and Black Men’s Forum. But a surprising number of people have filtered through the double doors of Boylston Hall, filling the plush red chairs only vaguely oriented around an old-fashioned projector. Stragglers lean against the shade-less windows, their elbows forming perpendicular angles with the droplets pounding on the other side.
Really, it’s no surprise that neither weather nor the opportunity cost of missed social engagements has deterred the audience; the talk centers on the buzz-worthy issue of affirmative action. Both campus groups have invited an alumnus who’s an expert on the issue for two short presentations, to be followed by a Q&A.
Gregory D. Kristof ’15, the education and politics director of AAB, a campus organization whose mission statement cites dedication to brotherhood, service, and activism, introduces AAB’s alumnus. Kristof focuses on the third part of AAB’s mission—the group’s discussions of discrimination and race-relations.
“We can only make so much progress if we only discuss these issues among AAB—among Asian Americans,” he says.
As discussions about race and inclusiveness have moved to the forefront of campus life with the “I, Too, Am Harvard” campaign, many Asian American student organizations have launched their own dialogues about issues pertinent to their community. But the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community at Harvard—representing around 24 percent of the school’s population—encompasses individuals of dozens of different national, ethnic, linguistic, socioeconomic, and religious identities. It includes students born here and students born in Asia, biracial students and multiracial students. How can a unified political force emerge from such a diverse and multifaceted population? Is this even a goal to aspire to?…
…Many students remain unsure as to how to define their own identities. “Sometimes I think of myself as Asian, but sometimes I don’t,” said Jacob. “When I see an Asian collaboration happening, do I automatically think that we should be included? Not necessarily.”
“Asian American” identities are further complicated by biracial and multiracial heritages. Harvard’s Half Asian People’s Association holds an annual discussion called “So What Are You Anyway?”
“When we get together, people always ask, ‘Do you feel more Asian or more white?’” says outgoing HAPA president Allison W. Giebisch ’16, who is of half-Austrian and half-Chinese descent. “When I go to China, people don’t think I’m Chinese. In the U.S., people don’t think I’m American.”…
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