By Xuan Jiang
My mom ingrained a deep sense of self-confidence in me about my identity as an Asian woman; and for years, I felt good about my identity, especially in my job in academia. I have found that most people in the “Ivory Tower” are genuinely interested in where I’m from, try to learn more Chinese than “Ni Hao,” and share their liking of Chinese food.
Such comfort started to fade last year when COVID began impacting the community. My kids started to share stories they heard about a “Chinese virus” or about being asked, “Do you eat bats?” But the Atlanta shooting of six Asian women truly shook me. I felt the threat. I felt that I, or anyone who looked like me, might be the next victim.
As a scholar, I decided to process my feelings by searching through the data. What I found were shredded and recollected documents that often only showed the history of Asian-Americans as one of oppression, such as the Chinese Massacre of 1871, the Japanese internment during WWII, and Filipino-Americans’ Delano Grape Strike in 1965.
Moreover, I found that Asian women have a history of objectification. They have been referred to by American soldiers as “little brown f**king machines powered by rice,” and the deeply troubling phrase “me love you long time” originated from a portrayal of Asian women as hypersexualized in the film “Full Metal Jacket.”
Those findings contextualized my own history with this stereotype. In 2008, I was walking with two other Asian women in Brisbane, Australia’s Chinatown, heading to a bus stop after visiting a Chinese grocery store. A White young man approached us, and thinking he was going to ask for directions, we slowed down. Instead, he grinned at me and asked, “How much?”
At first, I thought he was asking me the price of my groceries. Then I realized what he actually meant as he passed us, laughing loudly and obscenely. We were wearing long-sleeve T-shirts and jeans in Brisbane’s winter, and he looked like any male student at the university where we were studying. But at that moment, his laughter transformed us into “others.”
The encounter made me more self-aware and cautious, and I never went back to that neighborhood again during my stay in Brisbane. Even though it happened over a decade ago, I have never been able to forget his self-satisfied grin and insinuating laughter. Such incidents have been steadily on the rise in the United States over the last year. In 2020, 68 percent of anti-Asian hate incidents were targeted at Asian women.
My career in higher education means I’ve seen firsthand how universities can be a catalyst for change. It should be noted that in many cases the Asian population in universities is much bigger than anywhere else in the local community, meaning colleges are well-situated to become true partners and allies to the Asian and Asian-American community.
As such, I am now sending a plea to FIU and other universities to consider investing resources and building more programs that demonstrate solidarity with their Asian faculty, staff and students. For instance, the Bystander leadership program—run by the Office to Advance Women, Equity & Diversity—can count toward professional development. UCC courses can include the history of excluded cultures, including Asians. First-year composition classes can highlight forgotten voices and discuss current issues of social justice. It is important that these programs go beyond Asian Studies or Women’s Studies departments to be truly interdisciplinary collaborations. These are issues that affect everyone.
I would love to leave something for my daughter just as my mom did for me. I want to leave her, and all the girls who look like her, the potential for a future where they don’t have to worry about lewd remarks in the street—a future where they will hear things like “I appreciate you” and “you are valued.”
Xuan Jiang is a faculty fellow in the Office to Advance Women, Equity & Diversity; faculty administrator in the College of Arts, Sciences & Education; and assistant director of the Center for Excellence in Writing. She specializes in interdisciplinary collaboration, English for Academic Purpose (EAP) writing, as well as English learners' writing. She writes about international and immigrant students' academic experiences and writing. She teaches the peer-tutoring course - ENC 3491.