Nick Chu is a Spartan Daily contributing columnist. His column, “Identity Matters” appears every other Thursday.
As Co-chair of Queer & Asian SJSU, the campus discussion and support group for students who identify as queer and Asian Pacific Islander, I often hear the inquiry, “Why is there a group for such a specific identity?”
Why do we have organizations that address the needs of such niche groups as “transgender people of color” or “Latino/Xicano men who like men?”
American individualism produces the dangerous notion that we cause our own traumas and that we are the only ones who can fix them.
Being part of a community has empowered me to utilize the strength of that same individualism.
It has taught me that I can be that “one person who makes a difference.”
A scene earlier this year at the annual Western Regional Queer Conference showed me just how estranged I had grown from my convictions of primordial equality.
In a discussion group, I expressed to a room of predominantly white queer activists that my insecurities about my queer Asian identity made me want to give up trying to be a singer-songwriter.
With resounding righteousness, the room erupted with invalidations.
People insisted that I had to be the first of my kind, the one to break the sexual orientation and ethnicity barriers.
Amidst the clamor, I had no chance to rejoin, “How many of you have to be the first white person to become a hugely successful musician and throw off the baggage of centuries of discrimination and marginalization in order to become a vanguard for your entire race?”
The failure of Western Regional to provide a “safe space” for this most tender of concerns turned me on to the community-based organizations at SJSU like Q&A (Queer and Asian) and EL PAÍS (Estudiantes Latin@s y el Proyecto Arco Iris, a group for queer Latin@s/Xican@s).
Q&A linked me to multiple avenues of community connection, including QACon (Queer and Asian Conference), an annual gathering of hundreds of Californian queer APIs, and QAPIAR (Queer Asian and Pacific Islander American Retreat), an intimate retreat for just 35 queer APIs.
It is only in these “safe spaces” that queer individuals of marginalized ethnicities can let out the cries that a “colorblind” society often stifles.
Some of us discuss how our families, entrenched in Asian traditions, espouse deference, restrictive gender roles and “saving face” at the expense of the liberation of their non-heterosexual and gender-nonconforming children.
Some of us reveal that we have lost loved ones to HIV/AIDS because, as “model minorities,” the government considers APIs less prone to risky sexual behavior.
As a result, it fails to allocate funds for education and treatment programs that could save lives.
Others of us admit ruefully that we won’t date people of our own race — we realize, by extension, that we don’t appreciate ourselves for our “inferior” identities.
Others of us yet have tried to take our lives because we felt we could never be more than a racist, sexist, homophobic stereotype.
Yet we survive to stand proudly among our peers and try to alleviate as much of their pain as possible.
In the faces of our golden and brown-skinned friends, we see wrinkles caused by self-rejection — in their eyes that are narrower than the ones in magazines and on TV, we see the erosive effects of comments like, “You would be prettier if you had lighter skin!”
Once we learn that we’re not alone in all these experiences that we originally believed implausible, we know that there’s a community for us to turn to when the traumas creep back.
Many leaders stand atop peaks of empowerment to effect change in health and safety, political representation and societal acceptance.
Selfishly, I use my position to witness the tears of joy that my fellow community members shed as they ascend towards self-acceptance and personal fulfillment.
I have no compelling analysis to explain why I want to see my people thrive and rejoice amidst so much darkness.
Sometimes, the best answer is the simplest: our community-based organizations exist so that we can be happy.