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Growing up as an Indian, I always had a weird relationship with the term “Asian-American.” I was technically of Asian descent, but it always felt like that word wasn’t meant for me, and that Asian-American was referring to some other group of people. When people from America think of Asians they would think of someone of Japanese, Chinese or at least somebody of East Asian descent. A person I knew used to joke that you weren’t Asian unless “You had the eyes.” Most of American cultures go by this viewpoint too. When the news talks about Asian representation in media it is always focused on East or Southeast Asian people and not South Asian people. The stereotypes that are targeted at Asian people didn’t seem to apply to me either. Myself and other Indian-American men never felt the stereotype that we are somehow more unassertive that has been leveled at men of Asian descent. Honestly, I can kind of realize why most Americans think of East or Southeast Asians instead of someone like me. East Asians have been in this country longer than Indians have, and when they first came, they came in larger populations. The opposite is true in places like the UK, where “Asian” refers to Indian or Pakistani people.
Knowing that 9/11 happened had alienated people who look like me from the word Asian-American. When people found out I’m Indian, their reaction was either that South Asian or Indian was its own special category, or that India isn’t different enough from the Middle East to matter. I’ve always been thrown into the Middle Eastern or Muslim category because of the way I looked. I can’t speak for other ethnic groups, but I feel like “Asian-American” is an overly broad and all together bad term to use. It assumes that the entirety of Asia is somehow similar, whether it be culturally or physically. This lumps together disparate cultures with entirely different histories, religions and languages. It irregularities together a man from Israel with a man from Korea, or a man from Uzbekistan with somebody from Vietnam. These are societies and people groups that are different to the point that we should cease from placing them in some larger ethnic group.
Reading that last part, some of you may have felt that Israel and Uzbekistan aren’t Asian nations, yet that is precisely the issue with the term. The two nations are on the mainland of Asia, so they are Asian. In any case, in one case we think of them as Middle Eastern and the other is viewed as Central Asian on the off chance that they’re viewed as Asian by any stretch of the imagination. A few nations don’t fit into Asia neatly. Is Turkey Asian or European or Middle Eastern? Why is Egypt viewed as Middle Eastern, in fact Asian, when it is in Africa? Would we call a man of Egyptian or Moroccan descent an African-American? Why are Filipinos viewed as Asian/Pacific Islanders and the Japanese are not when Japan is likewise an island in the Pacific Ocean? All the better we can do is part them into littler gatherings: East Asia, Southeast Asia, South Asia, Central Asia, Middle East potentially even North Africa too. When I get requested that what it implies be an Asian American, I for one need to state it doesn’t mean anything, in light of the fact that the term is itself inane.
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