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Exploring East Asian Identity Live Broadcast

ishin's picture

Here's the introductory podcast.  It's a more polished, expanded version of what you saw at the final presentation

We recorded our livepodcast but be warned: it's INCREDIBLY soft.  I suggest you pump up the volume for it.  It's shared in a google doc here (I need to sign up for podcast permission from itunes in order to get a more formal way to share things with everyone, so this will have to do for now)

Here's the script we had for monday's presentation:


I’m Irene Shin ‘13

Chandrea Peng ‘15

Yiran Zhang ‘14


Irene: Over the past several weeks, the three of us have interviewed several students on this campus to get a better understanding of the following question: what is it like to identify as East Asian at Bryn Mawr?

As you heard in my own interview with Danielle for her final project, my own motivations for being a part of this project can be summed up as so:  I consider the East Asian demographic as a sleeping giant of sorts: an integral part of Bryn Mawr’s landscape but not foregrounded in any conversation on campus. 

Our final 360 project aims to 1) give that space that has yet to exist and 2) understand why East Asians have a tendency not to speak on this issue to begin with.


A portion of what we’ve found so far is being compiled and will be available by the end of this week in the form of an “introductory podcast”.  This introductory podcast will be an account of our interviews so far and will also act as an invitation to everyone who would like to take part of this conversation to email one of us to schedule an interview.  We assure you this, is only the start. We will be continuing to interview our peers throughout next semester, and hope to engage the community with this conversation in potential other avnues.

As I hope you’ll come to realize as we move on in the next couple of minutes, this question for is complicated, maybe misunderstood, and with out a doubt, deeply personal for all three of us.

We’re excited to share what we can in the next 13 minutes, so clap your hands and congratulate yourself because you are now part of a live-recording of our second podcast!










(lower volume in 4 seconds)


You might be confused about what happened with the clip we just played. I interviewed some of my friends, and even though we have been friends for a while, it looks like we never talked about our lives here at Bryn Mawr as international students. Probably, we didn’t realize there is a need to talk about these kinds of issues until I ask her to sign the consent form and press the record button. It seems like the discussion has been waiting us for so long, eventually, our English, our non-native language can no longer hold the thoughts and feeling we had.


(raise volume)

(clip). (STOP :45)


At least for me, the culture barrier definitely counts—this cultural barrier is one which we are constantly aware of but a lot of times under-estimate how powerful it can be. This barrier is the most obvious in normal conversation—both in content and in language. Two of the Chinese students I interviewed mentioned the issues about making friends here. Yujie said her conversations with American friends after” How are you” “How is the class” often stops there. The lack of common or shared culture makes it harder to build closer relationships. Sometimes, in the foreign culture, even people you know become someone else


(Clip) (Qi’er) (:50-1:10) STOP


I have to say, after the interviewing process, I was really shocked and hesitated to continue. All the untold facts I learned were there the whole time. I thought I wanted to find the reasons behind the missing of voices and ended up finding myself understanding this silence as legitimate.

Beside the complicated walls being built up because of the culture barrier, there’s a part of me which is still conscious of the larger community. In other words, I don’t want my international peers to feel indifferent towards what’s going on around Bryn Mawr’s campus, and I want them to be a part of it. One of my friends who has many East Asian friends complained to me about why she can’t see us in all those campus activism activities. I brought up these questions during the interview and got mixed answers. One major reason why international East Asians don’t participate is the obligation and pressure felt from their parents and other East Asian students. This submissive attitude toward elders is deeply rooted in the culture. No matter how far the kite is flying, the string is attached to another continent. The other answer is one everyone can understand: there’s a lack of interest in things that aren’t directly related to you.

I guess at this point, I still don’t have a definite answer to this question. As far as my own urgent need to raise awareness of this group of studentss, I absolutely understand the need to lean on people that you are familiar with or at least can speak the same language. Even though I think we need more voices from East Asian student body, I don’t think I have any rights to blame anyone for not speaking up.

Well, maybe we should at least start by talking within ourselves.


CLIP(1:15-1:37) STOP



I was in charge of editing, so didn’t write a script.  In replacement of this, I ask that we play this clip from an interview I had with Natalie Kato ’14. Her mother is from Caucasian descent while her father is 2nd generation Japanese.  What she says in here is remarkably concise, earnest. sincere, and speaks on behalf of where I stand in all of this.  She’s responding to the question “do you feel Asian enough?”


CLIP (1:40-2:50)





Chandrea speaks


Clip: Am not a part of the group identified as ‘colored’ (3:25-4:07)


Open for Questions



ishin's picture


Undeniably, engaging in interviews and having discussions about the East Asian identity on our campus offered me a lot--no and what’s more, I believe that all three courses assisted in helping in the  and also within myself, I choose to concentrate on how this project “pushed my thinking of these disciplines” by asking me to place into practice what our academic texts preached.  More specifically, I believe the literature we had read inspired the project to begin with (hopefully, this is evident in my discussion of Colored Amazons), and what’s more, remembering the concepts of vision, voice, and silence when attempting to understand the group dynamic was also imperative.   Working with Chandrea and Erin was formative, enjoyable, and perhaps most importantly, asked me to understand what roles are important within a group dynamic.

Data and records kept of people can show a lot.  Not only in the contents it records, but also in what little it records, what type of history is kept, and how well it is maintained.  These records or lack thereof then can reflect what society viewed a group or demographic of that time.  In Colored Amazons, Kali N. Gross states how “for most [of these black women], their criminal records serve as the only documentation of their lives." (Gross, pg.4-5)  This statement (along with Gross’s research) reflects how little respect, voice, and importance black women were given during late 19th and early 20th century.  Because their lives were not considered important, records of black women were not kept, except when they had offended the system that oppressed them.  (As you can see in my post reflecting on this, the notion of how little attention they received genuinely disturbed.) Compare this to the upper middle class women who attended Bryn Mawr college around the same time:  their addresses were kept in the president’s notes, diaries are now stored in special collections…inane letters about the weather were thought to be important enough to keep over a hundred years.  The discrepancy in privilege not only showed itself in how well they lived, but how well their lives were preserved.

I could not help but apply this lesson to how East Asian students are often discussed or recorded on this campus numerically, statistically, or in a way, not at all.  Bryn Mawr has a large East Asian population compared to past figures and to peer institution, however, beyond the statistics, not much about the East Asian demographic is discussed.  To my group’s knowledge, no one is trying to record the issues that face East Asian students today, no one is trying to facilitate a discussion about the myriad of ways people can identify (or as Chandrea aptly put it, not) as East Asian, no one is asking for an East Asian’s students notebook to be kept in special collections.  More generally, no one is attempting to hear their stories of the individuals who comprise this phenomena. This applies to the international East Asian students, the Asian-American students, students who do not know whether they even belong underneath the umbrella term of “East Asian”, the student who, despite her mother being Japanese, checks “white” because she has more Caucasian physical identifiers…

It is the purpose of this project, then, is to start that record, to give their historical permanence and image more depth than just numbers in an admissions site.  I genuinely believe this lack of attention on the East Asian community on this campus is not an attempt to relegate East Asians as an unimportant aspect of our community.  I would be surprised if a student on campus said that they believed that the East Asian demographic should be ignored, or did not deserve an imprint in history.  What’s more, I certainly do not believe this lack be compared to the dismissal of black women that still occurs to this day (as we have seen both in our readings, and more disturbingly, in our class at the Cannery).  Rather, I believe the truth is simply that there has yet to be a means that allows these voices to speak.[1]

I make the turn from understanding the origins of the project to how our learning’s then affected how I engaged within the group dynamic.  Frankly, working together on this project was difficult—I hadn’t worked in a collaborative project like this since my freshman year, and I didn’t know how to go about working in a more egalitarian form of academic collaboration.  Looking back on it, I was nervous and concerned for the majority of our time together—not because of I did not have faith in Chandrea and Erin, but because I became too self-conscious over wondering if they knew that I had faith in them.  Was I taking on too much of the work?  Were Chandrea and Erin upset over how difficult it was for me to articulate what I had envisioned?  Was I imposing my own vision of this project onto them?  Am I bulldozing over their thoughts? Am I doing something wrong?

I don’t know how Chandrea and Erin received and understood my interactions with them, but I do know how I attempted to negotiate these anxieties within myself and also within the group.  Chandrea and Erin were nervous about editing software, how to interview people, narrative scripts, and dare I say, stressed about the podcast process more generally.   They were, however, deeply invested into the most important aspects of the project:  how to understand East Asian identity within the campus and within themselves.  With this, the roles were delegated: I asked if Chandrea and Erin could write the narratives for the podcasts, while I just tried my best to help them out with what I could and then edited the final piece.

This decision was based in remembering Delpit’s argument for the necessity of the knowledge of codes, acknowledging the interactive and important play between silence and voice, and more practically, knowing that there was a short amount of time available.  There was simply not enough time to sit Chandrea and Erin down to get them comfortable with the software, and more generally, with all that this process entailed.  How much they were being introduced to through this final project was visibly overwhelming to them in our group meetings.  What’s more, my ability to communicate the “codes” necessary for them to be successful independent of my guidance was obviously lackluster—throughout the project, I could not help but feel as if I was forcing them to play catch up to the image I had in my mind of the final project instead of creating a vision of what the final project would be together.  Chandrea and Erin, the two most demure peers within the classroom, then took spotlight during the presentations while I asked myself to remain more in the background…silent and act as structural basis for these two to grow.

Admitting to all of this is difficult.  Here I am, with piles of thoughts and interviews to process, and I am still ruminating on the role I played within the group. I don’t want to seem self-congratulatory or patronizing.  I certainly do not want to seem as if I am asking for an award for heroism or mentorship.  What I learned from Chandrea, Erin, and our interviewing process was profound, and I hope they understand our relationship within this project as both ways. (As is obvious by the live podcast, Erin and Chandrea both have remarkable insight and unique perspectives to provide).  I guess at the moment, I’m still coming to terms about how much my position within this group represents how I see myself: as someone who should start stepping down and foster other’s voices and visions on this campus.

[1] To further complexify this issue, one of the most interesting features of our pursuit to interview East Asian students and create this podcast is the attempt to both respect and understand the root of why East Asian students tend choose silence over voice.  This choice is apparent within the quiet participation in the classroom and what people would sometimes complain as a lack of participation in campus affairs.  From what we have gathered from our interviews thus far, we can see this stemming from multiple sources: 1) the language barrier for international East Asians is a difficult barrier to surmount 2) there may be a focus on studies over campus participation for East Asian students specifically 3) as put by the Markus and Lee article, there may be more of a premium placed on vocalizing thoughts in western education than in eastern cultures 4) apathy towards things that are not directly associate with you is common in all cultures 5) regardless of cultural background, we still must take into account an individual’s own nature—some people are more vocal, while others choose silence. 


Chandrea's picture

Podcast Reflection

When I initially prepared to respond to the question about what this podcast had to do with our work in the 360, I hastily thought, “Well… it doesn’t.” But that was before I actually sat down to listen to my interview of Irene and Erin. I had asked about specific phrases that were constantly used in our conversations that inferred that there was a dichotomy we were dealing with: students of color and white students. I asked them about where they stood on that spectrum and Irene hit the nail on the head by bluntly replying, “I just think of us as in-betweeners.”

What do we do about this conversation that constantly leaves out a whole group of people? When we discussed the demographics of people regardless of the type of walled community, we failed to mention the Asian perspective. This podcast serves as a space to bring in this group of people that has been looked over. I think this podcast has helped me understand that a conversation like this requires all perspectives, not just two. It may have been purely accidental but I don’t think we as a class realized how many people we were leaving out of the conversation.

My realization that I wasn’t as vocal in Anne’s class really made me wonder why I didn’t speak up as much. My silence, particularly in academic settings, was something I never thought twice about. I was always the quiet kid but it wasn’t until the subject of silence was something that we read about and analyzed critically that I have become more aware about how my silence may be understood by others. I never really considered how silence is used in my culture and I think this podcast exploring Asian identity provided me a space to understand it a little better. I think Jody’s class played a similar role to Anne’s in that I felt silenced several times in class discussions and I felt the need to force myself into the discussion to remind people that I had a voice, an opinion, and another perspective. I also felt like I was more inclined to say something in Jody’s class because I got the sense that we were expected to debate a little about the topics we were reading about. It was either that or someone would say something that would trigger me and I just had to respond.

However, as I reflect on how Barb’s class informed our final project, I don’t really see how it relates to what this podcast is about, but I guess that observation in itself actually reinforces my belief that we have a whole group of people who aren’t being included in this discussion. Are there no incarcerated Asians? I don’t think I ever remembered hearing about mass incarceration from an Asian perspective. That could be because there aren’t many Asians in prison but that doesn’t mean that we can’t include them in this discussion.

On the subject of educational and correctional institutions alike, two sides were always presented: people of color or white people. In class discussions (particularly on the subject of deservingness) I was reminded that I shouldn’t feel limited in having to pick one group over another in the dichotomy presented (poor law abiding citizens vs. prisoners). I find that contradictory to how we’ve been discussing mass incarceration and even Perry House. Why have we always been referring to this binary of people of color and white people? Where do you expect me to place myself on this spectrum? How could you tell me to resist seeing things in a binary fashion when you’re doing it too?

I hope to use this podcast as a reminder to our community that any time we decide to have a discussion, we need to make a conscious effort in recognizing that there are more than two groups who can contribute to the discussion. By leaving out a whole group of people, such as Asians, we are continuing to silence them. I also think “people of color” is a problematic term and that if we’re going to use it, then we need to explicitly state who fits under this category.

I remember hearing about a conversation that was had about how I would’ve been categorized as a person of color, but the two other Asians in our 360, Irene and Erin, would not be considered as such. I see why we’d be categorized this way, and I would’ve thought the same thing before we did this podcast. It’s not that I would see them as white, but I wouldn’t even consider them – which is awful! But this is the reality; Asians have been overlooked in this whole discussion! Asians, Native Americans, anyone who doesn’t identify as “of color” or “white” – they’re all being brushed aside!

I just find it incredibly interesting that we’ve come to terms with our problematic thinking now at the end of the semester. How did we go about having a discussion about people of color without actually defining the term? Our final debrief conversation about the necessity of explicitly naming things for what they are seems relevant to this issue of leaving people out. If this group is already quite visible but vocally absent, maybe we should’ve taken a moment to talk about the terms we were going to use to guide our conversations. And I don’t mean to blame the class for all of this because I’m guilty of this too. When I joined this project, I think I understood the importance of including other voices, but it wasn’t until the podcast was fully developed that I was able to critically think about what we’ve been doing.

But all of this aside, I find myself struggling again with issues concerning my identity. The question for me isn’t just “What does it mean to be of color?” but also, “What does it mean to be Asian?” No matter how hard I try, I can never dodge the topic of how I identify myself as an individual! It’s not just the fact that I consider myself a Cambodian-American, but also that earlier this semester, I spoke about my hesitation to speak up in class because I’m not really sure how I see myself as a student in a classroom. I wonder if East Asian international students aren’t as vocal because they too are trying to figure out their place on this campus. We’ll just have to find out in our next podcasts!