Asian American Experience at Harvard

It is not easy to distinguish ethnicity from a continent that is divided into five distinct large areas which are central, south, southeast, east, and west and 48 countries. “Asian” citizens of the United States come from all parts of the continent; There are around 3.8 million Chinese Americans and they are   America’s largest Asian population. Filipino, Indian, Vietnamese, and Korean Americans account for 3.4, 3.1, 1.7, and 1.7 million U.S. citizens, respectively. The official list of student organizations shows groups that represent China, Hong Kong, Iran, Hawaii, Japan, Korea, the Middle East, South Asia, Southeast Asia, Pakistan, the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, and Vietnam. When it comes to cross-organizational efforts, collaborations have tended to follow regional lines. 

Many students are not sure as to how to define their own identities. Asian American identities are further complicated by biracial and multiracial heritages. “When we get together, people always ask, ‘Do you feel more Asian or more American” “When Asians go to their countries of origin people don’t think they belong and that they are Americans.  In the U.S., people don’t think I’m American. Many students born and raised in Asia also identify as Asian American.  “There’s a divide between national Asians and American Asians that exists and is obvious from the get-go, but that doesn’t mean the divide is unbreakable. Whether and however students define their identities, the decision to actively participate in Harvard’s AAPI community particularly by joining an official student organization is not always an obvious one.

For most Asians joining AAPI cultural organizations provided a much-needed sense of community. For students who do choose to become active participants in Harvard’s official AAPI community, organized efforts might include social, cultural, service-oriented, or activist activities. While some organizations include activism and/or political outreach among their founding pillars, other groups, like the South Asian Association, have recently made an effort to develop their emphasis beyond community-building in an effort to draw in new members and engage in serious campus discussions. Activism-oriented collaborations, while on the rise, might be more difficult to promote

Some students said that the pervasive nature of the model minority myth—the idea that Asian Americans compose a nearly uniformly successful ethnic group and therefore do not suffer from discrimination will make it difficult to call attention to Asian American political causes. Some students have found it necessary to speak out. “You’ll have different opinions [on combating stereotypes] within the Asian American community.  For now, a single stimulating cause remains elusive and it seems unlikely that Asian American activism would be reduced to a single cause or a single identity. However, now intergroup campus efforts have found productive ways to tackle common concerns that would help to assimilate Asians into the American identity.

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