Foundations to Burn and Build: Compelling Stories That Give Shape to Asian Identity

This piece also appeared in the Fall 2009 issue.

By Cristina Balitaan

In a globalizing world, Asians — Thai, Indonesian, Hmong, Indian, Pakistani, Vietnamese, Chinese, Japanese, Korean — are all over the world, looking for opportunities to build their lives upon.  They are in every continent.  So how does one define who is Asian?

The term describes groups of people who are different in physical looks, history, culture — but then each group also shares many other similarities.  Here at Syracuse, some are Asian American students while others are international students.  We may share similar physical features, but we have grown up in different worlds — different countries, different states, different towns.  Although the world constantly tries to arrange us into one group, we are extremely diverse.  As we struggle to find our identities and roles in society as young adults in college, we often find misrepresentation or lack of representation in the media.  However, here are some news stories to enlighten our past, present and future.

We do have a rich history on U.S. soil despite the fact that society often portrays Asians as foreign and un-American.  In the outskirts of New Orleans, La., Filipinos were the first Asians to set foot and settle in America in 1763.  In 1790, Indian immigrants began to arrive as maritime workers after American colonists won independence from Great Britain.  In the early 1800s, the Chinese were the first Asians to arrive in large numbers.  And in 1869, the Japanese established the Wakamatsu Tea and Silk Colony in California.  As a result, there are Asian families that have been in the U.S. for countless generations.

As of 2008, Asians in America make up five percent of the U.S. population.  We may be small in numbers, but we are the fastest growing immigrant population with more than 15 million currently residing in the U.S.  Nevertheless, minorities are taking the hardest hit during the current economic downturn.

In a Congressional hearing and teleconference on Sept. 23, 2009, policy advocates from different minority organizations shared the impact of the recession on minorities in different communities.

For Asian Americans, the unemployment rate has more than doubled since the first quarter of 2007, and as far as foreclosures, Asian Americans have had the sharpest decline in home ownership among minorities, with a 1.24 percent drop in 2008.  “It’s a signal that something is systematically preventing our community from recovery and leaving us out of state funding,” says Romana Lee Akiyama, deputy director at the National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development.

Unfortunately, in bad times when people are feeling the heat of financial difficulties, they act upon their insecurities and self-interests.  This includes directing physical and verbal racism towards minorities, excluding them in institutional funding and laying them off in large numbers.

Christian Weller, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, stressed the need to ensure equality when creating new jobs.  “Job growth is not enough because the employment rate was already high to start with,” he says.  Asian Americans are taxpayers, too.  No minority group should be left behind in the efforts to rebuild the country.


On a global scale, Asian countries are making their mark on the world.  Some are becoming the next world powers.  Others are still struggling to overcome the devastation that the era of imperialism brought upon them and fighting to rise above tribal differences, poverty and disease.

Notably on Oct. 1, China celebrated the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic of China with a grand military parade in Tiananmen Square.  “Today, a socialist China [is] geared toward modernization, the world and the future, and towers majestically in the East,” Hu Jintao, chairman of the Central Military Commission, says.  In a speech delivered from the same place where Mao spoke 60 years ago, Hu says that China, having made great accomplishments economically, has a bright future and will be a country that unites all cultures and ethnicities.

Many of us grew up aware of China’s climb towards global influence in the 21st century.  Technology, especially the Internet, has broken down the obstacles of the past: time and distance.  Surely, we live in a more globalized community.  Yet, we do not live in a meritocracy.  U.S. foreign policy in the past several decades is a testament to that.

U.S. presence in the Middle East is not going to diminish anytime soon.  The U.S. has been in Afghanistan since 2002, and it looks like U.S. troops are not leaving in the near future.  Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the U.S. commander in Afghanistan, has recently made a report requesting more troops.  The main concern at this point revolves around the power of the Taliban in this particular area.  National Security Adviser James Jones assures the press that Afghanistan will not fall to the Taliban.  What the Obama administration decides in terms of its foreign policy and strategy will have strong repercussions for the civilians here stateside and across the world, especially with the current recession.

That part of the world, South Asia, is still one that many Americans do not know too much about.  Yet that should not prevent us from realizing that what we do thousands of miles across the world has an effect on the countries our ancestors came from.

These are a few news stories to help give perspective to our Asian identity.  We are often misunderstood, but nevertheless, we can claim as much ownership to our human rights as the next person.  We must remember our foundations to build and burn bridges to our dreams.


2 thoughts on “Foundations to Burn and Build: Compelling Stories That Give Shape to Asian Identity

  1. Regret no one from the magazine have tried to ask related Asians to write their characters on the design page. None is correct. That means you have not really approached to these Asian for this writing? Not professional to be journalist.


  2. Joffre,

    I understand your concern, but the graphic in question was not designed by our staff. It was used simply to make this post more aesthetically pleasing. And, after examining the illustration further, it seems that the artist’s point is to use incorrect symbols to demonstrate how foreign and confusing Asian culture and language can be to Westerners — something A-Line works on correcting with every issue.

    Thanks for reading A-Line. If you have any further questions, e-mail us at

    A-Line Magazine Staff


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