First Interview: The trouble with "identity politics"
Going into my first oral history interview, I was so nervous! I interviewed Professor Russell Jeung from SFSU and we talked about his experiences as an organizer and his academic history. During our interview, we talked a lot about building multiracial solidarity and the many ways that this can manifest itself.
One of the most interesting parts of the conversation for me was when I asked him about how he thinks pan-Asian solidarity has evolved over the past few decades and if there are any challenges to this solidarity. He highlighted that there has been a profound shift in the way Asian Americans identify politically. Initially, the term Asian American was built through a distinct political lens. It was intended as an instrument for power and politics.
However, as Russell highlighted, there has been a shift from Asian American as a political identity into a form of ‘identity politics.’ With this logic, Asian American identity is built off identity rather than the political conditions that inform an Asian American experience, and in doing so we lose some of the original intentions of the term itself.
This is something that I have thought about for a long time, especially after learning the original roots of the term Asian American, which I discussed more with my third interviewee, Bryant Fong, an original member of the Asian American Political Alliance. I think that Russell’s discussion of the roots of the term ‘Asian American’ is something that more young API individuals should be discussing.