Over the past week we read the article by Keith Osajima called Replenishing the Ranks: Raising Critical Consciousness Among Asian Americans. This article described a study that was conducted with the hopes of discovering the development of consciousness of ethnicity among Asian Americans. The study revealed that respondents had not been aware of or paid any attention to racism or the Asian American experience; they only became aware of it upon encountering it in Asian American Studies courses in college and the college community as a whole. This demonstrated that educational efforts were key to developing a critical awareness of ethnicity. Upon gaining an awareness of being Asian American, respondents revealed a desire to participate in the Asian American communities around them and aid in efforts to strengthen the community and strive for certain equality. The respondents, more often than not, ended up holding leadership positions and/or joining organizations, so as to help others go through the experience of gaining critical consciousness of their ethnicity and potentially committing to the greater cause.
While I do not often take into consideration my ethnic identity, I identify very closely with my religion; I am Jewish. Growing up in a New York suburb I was remarkably sheltered from the fairly prevalent anti-Semitism in the world. Different from the Asian American respondents in the study, I began learning about the history and hardships of the Jewish people at a very young age. I was exposed via readings, movies, documentaries, etc. to the reality of being a Jew in other places around the world. However, nearly everyone in the community seemed to be sitting right there next to me in those Hebrew school classes, it was nothing shy of the norm. Therefore, I had never experienced a situation like the ones I had been learning about. One situation I found particularly fascinating was the stereotype that Jews had horns on top of their heads. I found this silly because being Jewish and seeing Jews on a daily basis, which I considered common, wouldn’t everyone know be able to just see that they don’t have horns? When I realized seeing so many Jews or even seeing any at all was uncommon I began gaining a critical consciousness of what being Jewish means. The first time I gained critical consciousness of my religion was traveling with a group of students from all across America. Two of the students were born and raised in Texas, and through a series of icebreaker games, they learned that five of us students were Jewish. Now, these students did not react inappropriately or offensively, they were simply shocked; they had never seen or met a Jewish person before, let alone five! The pure surprise they experienced was enough to make me aware of how few Jews there are in the world, then reconsider and understand why there are so few; and finally, what it might be like if a first interaction did not go as positively. With this consciousness I felt a need to tell these two students what being Jewish means and what it’s like. In reflecting on this experience I have better understood why critical consciousness of your identity is so important. Being aware of who you are, what that means to you, what it might mean to others, and what you might like it to mean to others, is a major stepping stone in being able to understand and share culture.
Another example of this notion of becoming conscious of your identity and using it as a platform to share a different experienced reality can be seen in the T.V. show Fresh Off the Boat (FOTB), which aired in 2015. FOTB is a retelling of Eddie Huang’s memoirs via a television show. This show is aired on network-television, which is important because it really broadens the audience that this show will reach, hopefully supporting other in arriving at critical consciousness of their ethnicities. The show follows a young Eddie and his family when they move to suburban Orlando and recounts the experiences they have as Asian Americans. In an interview on NOW with Alex Wagner posted on the Political News 24/7 channel on YouTube, Eddie says that as a kid he realized he was different and that he wasn’t white through being made fun of and realizing he had knowledge gaps with regards to American culture. However, with this realization he states, “I was able to piece together bits and pieces of American culture that just made sense to me… I think that’s why my identity is so idiosyncratic and so weird but I, I never allowed people to tell me you’re supposed to like this and you’re supposed to listen to this, and you’re supposed to, you know, relate to this…” (Eddie Huang). This quote demonstrates his understanding that identity is personal and it is an individual decision. The struggles he faced to come to this realization are displayed throughout the episodes of FOTB. Young Eddie experiences other children making fun of his food or his clothing and he feels the need to change, but often times overcomes these emotions and learns more about who is he and who he wants to be. Eddie states, “Our, you know cultures and our community needs to like plant its flag in America and be like this is what were about and start to tell our stories and as we start to tell our stories we will see like a community build over similar issues and similar experiences” (Eddie Huang). One of the messages this show conveys the importance of defining who you are for yourself and what you want that to mean.