Kaberi Banerjee Murthy
Like too many in America, despite being born here, I have often felt like the Other.
Though I grew up in a racially diverse town, I was brown in a world that only seemed to recognize Black and white. I learned the carols for Christmas, then the dreidel song for Hanukkah, and as time went on the seven days of Kwanzaa. But I never expected that anyone would know of Durga Puja or Saraswati Puja. Bilingualism meant that you could speak Spanish, but definitely not Bengali. Every day, I labored to build a bridge to connect to others’ worlds, but few were interested in traversing that bridge to see my world.
In fifth grade, I was asked to interview someone who had been alive during World War II. My school’s curriculum was so Euro-centric that I didn’t think to seek out the perspectives of my own Indian parents. If I had, I would have learned of the Indian freedom fighters, many of whom were young Bengali students that fought against the British, and found my own inspiration and commitment to fight for freedom that was not just rooted in womanism, but also my own South Asian history. As it unfolded, that conversation with my Dad didn’t happen for many years.
That is why the silence around anti-Asian hate can feel so painful. Because there can be a deep invisibility to being Asian American.
It doesn’t take much to see the anti-Asian American discrimination and racism woven into our nation’s historical fabric, but often this shameful past and present is unseen and unacknowledged, from the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1892 and the Japanese internment camps during World War II, to everyday acts of hate the AAPI community bears in the wake of recent pandemics, like SARS and COVID-19.
In Oregon, there is a long history to wrestle with including the exclusion of Chinese “non-residents” in our state constitution, the Hells Canyon Massacre and the fact that more than 60 percent of Japanese American families in Hood River lost their lands and livelihoods when returning from internment camps.
Our American history is steeped in white supremacy. The impact of that history on the Asian American community is often overlooked and whitewashed in the mainstream narrative, as it has been for Native and Black and Latinx communities. In this, we are not alone.
My own political activism was ignited in my first year of college, organizing with the Coalition of Women of Color in the wake of Rodney King. There were few students of color on our predominantly white campus in an overwhelmingly white state, so we built and fueled our power through solidarity. Our community was grounded in the roots of our common experiences and grew as we explored our differences. My sense of identity is rooted and has been strengthened by those seeds of intersectionality.
I have been heartened by all the ways current generations of freedom fighters of all backgrounds are working in inter-communal solidarity towards racial equity. Seeing the interconnection of our experiences allows us to imagine and build a new way of working and living together.
As we all share our stories, may we build more bridges that allow us share our worlds with one another.