This blog post was written by Johanna Au (‘19) and Ye Rim Cho (‘19)
Power and Privilege Symposium is an annual event that happens on Whitman’s campus and this year’s theme was “Attacking Apathy”. The symposium is a day filled with sessions, workshops and panels that are fully led by students, along with the support and guidance from staff and faculty members of the Whitman community. These sessions relate to issues of power and privilege in our society and grapple with the core identifiers of race/ethnicity, gender, religion, ability, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, nationality, and age.
This session was originally inspired by a workshop that was held by a student named Fese Elango at the 2018 Students of Color Conference at Gonzaga University. After reflecting and thinking about that workshop and also participating on the (Im)migration week Asian-Pacific Islander (API) panel, we felt the need to bring up another conversation surrounding API identities during Power and Privilege! In light of API identities, the “lunchbox” moment is a defining moment for many Asian American children. A “lunchbox moment” is a term that’s been popularized by Jubilee Project on NBC Asian America. This is a defining moment for many Asian-American children since it’s the first time they may feel different and feel like “the other” or the “perpetual foreigner” as young children. This moment may include public shaming for bringing home cooked meals for school lunch and it can lead to assimilation and shame for many Asian American children from an early stage of life.
We formatted our session into three different parts. We initially showed this video and shared our goals for the session. We had two main goals of 1) sharing our personal stories and experiences and 2) raising Asian visibility during Power and Privilege as well as generally on Whitman’s campus. We then moved onto a panel where Miyona Katayama ‘20, Alexa Lim ‘22, and we introduced ourselves and then responded to four questions with some sub questions. The first part included these following questions: Could you describe your lunchbox moment? What food did you bring? What feelings/emotions did you feel? Many thoughts and memories were shared in response to these questions. We shared stories of embarrassment since many of us did not bring the typical PB&J sandwich to school and got stares from our peers during our childhoods. It was a defining moment for many of us. Many of us reflected back to the times when we received distasteful comments and facial expressions when our food smelled funny or looked unusual or even how our Asian parents packed our food for us.
The second question we answered was, reflecting back to your lunchbox moment, can you explain how it helped shaped you into the person you are today? Some of us expressed that that food was the way our parents communicated their love and affection, which was a sentiment that we learned as we grew older. Food wasn’t just something we ate during mealtimes, but it was also a way in which our parents and relatives showed their care and affection during family gatherings or when our moms would pack us home cooked meals for school. The food that we grew up with also made us resilient as we came to a common understanding that Asian-Americans often feel othered in predominantly white spaces.
Towards the end of our session, we discussed how salient our intersectional identities as Asian-American/Pacific Islander women are to us specifically on Whitman’s campus. We reflected on how much representation matters and this session reminded us of the importance of continuing this conversation within our affinity group as well as outside of our own communities.