Member Spotlight: Angela Jiang
We often say DSA is a “big tent”. It’s true that we all come from different backgrounds, but every one of our unique experiences has brought us to the same conclusion: A better world is possible, and it is ours to build. The following is the third in a series of stories told by our members about the events and experiences that led them to the Left.
Hi, I’m Angela Jiang. I am Singaporean-Taiwanese. But that identifier is too long, too inconvenient for white America to bother remembering. And while we speak Mandarin Chinese in my home, it’s completely inaccurate to box me into being “Chinese American”—Teochow, Hokkien, Malay, and Cantonese also flow through the corridors of my home. I instead tell folks I am a member of the Han Chinese diaspora—and still am, given that not one generation of my family has remained in a single country for at least the past 5 generations.
I haven’t written my name in several years. That is, my Chinese name: 姜傲亚. Look at my name again. Creating and writing a Chinese name is truly a work of art: your parents and your elders work together to select the metaphors that will capture a lifetime of aspirations in a name. And when I was born, my grandfather wrote my name using traditional calligraphy on a red and gold paper “lucky money” envelope. However, my Chinese name is too foreign sounding, and only worthy as a token to my Asianness to white America. When I try and read other people’s Chinese names and fail to read them, I can’t help but cry in frustration, knowing that white America has long stripped me of a critical tie to my heritage—that is, being fluent in my mother tongue.
What is the price of being Asian American? The pressure to cut off the very legacy that generations of my ancestors, constantly traveling and being forced to move throughout the world, have struggled to give to me for so long.
Like a lot of other children who grew up in Mandarin-speaking households, I was sent to Chinese school on Saturdays where we were supposed to learn the language and culture of our ancestors. Growing up in Gwinnett County, my class ran the gamut from newly arrived immigrants (“FOBs”, or fresh off the boat) to second generation kids like myself. It didn’t take long for my younger self to see a clear social hierarchy of how to make it in America. I learned quickly: Don’t be like those embarrassing “FOBs”. In Chinese school, I changed how I dressed. I skipped my studies and cheated on my exams. I did everything I could to distance myself from fully celebrating my Asianness. And this had an impact on my family: I’d hide in the closet late at night to avoid doing my Chinese homework, and my dad would get so frustrated and tired of trying to look for me to learn Chinese that he’d sit at his desk, giving up. Today, when I remember the disappointed, resigned look on his face during those days, I feel an unspeakable sadness that I allowed white America to hide me away from fully embracing my Asianness with my family.
Although I grew up with a beautiful diversity of childhood friends, all of us second generation immigrant kids were struggling with balancing assimilating into whiteness and gripping onto our heritage. There were no spaces to explore my Asianness in afterschool extracurriculars or classes in school. I finally graduated from Chinese school. Back then, I saw it as “good riddance”. Today, I see that I had lost one of the last opportunities I had to become fluent in Chinese.
Finally, in college, I finally saw spaces where Asianness was celebrated. I met Asian American organizers who were so proud of being Asian and fighting for liberation, it was absolutely irresistible. When I graduated, I worked for a non-profit, Asians Americans Advancing Justice—Atlanta, where the first event I had to organize was an intergenerational dumpling-making dinner at a local Chinese senior citizens center, where everyone would share their immigration stories. It was a beautiful event where my mother, my closest cousin from Taiwan, my colleagues, my interns, and my community came together over their heritage and food. But the part I was most nervous about wasn’t about any event logistics or the pressure of it being my first event—it was the welcoming speech I’d have to give in Chinese to some of the most important people in my life. At the end of the day when I realized I couldn’t fully express what I wanted to say in Chinese, my cousin came to help—and so I gave into White America and spoke English, while my cousin directly translated my words to Chinese. I can’t think of a more shameful personal moment in my life to this day.
So what am I? To White America, I’m Asian. To my relatives in Taiwan – who I cannot even engage with on a deeper level due to my lack of language ability – I’m American. I’m simultaneously cut off from my family and my heritage while I’m denied access to the privileges that whiteness wins you in America.
I am American. I am Taiwanese-Singaporean. I am the child of two incredible immigrants. I am a daughter to a mother who escaped an abusive father, completed her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in the middle of Kansas in 3 years, is the sole and main breadwinner to our family, and is the quintessential rags to riches American story. I am a Community Organizer, campaigning for a just transition to a no-carbon economy and in the pursuit for liberation of my people. I am a Democratic Socialist, because now that I am seeing all the ways that whiteness has tried to deny me the sum total of every wonderful part of who I am, and I know it’s time to build a new world. I am 姜傲亚. It’s only once we all come to see the ways that whiteness regulates who we can be, dictates how we measure success and happiness, and erases everything that stands in its way that we can speak truth to power—in all of our tongues—to build a world designed to care for all of us.