Without getting into too much detail (for right now), I feel very uncomfortable as an Asian person in America. Recently, with the hate crimes against Asians in America, it’s become very clear that our existence in this country is conditional at best and our identities are a caricature seen as a novelty and an experience that non-Asians seem to feel all too comfortable inviting themselves into.
Before people start getting pressed and raising their blood pressure, I want to make it very clear that I don’t speak for Asian Americans as a whole and that I am speaking explicitly as an individual who happens to be Asian American.
Lunar New Year is coming up and while shopping in Chinatown, I am reminded of how non-Asian people seem to use this holiday as a vehicle to experience something foreign or exotic. I understand that there is a difference between appreciation and appropriation. Unfortunately, I personally don’t believe there can be cultural appreciation in regards to Lunar New Year. I am always confused about why non-Asian people want to experience Lunar New Year. If you are still calling it Chinese New Year, then it’s an automatic red flag for me and a clear indication that you haven’t done your research and you still see this holiday as something exclusive to Chinese people. This holiday is one that is celebrated by many Asian countries and each of them possesses its own unique ways of being celebrated. So that begs the question, what exactly are you looking to experience when celebrating Lunar New Year? Chances are, you are looking for the stereotypical Chinese New Year experience. The red and gold decorations everywhere, lion dancing, and Chinese food. While there are many people who are interested in learning about a variety of cultures, it seems like the one invitation that is most sought out is for Lunar New Year.
Growing up, Lunar New Year was a family affair. It was a time to wish each other well for the new year to come and for the family to celebrate the passing of the old year. In Asian culture, the family is of the utmost importance, and gathering together during these holidays was something special. For me, these celebrations have become safe spaces to practice and cherish parts of my culture that are shamelessly othered in American society. It’s a space for me to experience my culture in a way that is deservingly seamless, non-tokenized, and enjoyable. The majority of my life is lived out as an Asian person. What I mean by that is when I walk outside and exist in society, I am seen and identified by my race. My race is what I wear in the world and it is the name tag I have on my chest. But when I am home celebrating with my family (or in this case, with my Asian American roommates), I am existing in a space where I can live and breathe as a person who is not pigeon-holed. For me, having a non-Asian person in that space creates this environment where I need to explain, educate, and hand-hold. It no longer becomes an enjoyable celebration but rather an ethnographic study.
To be othered and simultaneously expected to be welcoming is an unfair standard to hold us to. You can’t actively participate in a society that doesn’t see value in Asian people apart from our capitalistic contribution and then turn around requesting access to the spaces we create to feel safe and grounded in our culture. If you are extended an invitation to celebrate Lunar New Year, great. If not, all I ask is you respectfully admire from afar.