But on this topic, I do have thoughts that I wish to share. I realize that sometimes the dialogue gets heated. People get hurt on both sides, for whatever the issue. And in the heat of it, it's sometimes hard to understand what each person is trying to say. Here, I wish to use my voice primarily to share what I know, in hopes that if you are reading this as a Non-Asian who wishes to learn, you'll be able to get a very broad sense of why Asians reject the idea of the Asian Monolith and why the mere rejection of such can cause tensions between Asian storytellers.
Things to consider:
1. "Asian" is a silencing term.
I don't know about other Asians, but I don't go around introducing myself as "Asian-American," because honestly, that term is so broad that it's the equivalent of going around and introducing myself as "European-American."
For the purposes of this post, I'm going reference the East Asian countries of China, Japan, Korea, Taiwan and some of the South Asian countries such as Vietnam and Singapore. This is not all of Asia. Asia is much bigger than this, to the point that I can't speak on everyone because I simply am not educated enough.
2. Historically, we have been divided at times.
If I said that all Europeans can tell all narratives that occurred in European history, would everyone approve of that?
If a person of German descent decided to write a fictional novel set during the WWII from the point of view a Holocaust victim, this author would likely come under heavy scrutiny. In fact, many would argue that such a story should always be written by an #ownvoices author.
"Asians" are not some special exception. We haven't always be united in every point in history--which ethnicity has? We too have narratives that are still fraught with tensions and sensitivities, even in the post-memories of later generations. The difference is that many of our narratives are glossed over in history classes. There are points in "Asian" history that to this day remain very contested. To just list a few: China and Japan (e.g. Nanjing Massacre/Incident--however it is thought of); Japan and Korea (e.g comfort women); China and Taiwan (military threats and sovereignty); China and North Korea and South Korea (I can't even speak on this).
So let's ask the question again, the same one that we did before, but now "Asian-fied": If you were a person of Japanese descent writing from the point of view of a Chinese character during the Manchurian occupation of WWII, or some equivalent event in a made up world with cultural appropriation, is that okay?
Can you write it? Of course. You can write whatever you want. But should you? That is something to ask yourself as a writer, and to be aware of as a reader.
This is not to say that we are always divided. Rather, it is to say that there are specific narratives in specific points of time that should remain told by a particular group of "Asians."
This once again shows the damaging limitations of the term "Asian" when that's the only way you can think of the various countries. It bears repeating that we are all very different. We have different languages. We have different customs. Even for the societies that ostensibly seem to condone the fundamental Confucian values of the patriarchy, filial piety, the importance of roles, etc. no two are exactly the same.
3. Immigration among Asian countries makes for distinctions within distinctions.
As a Chinese-American, do I feel comfortable writing a Singaporean or Vietnamese narrative? No, I do not. But what about the other way around? In many countries such as Vietnam and Taiwan, there are significant populations that are considered "native" and significant populations that are considered "Chinese immigrants." The latter term is quite elusive, as it doesn't specify when the immigration occurred (sometimes it was during the Qing dynasty. Sometimes it was during the wars, or the rise of the Communist Party). After many generations, it is sometimes up to the family to decide how they wish to identify. Between the natives and non-natives, there are sometimes tensions, especially when a contested issue (such as the China and Taiwan sovereignty debate) flares up, bringing issues of heritage back into the gray. Meanwhile, I know people who are Vietnamese-American who are just as "Chinese" as my parents, and others who are not. To sum, there are large populations of Chinese in many "Asian" countries, but less so the other way around. In whom the storytelling authority resides is consequently blurred.
4. Multiple those distinctions within distinctions with immigration to the US.
To complicate things further, many Asians you encounter are probably Asian American. Within Asian Americans, there are distinctions of first, second, third etc. generations. Do I, as a second generation Asian American, have the authority to tell the narratives of my first generation parents? This will vary on a case by case, family by family basis. Are my parents more "Asian" than I am? Yes, probably. But what does that mean?
So you've shown me is that there are differences upon differences upon differences in a group that many people think of as a monolith, you might say. But do you have a final point?
If there must be a point, then let it be this: distinctions are so fine and so complex that at the end of the day, it's up to the marginalized Asian writers to decide the stories they want to tell. The biggest issue right now is that this complexity is currently lost on much of the western world because we are missing stories. I'm not just talking about historical fiction here. I'm talking about ways of thinking, of seeing the world. There is no single brand of "Asian", but the lack of voices overall seems to perpetuate that misconception.
I may be only speak for myself, but I will say this: as a second generation Chinese American, I did feel marginalized. Maybe not so much as a first-generation, immigrant Chinese, as I didn't experience a language barrier, but I felt it all the same. This marginalization compounded with the constant tussle between preserving my Chinese values and assimilating Western ones has led me to consider my identity quite thoroughly. If I were to put an #ownvoices label on something, I have given it quite a bit of thought. If I decide not to put an #ownvoices label on something, I have also given it a lot of thought. And others likely have too.
Because here's the paradox: Asians are not a monolith, but Asian Americans have all experienced marginalization. We all have wondered just what it means to be us in a world that seems determined to slap one label onto all our different voices.
So please, be kind. Be respectful. And above all, listen with an open heart and an open mind. Because am I "Asian" enough? Yes, some would say. Heck no, my relatives would say (I'm at a middle school literacy rate). Even the issue of whether mainland Chinese "Asian" enough is now debated. Honestly, no one is ever XXX enough when it comes to something as rich and enduring as heritage. The learning never stops, but the learning can never begin if we silence one another.