Cathy Park Hong Discusses Asian-American Identity and Addresses Her Book “Minor Feelings” At ASM

“The indignity of being an Asian in this country has been underreported,” Cathy Park Hong, author of “Minor Feelings: An Asian American” and a professor at Rutgers-Newark University noted as she discussed the recent surge in hatred towards the Asian community in the United States. Relating to the current social climate, Hong discussed the historical concepts of innocence seen in modern politics and recounted her childhood experiences as an Asian American from her book.

Hong said, “One characteristic of racism is that children are treated like adults, and adults are treated like children. Watching a parent being debased like a child is the deepest shame. I can’t count the number of times my parents were condescended to or mocked by white adults. This was so customary that when my mother had any encounter with a white adult, I was always hypervigilant, ready to mediate or pull her away.” 

Growing up, Hong adopted the role of a silent bystander while white adults denigrated her family for their race and ethnicity. Now, she urges others to learn from her mistakes and expressed that by not speaking up, the public perpetuates destructive and harmful myths that originated centuries ago. Hong then continued by relating Asian hatred with the criminalization and adultification Black children were historically an continue to be subjected to.

“More often the white child was contrasted with enslaved girls to emphasize that only white children were children. That Black child is noninnocent, both feral and insentient, and doesn’t need protection nor maternal care which slave owners used as justifications to tear them away from their mother’s arms to be sold. This perception still persists today; white boys will always be boys but Black boys are ten times more likely to be tried as adults and sentenced to life without parole,” said Hong. 

When discussing the myth that the lives of Asians are easier than those of other minorities, Hong expressed the importance of displaying sympathy and recognizing the struggles of others.

“The lie that Asians have it good is so insidious that even now as I write, I’m shadowed by doubt that I didn’t have it bad compared to others. But racial trauma is not a competitive sport. The problem is not that my childhood was traumatic but rather typical,” said Hong. 

Resonating with Hong’s childhood stories, Ty Halloran ’21 shared his experiences with being of mixed heritage in Japan and noted how he found a balance between adjusting to American culture and remaining in touch with his Japanese roots.

“There is the balance between assimilating to a specific culture, but also staying authentic to yourself and not letting other factors affect your identity. Being authentic to yourself, you could fall into those stereotypes, but maybe you don’t. I would be lying if I said I act the same as I did in Japan [as] I do here. When you are on a train in Japan, you don’t say a word, versus on the train here you talk to your buddies, it’s just different like that. There are certain ways where you just go about things and there’s nothing wrong in adjusting that based on where you are,” said Halloran. 

Evalyn Lee ’23, who participated in the book club that read “Minor Feelings” over the summer, shared her experience reading Hong’s work and connected them to Black and Asian Americans’ shared struggles against racism.

Lee said, “In the book, she speaks a lot about Black and Asian solidarity and the relationship between the two communities, which I think is especially important and relevant this past year, with [the] Black Lives Matter movement, police brutality, Covid-19 and how people started targeting Asians and other minority groups for that.”