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A Holmes Scholar’s Reflection on AANHPI Heritage Month

Eleanor Su-Keene

I’m not your model minority. In fact, I spent much of my life contemplating whether I’m actually a minority at all. In the United States, racial socialization runs along a Black/White spectrum, where until recently, Asian American, Native Hawaiians and Pacific Islanders (AANHPI) communities existed outside of mainstream racial dialogue. If I may elaborate. As a society, people move through in different ways, and it is only when you come across barriers or lack the privilege afforded to others based on race, that you experience oppression and injustice firsthand. Asian Americans occupy a contentious, invisible space in which race is operationalized as simultaneously a privilege and a form of discrimination. As Cathy Park Hong wrote in Minor Feelings, “Asians lack presence. Asians take up apologetic space. We don’t even have enough presence to be considered real minorities. We’re not racial enough to be token. We’re so post-racial we’re silicon.”

Six years ago, the Trump Administration created a social environment that surfaced racism as a chronic crisis that BIPOC communities have known for centuries. The COVID-19 pandemic has done something similar by unmasking deep-rooted, anti-Asian sentiments. It has illuminated both current and historical discrimination and violence against AANHPI communities. History shows that for every two miles of transcontinental railroad, three Chinese immigrant laborers died. The Chinese Massacre of 1871, where 18 people were hanged and 10% of Los Angeles’s Chinese population was killed because of a rumor around a White police officer’s death, was the single largest mass lynching in American history. The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, the first anti-immigration policy passed based on race, further vilified and promoted violence against the Asian American community. 

Being an Asian American in this country is complicated. Members of all racial/ethnic groups have asked me and my fellow AANHPI colleagues whether we are minorities or people of color to this day. And while it’s painful to be asked these questions and viewed with suspicion (a vestige of the Yellow Peril), I have nothing but compassion in understanding how we — all racial/ethnic groups — have been socialized in seeing Asian Americans as White-adjacent. Indeed, Asian Americans on a whole are still reckoning with our racial identity and situatedness. I am still learning how to love the invisible shadow of my racial identity and my eyes that kiss in the corners. We are learning to support one another, standing in solidarity with our BIPOC brothers and sisters, and (re)defining ourselves in the racial narrative.

As an educator, I recognize that part of the challenge is the lack of understanding around the diverse needs of AANHPI communities. Certainly, model minority stereotyping has blinded educational systems from providing the resources and supports necessary to address long-standing mental health issues amongst AANHPI adolescent youth. In the last two years, educators have started to reevaluate educational priorities. Care, inclusivity, and acceptance have been reprioritized above accountability and academic demands. It is my hope that as educators, we can sincerely begin humanizing AANHPI students and families so that they feel seen, loved, and accepted.

Eleanor Su-Keene, an AACTE Holmes Scholar, is a doctoral candidate in educational leadership and research methodology At Florida Atlantic University.

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