My Asian American identity and the student newsroom

Photo of The Daily Californian newspaper box
Anthony Angel Pérez/Staff

Related Posts

Growing up in a largely Asian American community, I was raised with a relatively nuanced understanding and appreciation for my cultural heritage. My peers looked like me, and my teachers spoke like me. My neighborhood was filled with aunties and uncles who understood the difference between tom yum and tom kha and who celebrated Chinese New Year religiously every year with red envelopes for me and my friends.

It wasn’t until I turned 7 or 8 that the understanding I thought I had of my own identity became evermore precarious. Around that time, I had just moved outside of my hometown in San Gabriel Valley to the city of Whittier, a mere 30 minutes away. 

Suddenly, for the first time in my life, I knew what it was like to be the odd ‘Asian’ out. A city with an Asian population of less than 5%, it quickly became apparent that I was different from many of my peers in almost every way, or at least in all the ways that mattered to an 8-year-old. My classmates didn’t talk like me or look like me, and I was forced to crawl into a shell that was uncomfortably tight for a girl who had always been outspoken and boisterous at home.

Even back then, I knew that I wasn’t entirely welcomed in my new space. When I was playing with other kids, it was a struggle to relate to them when I knew that we were so different. When they whispered mean things behind my back, it felt like a slap in the face. 

I had never realized that there was something wrong with the shape of my eyes or with the hue of my skin. I had never been aware that my lunches smelled “gross” or that my mom’s accent was “weird.” When a boy in my fourth grade class first told me to shut up because I “didn’t even know how to speak English,” I was even more confused, because I knew for a fact that we had spoken before. My lips sealed shut.

As I got older, I grew out of that initial sense of ostracization, and my classmates became more used to my presence. Still, the impact those early years had on my sense of self was, and still is, very real. 

When I entered middle school and high school, I already had a sense of what I wanted to do. I desired, more than anything, to be a journalist. I wanted to write in a big paper, such as the Los Angeles Times or The Washington Post. I wanted to cover groundbreaking scoops and have my name published for the world to see. 

But I was far from naive. I knew the industry I wanted to breach was one where faces such as my own were far and few between. When I think of the journalists I follow, the shows I watch and the books I read, it is obvious that what I have and what I am does not fit the ideal.

Even in school, where I considered myself to be an excelling student and an active participant, I was aware that my voice wasn’t the one that people wanted to hear. I knew what was expected of me. I was meant to be smart, but quiet. Helpful, but acquiescing. 

Coming to UC Berkeley, I’ve had the most amazing experience writing for The Daily Californian. As a reporter in the news department, I’ve joined a community of people who have been more than welcoming and more than ready to open a space for me in their comradery. 

When I’m given stories to write and am able to witness them get published with my name across the top, I can feel as if I am making headway, as if my voice is being heard and is valued. 

Still, I am only one person. I go to a school where the demographic is largely Asian and work in a newsroom where more than 50% of those hired in spring 2020 identified as Asian.

Other Asian journalists are not so lucky. Where my student newsroom recognizes me and sees what I have to offer, there are many other Asian American and Pacific Islander, or AAPI, student journalists who do not feel the same way.

What the events of the last month has proven is that the AAPI community is done feeling silenced and ostracized. We are not the “model minority” that sits patiently and waits to be told what to do. We are not the people who can be relied on to stay quiet and feeble.

Rather, many of us have made it our mission to let our voices be heard. For the younger generation, that starts with the media and the faces that represent us. In the student newsroom, that starts with making sure AAPI journalists are given the opportunity to speak and to be heard. 

Too often, we are forcibly pushed to the unseen periphery. The most vulnerable of us, our grandmas and our mothers, have become the victims of vicious hate because our continued submission is expected.

Recognize that our community has been hurt, let us speak for our people and give us the resources to change the industry into one where faces such as mine are welcomed and expected.

Combating hate starts with giving us, the younger generation and the inheritors of our elders’ struggles, a platform to talk and write and make a change. When given the opportunity, we will show how resilient our community is. We will show how loud we can be.

Contact Samantha Lim at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @sssamanthalim.