More Than a Month for Trauma Dumping

The month of May, AAPI Heritage Month, dedicates 31 days to commemorate Asian and Pacific Islanders in America. For those who identify as Asian American, the month serves as a time to reconnect with their culture and recognize how their heritage has shaped them. Despite the month’s intention to encourage individuals to celebrate their heritage and find pride in their identities, most stories, or the ones chosen to be shared, pertain to one theme: struggle. Even as someone who does not think much about their Asian identity, this month, I realized the importance in finding my very own Asian American story. AAPI Heritage Month rightly intends to celebrate Asianness, but for me, these 31 days felt like a potential threat to my understanding of my Asian American experience. 

On a campus where over 40 percent of the student body identifies as Asian, it feels easy for me to share common ground with many people about our favorite Asian snacks or trendy songs. I often forget that I am, in fact, a minority, when I am blessed with so many peers who understand my parents’ Japanese accents and traditional Asian cold remedies. However, my Asian peers and I also share many differences. Many people, including myself, forget about this and begin to standardize what it means to be Asian. 

When people who look like me present their painful upbringings, I think to myself, “So this is what it means to be Asian.” I found myself thinking this during Cynthia Choi’s All-School Meeting (ASM), which Andover presented to celebrate AAPI Heritage Month. She began by explaining the impact of Covid-19 on Asian-run businesses in California’s Chinatown, describing how they had struggled to attract customers. While I understand that her presentation was meant to reflect on the recent rise in Asian hate crimes, I wondered what others around me were thinking. To me, her presentation exclusively touched on how the Asian community had suffered, and still suffered. Being Asian American means something different to each and every person, but when the idea of suffering is central to such a prominent Asian American speaker’s presentation, it is hard to ignore the strong correlation between being Asian and enduring hardship. After the ASM, I found the line between my understanding of my Asian American experience and others’ understanding of my experience heavily blurred.

One of the first times I felt this imposter syndrome was last month in English class when we read Amy Tan’s “Two Kinds.” The story features an immigrant mother who expects her daughter, Jing-Mei, to become a prodigy. Jing-Mei’s mother forces her to participate in activities Jing-Mei never expresses interest in and maintains high expectations for her daughter, which then causes Jing-Mei to eventually resent her mother. The discussion following the story mainly involved the Asian American students in the class who sympathized with Jing-Mei and the struggles she faced with her parents. I listened to the discussion as students kept beginning their points with, “I also shared a similar experience…” I sat quietly, unable to speak on my nonexistent broken relationship with my parents. At that moment, not only did I feel unsympathetic, but I also felt disconnected from my Asian identity.

For a long time, due to encounters such as this, I believed trauma defined the Asian American experience. As someone who, despite harboring that same background, had not gone through the same trauma, I grew convinced that something between me and my mom, something about me, must be wrong — when nothing really was. To me, being Asian and Japanese-American means that I am fortunate enough to attend a school where I feel welcomed and that I share a close relationship with my parents. It took time and effort for me to realize these were the aspects of my identity that defined my personal Asian American experience. 

I advise everyone to find their own narrative on themselves and their heritage. Even if we share one month to celebrate an entire “collective” heritage, that does not mean there is only one story to share. Our experiences are not, and should not be, written by the conventional narratives others announce and perpetuate, no matter how common they may be. When we are surrounded by the traumatic tales of those who look just like us, we feel pressured to undergo the same experiences as them just to belong. Whether it be from Jing-Mei’s difficult relationship with her parents, based on Amy Tan’s own childhood, or Cynthia Choi’s speech on Asian hate, the common theme of struggle remains prevalent. Of course, paying attention to these common struggles is crucial. But to preserve the personal connections between oneself and one’s heritage, which can deviate from the standard narratives, the rest of the month should be spent on personal reflection. Instead of fitting into public ideas surrounding your identity, seek out the little moments to find out what your heritage means to you.