In a previous post I suggested that Asian male athletes, for some reason, have served as occasional catalysts for spontaneous expressions of unity amongst Asian-Americans, and that this suggests that Asian male empowerment is an essential component in establishing a uniquely Asian-American identity. One of the commenters on that post made mention of the idea of Pan-Asianism, which I suppose was something implied in that post, given the idea of Asian-Americans "cross-referencing" their identification with different ethnicities.
A commenter made the following comment which I thought was probably fairly representative of what many Asian-Americans feel.....
I used to dislike the concept of "Asian Americans." I was proud of my ethnicity, but I didn't like the idea that I should feel some kind of kinship with, say, a Taiwanese and a Filipino just because we were "Asian," an identity that's been dictated to us by White Americans.I have also had this feeling - frustrated that my experience was defined by who I was not, rather than who I was. That is to say, that the idea of "Asian" as represented by the plethora of stereotypes and xenophobic hostilities deriving largely from fears of growing Chinese or Japanese economic and political muscle. As an Asian of non-Chinese or Japanese origin, I felt that part of my struggle was to assert my separateness from these concepts of Asian-ness, by, perhaps, asserting the "different-ness" of the various Asian ethnicities and cultures and blah, blah, and so on and so forth. But I learned pretty early on in my early teens that this approach is actually disempowering and sets one on a path of constantly tweeking the perceptions of those around you without actually addressing the main issue of the implicit and explicit dehumanization that such attitudes carry with them.
Some respond by downplaying or rejecting commonality in favour of an assertion of specific identity (most of us have probably done this), but some also respond by decrying the very notion of "Asia" as an identifier or even as an entity, and suggest that "Asia" is merely a Western concept that implicitly denies agency of Asian peoples to self-identify. Strangely, whilst I think that both of these ideas are fair reactions that have a place in the dialogue, as well as reflect (in the case of the use of the term "Asia") a historical reality, they might well be an incomplete way of understanding Asian identity and the Asian historical narrative.
Whilst it is definitely true that the term "Asia" is a western designation, that in no way changes the fact that prior to western involvement in the region, there existed a healthy and vibrant state of interaction between Asian peoples and nations which involved an exchange of cultures, languages, and ideas. Naturally, conflicts and wars took place between these people, but just as importantly, philosophical and religious ideas spread across the region between Asian countries carried by ancient trading routes, which also saw the movement of peoples between nations. Aside from being historically interesting, the point here, is that this fact of a regional commonality, defined by peaceful exchanges of ideas, and driven by vibrant trade, existed for centuries before the west showed up to teach us our place in the world.
It is well known that Chinese merchants and their families were settling all over SouthEast Asia (and, apparently, without the ethnic strife we see today) for centuries, Indian influence throughout SouthEast Asia shaped language, culture and religion, interactions between India and China over the centuries paved the way for the exchange of world-changing philosophical and religious ideas and their dissemination. Asians have been interacting and influencing each other for centuries. This is not to say that there were any notions of an "Asia" with a specific identity - there may have been, but history has not really explored this possibility - but it is to say that Asian cultures were influencing each other, and learning about each other such that it might be possible to suggest that without western colonial aggression, a more cohesive notion of regional commonality could have developed, and with it, a regional identity.
The point is this; just because "Asia" is a term that has been foisted on the region by imperial powers, it does not mean that the idea of commonality, the possibilities of union, or the history of cross-cultural and ethnic relations should be overlooked or rejected. In a culture that conceives of Asians as de-individuated and their cultures as fundamentally interchangeable, it might seem expedient or necessary to want to challenge these notions as a way of asserting identity, and this may well be appropriate in some cases. The issue is that doing this often misses the opportunity to assert an even greater truth; Asian identity, commonality, and inter-relations, pre-date western interference, and thus removes from the consciousness - derived from the habit of colonial thinking - the very powerful notion that the modern Asian "identity" is in some ways an entirely western invention. This notion is a distortion of history and since the historical experience is one of the most important pillars of cultural endeavour, and hence identity, not taking ownership of this history when the opportunity arises, is tantamount to impeding the development of an Asian-American culture. It is the anxieties of racist xenophobia that has rendered suspicious or undesirable any commonality between Asian cultures and ethnicities
This highlights just how insidious are the effects of anti-Asian racism; the implicit dehumanization of identifying an entire region of diverse people as merely "Asian", leaves many an Asian reacting in such a way that implicitly downplays the very thing that they should be celebrating - any sense of commonality between varying nations and cultural groups that moves people towards greater mutual understanding and respect is surely a good thing. Another way of saying this, is that Asian-Americans, in addition to being made to feel ashamed of their own race, are also made to feel ashamed of their historical connection and inter-relatedness with neighbouring peoples and cultures. In turn, this means that Asian-Americans are quite possibly conditioned to be suspicious of their own historical experience, but worse, be suspicious of a process of unity that when applied to Western nations (union of Europe and US/European "commonality") is viewed with great pride that union and recognition of commonality leads to peacefulness and prosperity.
For Asian-Americans - a group whose loyalties are often casually called into question - it could well be that the idea of supporting a strong, independent, and co-operative Asia runs counter to our claims of being true and loyal Americans. But this only makes sense if it is accepted that Asia, Asian prosperity, and Asian cultures, are implicitly and irrevocably doomed to be incompatible, and at odds, with the western cultures which we call home and to which we are truly loyal. Yet, given that modern western thought and the secular Enlightenment that brought it about were influenced heavily by Confucian, humanist, ethics, and thought, belies this notion of incompatibility. Additionally, the adoption and great affection in the west for Buddhist teachings and practices further casts doubt on these ideas. No, incompatibility is not a reasonable argument, and there are no reasosns why a prosperous, united Asia, would, or should be even considered to be an insurmountably threatening entity - unless of course, there are other, racially xenophobic considerations to take into account.
My point is that I see no reason why as an American of Asian descent I should not be as proud or motivated to encourage my country - America - to support and welcome "Pan-Asianism", or Asian union, as much as it supports and welcomes European unity. Unity in Europe has brought unprecedented peace and unprecedented prosperity - surely Asians should work towards this goal also, and Americans of Asian descent even more?
Of course, it is precisely because America seems to see itself as engaged in an existential battle with Asian economic might that it views Asian unity as a problem, and this stance may well be the result of irrational xenophobia. But perhaps that could be a significant contribution that Asian-Americans make to the culture of America that through our acceptance of the historical commonality of Asian peoples and cultures, and the development of this notion through an autonomous culture, we can pave the way for an America that is less parochial in its Euro-Centrism.