“East Asia is not monolithic.”

Growing up surrounded by assumptions that her family is Chinese, senior Lauren Campbell thought that Chinese immigrants make up the lion’s share of Houston’s Asian American population. Due to her half-Vietnamese, half-Korean heritage, she began considering herself an outsider, even within the Asian American community.

As a child, Campbell did not realize that Houston is home to the nation’s third-largest Vietnamese American population and did not begin exploring that aspect of her cultural identity until seventh grade, a decision that she regrets. Citing a sense of disconnect with her heritage, she said,“I feel like I’ve been rejected from different cultures.”

Campbell sometimes receives compliments that she appears to be a “good mix” — neither fully Vietnamese nor Korean.

Conversations within the East Asian Affinity Group are often dominated by Chinese American voices, occasionally to the exclusion of other ethnicities.

“When we talk about the East Asian experience at St. John’s, a lot of it is not applicable to me,” Campbell said. “It’s just frustrating to deal with constantly feeling underrepresented.”

When we sang in Mandarin, people were looking at me, expecting me to sing. I’m Vietnamese.

— Mark Doan

To avoid confusion, whenever senior Kate Vo discusses her heritage, she establishes early on that her family is from Vietnam. Alternatively, Remy Phan fields questions like “Are you Chinese?”

  “It’s disappointing that people automatically go to the label Chinese because there are so many different ethnicities,” Phan said.

Likewise, students assume that Mark Doan’s family comes from China.

“In class, we started singing ‘Happy Birthday’ in Latin, English, Mandarin and Spanish. When we sang in Mandarin, people were looking at me, expecting me to sing.” Doan was mortified. “I’m Vietnamese.”

At eighth-grade graduation last spring, Doan felt uncomfortable when a friend’s parent approached him, began a conversation in Mandarin, and introduced him to other Chinese American students — students that he already knew. 

The default characterization ultimately “erases so much history, so much culture and so many people — there are a lot of other countries besides China,” said Chih, who identifies more with her Taiwanese heritage than her Chinese heritage. Vo added, “East Asia is not monolithic.”

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