|Use of "Asian American" Wanes|
By Stephen Magagnini
Is the term "Asian American" fading into history, like "Oriental" before it?
As Sacramento's growing Asian immigrant communities celebrated Sunday's Pacific Rim Street Fest, a growing number note that Asian American isn't a race and said they choose to identify by their ethnicity.
Robbie Mae Lopez and her family came downtown to enjoy more than 15 Asian cultures represented – but don't call her Asian American.
"I'm full-blooded Filipino American," said Mae Lopez, 27, of West Sacramento. "Asian American is kind of a loose term. I think being Filipino American is a full-blown identity crisis itself. We were overrun by the Japanese, Spanish … ."
As the race question on the U.S. census form has expanded to 15 categories and write-in options – giving Americans the right to check as many boxes as they want – fewer are embracing the term Asian American.
It still holds currency for local civil rights activists Jerry Chong and Alice Wong.
"There are so many Asian ethnicities, the term Asian American still gives us a sense of unity, solidarity and identity," said Chong, legal counsel for CAPITAL (Council of Asian Pacific Islanders Together for Advocacy & Leadership), an umbrella group for several dozen organizations.
"To break ethnicity down into the various subgroups works against the collective voice the greater community needs," Wong said. "When you look at our history, culture and language, there are a lot of similarities."
They include emphasis on hard work, education and family values, Chong said.
Linda Ng, a Hong Kong immigrant who's treasurer of the national Organization of Chinese Americans, said she's proud to be an American. She added it's often hard for Asian Americans themselves to differentiate by ethnicity "in a sea of Asians."
Chong, 65, grew up in San Francisco's Chinatown when virtually all Asian immigrants were called Orientals – a term that fell out of favor because it was associated with European imperialism and conjured up cinematic racial stereotypes.
"I was around when they coined the word Asian American," Chong recalled.
In 1968, to build bridges with blacks, Latinos and American Indians fighting for civil rights, UCLA historian Yuji Ichioka created the Asian American Political Alliance.
Ichioka's family was interned during World War II. Before he coined the term and established UCLA's Asian American Studies Center in 1969, it was unheard of for Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos and Koreans to join forces politically.
Ichioka's efforts are credited with planting the seeds of ethnic studies programs at UC Berkeley, San Francisco State and Sacramento State, which recently celebrated its ethnic studies program's 40th anniversary.
Mai Nguyen, a Vietnamese immigrant who arrived when she was 4, calls herself Asian American. "We all have a shared background of coming to find freedom," she said.
Sacramento educators Lee Yang, 40, and his wife, Bo Moua, fled communism in Laos. As they strolled through Old Sacramento, past the booths selling savory Thai noodles and barbecue, nan bread, lumpia, teriyaki bowls and sushi, Yang said: "We look Asian."
But there are significant cultural differences, he said. While Chinese, Vietnamese, Koreans and Japanese were influenced by Confucianism, many Hmong refugees are now Christian. Asia is home to many of the world's religions, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Shinto, Taoism, Jainism, Sikhism, Animism and Zoroastrianism.
On the 2010 census, the couple wrote in Hmong. "That's mostly how I identify," said Moua, assistant principal at Pacific Elementary School.
The term Asian American works for McClatchy High School freshman Marisa Fong, 14, who is half Chinese and half Japanese.
Sonney Chong, president of CAPITAL, said he founded his organization in 1995 around the term Asian Pacific Islanders specifically to include Filipinos. "Some consider themselves Pacific Islanders and some consider themselves Asians," he said.
Pascual Fidel, 79, of the Filipino American National Historical Society noted that Filipinos themselves are often divided by language and geography – and sometimes feel excluded by Chinese, Koreans, Japanese and other East Asians.
Fidel recalls that when he taught business at Luther Burbank High School in the 1970s, a Filipina won the title of Asian Club Queen "and other Asian students wanted to have another vote. They said, 'You really aren't Asian.' "
He explained that Filipino roots are more Indonesian and Malayan than East Asian. In fact, earlier in U.S. history, they were identified as caucasian.
Ed Evangelista, a Filipino, said that when he enlisted in the U.S. Armed Forces in the 1960s, he was classified as white.
At Sunday's festival at the Downtown Plaza and in Old Sacramento, the Asian and Pacific Islander population was fully represented.
Liu Lolani, 40, said he checked "Samoan" on the census and said Asian American means Asians born in America. Renu Lal, a Hindu henna artist from India, said she used to identify as Asian American on the census, but is now happy to check Asian Indian.
The festival did feature a Miss Asia Sacramento – Tiffany Tsui, 22.
"Asian American is a very broad term. I usually identify as Chinese," Tsui said, adding that many Asian Americans "struggle to really stand out in American society and be true to our culture."Quote this article on your site