Labels! Created by white people to describe The Other since forever. That sense of entitlement, to be able to call people whatever they want, is so heavily engrained, it’s genetic. From some idiot calling me a mulatto to having an acting teacher throw around ‘retard’, drop the N bomb quite comfortably and joke about a male Iranian student looking like he was gonna kill a white female classmate in an exercise cuz “he comes from a country where you can kill women”. Now that was just May.
Absolutely over calling people on it. The justifications and policing of what I can and can’t find offensive though? “Its origins aren’t offensive”. “Words only have the power that you give them”. “I’m from a different generation”. “People are always looking to be offended”. “Sorry you found that offensive”. “My best friend is Indian and none of my ex girlfriends are white”. Whaaaaaaa?
Anyone who says people are too politically correct these days are always speaking from a place of privilege and just mad they can’t get away with saying what they want. If I wanna reject you, your bullshit way of thinking and your ignorant labels, I can. If I wanna expose you for being racist, I can. Oh now you’re sensitive? BYE.
May is known as Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month in the US. The first I had ever heard of it was in 2011 when I was studying at Lehigh. I was aware of the lumping together of Asians and Pacific Islanders from when it came to checking boxes on forms but I didn’t really pay it much mind. To celebrate a month together though – that really caught my interest. There were heaps of programmes happening everyday at Lehigh and I got involved in as many of them as I could. I didn’t hesitate to sign up and give a presentation on Aotearoa/New Zealand and Samoa.
According to staff in the Department of International Affairs, I was the only student on campus of Pacific descent. Having said that, I knew of two girls from Hawai’i who were proud to be from there but they identified as Korean and Japanese respectively. I’m proud to be from New Zealand but I identify as Samoan. There’s no question of indigeneity.
After that experience, I started to notice more and more how anything related to this ‘Asian American Pacific Islander’ label was only ever really championed by Asian faces and voices. In the last month I went to an event that was part of the Asian Pacific Film Festival. At a quick glance I couldn’t see a single Pacific movie or actor.
Throughout this whole month, the only Pacific face I’ve seen in any celebration was a cartoon of my buddy Dinah Jane on a Snapchat story.
Got asked if I would compare this lack of visibility to Feminist and LGBTQIA movements which have always been traditionally representative of white people. No, I think it’s completely different. Asians didn’t even phrase the problematic all-encompassing pan-Asian ‘Asian’ category to begin with. So to have Pacific Islander tacked on [which is essentially what’s happened, we’re tacked on like an afterthought out of convenience], I don’t see a deliberate intention to silence however no Asians I’ve spoken to can really articulate why it’s still a thing. I can’t quite call it bystanderism cuz from what I can see, there’s no major complaint from the Pacific community. It’s just carried on minding its own business. There’s a lack of accountability at both ends. Does anyone know how it really came about in the first place? Was it white people looking at Hawai’i during the second World War thinking “yeah, that’s a thing”.
As a Pacific person who grew up with a strong sense of Pacific identity on a Pacific Island, it doesn’t sit right with me.
Did a little digging back then and this invisibility had very real repercussions. The farcical term ‘model minority’ is often used to describe Asians and Indians and how they’re ideal immigrants because they work hard and they’re well represented across what are considered to be elite professions. Are Pacific Islanders considered model minorities in this country? Nope. Pacific Islanders are far less likely to graduate from college than the general population and their Asian counterparts and don’t even get me started on health issues so with this whole misclassification, we get buried in the statistics of the dominant group who are “succeeding” and our needs vanish. While government funding generally screws every minority over, in this situation, it further screws Pacific people out of things like health initiatives and research and eligibility for scholarships.
Why haven’t we seen much of a fuss about this? From talking to a couple of friends, we mulled over a couple of ideas.
- Population Size
We just don’t have the numbers in this gargantuan country to really make a dent so in that respect maybe it’s always been seen as a positive to stay linked to the Asian American community in order to have a presence, as limited as that may be.
- Lack Of Knowledge/Leadership
This is more of what it is, I reckon. Why would Pacific Islanders in the US push to be recognised on their own if they don’t really have the impetus to? I attribute this to the fact that most Pacific people I come across here are ignorant of the Pacific. Sure this happens in Aotearoa where you get kids who don’t know where Niue is on a map but in the US it goes way beyond that. I mean you just gotta look at mainstream media to see you’ve got hundreds, probably thousands, of Pacific and non-Pacific people here performing hakas when they have absolutely no ties to Tangata Whenua let alone the iwi from which they originate.
Not only are they pronouncing the words horribly but they really don’t understand/respect and honour the culture enough to know that what they’re doing is just not appropriate. I appreciate being inspired, being proud and wanting to pay tribute but that needs to be done properly. If you want something truly meaningful to you and your ancestry, find that. It’s out there. There’s a disconnect and a lack of leadership to inform this.
- Not Black
And finally, our communities in the US [which tend to be Hawai’ian, Samoan and Tongan aka Polynesians as opposed to Melanesian or Micronesian] aren’t Black. The discrimination torch isn’t shining directly on us so there’s no sense of urgency to change anything. Right now, we’re exoticised, we’re non-threatening, we’re fun-loving football players and entertainers so we good.
Here’s the thing though – given the Pacific population is one of the fastest growing demographics, trust and believe that WILL change. So many Pacific people are conservative and enjoy the benefits of not being discriminated against [or perceivably so]. How can you not see that “white supremacy” attacks our Black siblings with one hand as it takes from us with the other. I mean it’s been happening in Hawai’i for generations. They’ve got great leaders there but all their efforts are being exhausted by a sovereignty battle. Even Hollywood’s coming for their necks.
What can be done? Well I hate to keep referencing Aotearoa/New Zealand as the forefront of progression, especially in a period where we’ve taken so many steps BACK with our current government BUT you can’t give what you don’t have and New Zealand has it. Well it has very essential features of ‘it’ anyway. It fosters the Pacific within it with a real consciousness. Now it’s arguable that the focus is concentrated on some parts more than others [for example Samoans often dominating the narrative] but it’s there.
Australia sees this. They realise the Pacific population is there to stay and it’s growing fast so they’ve started pouring resources into it but on closer inspection, you’ll find that most of the organisations and institutions that focus on young Pacific people are employing and importing Pacific staff from New Zealand to run them. I truly believe it’ll take leadership from us.
That’s just one possibility. Do I know exactly how that would look? Hell no but I’d like to hear from others, especially Pacific people living here, how they see leadership and accountability being fostered in this country. Given our connectedness as a people, I think a loss of culture hits us all at the core regardless of where we are in the diaspora so we should draw attention to it. What you reckon?