Oppression doesn’t have to be explicit. It’s a universal language, one that translates itself in many different ways. When I transferred to a high school in which I was an ethnic minority, I began to realize just how much oppression was still present. It came in the form of English teachers telling me that my vocabulary was too advanced for a “person like me,” and that I needed to cut down my sentences to less than what they were. Superfluous became more. Acknowledgement became realize. Deceit of oneself became lies. So many lies. I tried to take an art class in my sophomore year, was gazed upon with a dubious look. “People like you should stick to the technical fields,” the teacher told me condescendingly. I wanted to prove myself so badly; my words were all I had, but no one seemed to appreciate them. “Those aren’t your words,” others told me. They were. I knew there was something wrong here, said so. Oh, she’s just a teenager, finding a problem to complain about. Each day when I came home, I would begin crying, knowing that my voice was being silenced, that I was becoming less and less of myself and more of what Americans seemed to want me to be.
I had always called myself an advocate for the Asian-American narrative, but it weighed upon me: how could I be advocating for a broader community of people when I couldn’t even stand up for my own race? I began seeing the inequalities, the limited solution sets Asian-Americans were placed in. We could never transcend our range. We were confined within the domain of race, and it seemed impossible for us to ever break out of it. It was an absolute value. We were undefined in a world where the Asian-American story was invisible.
In my initial years of math, I had trouble defining numbers. Everything had a numerical value, but some were rational, and some were irrational. But some, the ones in a different category altogether, were imaginary. They were no longer real.
When I began to acknowledge my identity as someone who needed a hyphen for one identity, I started to think that maybe I was an imaginary number. I was zero, the absence of something. I was always trying to define myself within a limited solution set. René Descartes, French philosopher and mathematician, once stated, “I think, therefore I am.” In that sense, I was trying to associate myself within the inequalities of life. I ran for student council in ninth grade, and lost to girls whose ancestors had been here since colonial times, who brought to school real artifacts of the Civil War because for them, it was easy. It was their history. I began to regret my decision to leave my community of yellow, to pursue an American education that didn’t value me as much as I valued it. At least in my community, I had opportunity. At least in my community, I had a dream, one where I could represent a quantity greater than myself. But I couldn’t measure my skin color, not quantitatively.
Math isn’t my strong suit, but I do know this: equality matters. Representation and resistance matter. In a land of color, I want to be able to look across the continent, from sea to shining sea, and see a country that values not just one ethnicity, but diversity. I want to be able to flip through a United States History textbook and see the multi-faceted Asian-Americans that have made up so much of history. I want to look at them, smile, say these are my people. These are my people. Living on the edge of the margins can be difficult. No, I can’t claim that my basic rights have been violated.et, I can’t say that I’ve been truly liberated either. I am still a human being that is subject to the many stereotypes that have perpetuated throughout history. The variable is still left unsolved. I’m a writer of color who’s still being forced to write about kung pao chicken and jade dragons in Beijing. That isn’t my history; I’m not a metaphor. What I represent is just one of many individual stories of the Asian-American experience, one that needs to be told.
Political representation for Asian-Americans matters today specifically because of its potential to effect change. No, I was never elected for Student Council. But today, I continue to support the endeavors of Asian-Americans who do, knowing the trials they have overcome just to be standing on a stage and telling us why they matter. Because they do, and as voters in a story greater than ourselves, it’s our duty to acknowledge those stories for what they are, and not anything less. Your choice matters to the collective generation. Participation in the collective narrative, especially one in which Asian-Americans are traditionally underrepresented, is how we begin to showcase our narrative and define it for ourselves.
I wonder if I can cross a continent.