Friday, August 19, 2016

To Be Asian-American: Being Asian On Campus-Part 1

I first noticed them in the dining hall. They were always in that back right corner at a long table, a group of Asian students eating together. Then I started to notice other groups of Asian students around campus. They always seemed to be enjoying each other’s company, often with matching t-shirts or jackets.

I was aware that Northwestern University had a significant Asian-American population. That’s one of the reasons that I chose that school. I knew this was important but I didn’t know why. When I got to campus, much like how I socialized in high school, my group of friends was more related to marching band. I got to campus, had a great band camp experience the week before school started and that was my social group (which later expanded into my fraternity).

During the first couple weeks of school, I didn’t go to the various Asian student organization meetings. I was busy with marching band practice, and I had my group of marching band friends.

One of the wonderful things about Northwestern’s marching band at that time was that it was a cross-section of the campus. The band included students of all majors and many students of color.  It was a mix of Caucasians and students of color that felt right.

As I noticed these groups of Asian students sitting together in the dining hall and moving around campus, I started feeling uncomfortable. I was invited to their meetings, and it was my choice that I didn’t go to them. However I still felt excluded and it was this feeling of not being part of this group, that chipped away at my pride in being an Asian-American.

Every time I saw a group of Asian students together, it reminded me that I was Asian. I hated this reminder. This insecurity built a superiority complex. I felt better than them because I was “integrated.” I had white friends, I didn’t need to just hang out with other Asian people.

Like I discussed in last week’s post, Caucasian students would ask me about these groups and I chafed at the question. “I’m not one of them, I don’t know.” This community of Asian students who associated with each other because of their racial identity, were people I did not want to see. I didn’t know why at the time, I just wished that they would go away.

Every time I saw a group of Asian students together, I felt anxious and tense, but it passed and I forgot about it until another encounter. And then one night in the cafeteria, I got stuck behind a group of Asian students in line. They were speaking in Mandarin, I understood most of what they were saying and I felt annoyed at their happiness and laughter. I sat with my marching band friends and instead of joining in with the regular jokes and conversations I was sullen, trying to calm myself down.

We left our table as a group and exited the cafeteria. As we were heading toward the door of the dorm, another group of Asian students were congregating at the door talking and unaware that people were trying to pass (which is a very common thing for college students to do). As my friends worked their way through the crowd, I followed and started feeling nauseous and felt the heat of rage taking over my body.

Without saying by to my friends, I rushed off to my dorm room and dove into bed, my face buried in my pillow. Laying there in the darkness, tears welled up, but refused to release. I didn’t know what was wrong with me, I didn’t know what to do, but in that moment, I realized that I needed help.

I sat up, went to my desk and turned on my computer.  In the glow of the computer screen, I saw a table tent, which had greeted me when I first moved into my room.

It read: CAPS - Counseling and Psychological Service.

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