None of what I “am” is new.
Close your eyes. Take a moment to envision an American person.
Now open your eyes.
It isn’t me.
Is it you?
“The Wuhan Virus.”
“The Chinese Virus.”
“Cough into your elbow.” (Comes closer) “I SAID COUGH INTO YOUR ELBOW!” (Repeats multiple times in a train between stations, so I cannot get out).
“Get away from me.”
– What people have directly said to me on the street
COVID-19 is most definitely changing my experience as an Asian American. When I first wrote about the coronavirus “back in February” (so… just a month ago), I had no expectation that my life would be where it is today. (Did anyone though?) What I shared on video with USAToday had a greater impact than I thought it would – for better, for worse, for everything in between.
I am a proud Asian American, a proud Chinese American, first generation raised in America, first to go to college and earn a Bachelor’s and Master’s, currently pursuing my doctorate, and just truly so proud of my culture and who I am. To many, and hopefully my family and in some ways even myself, I am the epitome of the American dream.
This is sadly not about that.
I want to detail what it has felt like to be an Asian person in America since the outbreak of coronavirus.
I have definitely uttered those words “music is universal” with nothing but good intent that we could all “speak the language of music” – but good intentions are not good enough, and I know that good intentions do not mean the actions are free from harm or wrongdoing.
So often, educators throw out this sentence to students, colleagues, families, and other stakeholders in education:
“You are in a safe space.”
What IS a “safe space”?
What does it mean to be in a “safe space”?
My American name is Alice Ann Tsui, and the only thing about my name that makes it “Asian” is my last name. My Chinese name is 徐晓兰 (Xu Xiao Lan in Pinyin) – which, at one point in time, Google Translate interpreted as “Dawn of the Orchid.” That translation sounds quite epic, but does an exotic meaning exist behind every Asian name?
I remember was when non-Asian students would ask me how to pronounce my last name: Tsui. I would phonetically say it slowly: “TSOY, like the t and the s are blended together.” But that response was merely followed by remarks including: “Soy? Like soy sauce?! Tee-soy? Haha! Suey… suey suey suey! Tissue!”
American folk music, as the general music education community knows it today, UPHOLDS systemic racism – most notably, White people on top and Black people underneath them. What I think most music educators in America consider to be folk music today is a WHITENED idea of racial identity. What has been acceptable in the American music education classroom as folk music (think “This Land is Your Land”) is filled with music by White musicians but not representative of our students.