In starting the online platform/magazine, The Universal Asian, I was determined to create a safe space for others like me to turn to when wanting to know more about what was possible in our community.
The main story I tell others is the story of growing up as an adoptee in a predominantly white farming community. Despite my family’s best attempts at using love and humor to make me feel like them, I struggled. Multiple issues aside, the common desire as a teen was just to fit in. This left me flipping through magazines like Sassy trying to find an example of someone who looked like me with everyday make-up, hair styles, fashion, and jobs.
In the '80s and early '90s, it was rare to see even a Black teen in a non-target publication let alone an Asian face. With the onslaught of social media, it has definitely become easier these days as my 40-plus-year-old self watches 20-somethings show me how to do my eye make-up in a classy, subtle way rather than a wild, exotic, “different” way. Still, from what I have found, these influencers are scattered lacking a larger presence in the community that their shares would likely benefit.
When I considered our target audience, I knew I wanted to address adoptees from Asian countries, but felt it important to expand out to those who may identify as Asian, yet grew up outside of a typical Asian culture. These people are more easily labeled (not boxed in!) as #hyphenatedAsians in being Asian-American or British-Asian, etc. While this is not meant to limit how they identify themselves, it is one that can be more easily understood in the mainstream when using the hashtag #hyphenatedAsians.
In developing that tag for those who related to it in our Universal Asian community, it was a smooth acceptance to include those from around the world. As more stories are shared, the overlap in the experiences of growing up in a world that does not fully represent the one of our heritage or traditions of our lineages becomes abundantly clear. So, targeting this part of the Asian universe posed little challenge as long as we can tap into their willingness to share experiences with our readers to potentially connect with those who also relate.
On the other hand, due to the very nature of adoption, targeting adoptees from Asian countries and describing them in the most apt way became more complicated. “Transracial” didn’t work for me, as it suggests one is of different races, but we are still “Asian” racially. “Intercultural” didn’t suit because many adoptees have no connection to their native culture. So, as someone who treats words neutrally until clarification can be had through conversations, I started to consider literal wording to apply to international adoptees.
By choosing a term that can have strong interpretations, the opportunity for a dialog can be created. By choosing a literal term, a conversation to balance out understanding can be had, which reflects the mission laid out for the platform I wanted to create.
So, #importedAsians came to represent the adoptee population.
Neutrally speaking, a child from another country is paid for, whether it’s for the services surrounding the crossing of international borders, or paperwork completed for the child to enter a new country. When that child then remains in the new country, the “transaction” is complete. If you did not know that this process refers to a person, you would understand that it is a product of some sort that is being imported to another country. If we remove the emotional or human element, the adoption of a child from one country to another is similar to the importation of a product.
In the true spirit of journalism, I remain neutral in how I use this hashtag to refer to our adoptee population. While I understand that not all within our community, nor those outside of it, might be able to maintain an emotionally neutral perspective, it is my hope that we can have a conversation around it, at the very least.
So far, not many have taken issue. However, for those who have, the unfortunate thing is that they have been unwilling to present their perspective or participate in a dialog. Instead, they perpetuate an unnecessary and unintended interpretation of a term that they are unwittingly accepting as a negative label of who they/we are despite their protests as otherwise.
Words only have the power that we allow them to have when we use them and when we fail to converse on their mutual understandings. Our application and interpretation are always open to negotiation—that is the beauty of language and words—but it requires discussion to come to a common understanding. Even if we agree to disagree, at least we took the time to respectfully hear each other out and challenge our differing stances.
This platform/magazine is meant to be an open and safe space for everyone to strip off the labels, and to have the freedom to explain why some labels might not fit who they are. Rather than continue to limit our Universal Asian community, which is done on a regular basis outside of the community, it is my hope that this be a space where we can respectfully share, uplift, and inspire each other and those around us to hear us, see us, and know us.