Hyphen College Tour: Nice Meeting You, Occidental!

April 25, 2011

Hyphen was at Barack's former stomping grounds last Saturday, yes indeed. I met with an impressive group of student leaders over lunch: They know their social history, their coalition politics, and they have big plans for their APIA classmates.

They also know, already, how much heart it takes to be the voice in the wilderness, reminding people to look up, to think big, to care more.

Can't say hollering in the wilderness in your twenties and thirties necessarily gets easier, does it, readers? Hyphen shared some of our organizing and outreach strategies with our Occidental friends -- but shared them because in many ways the challenge is still the same: How to call attention to total bummers like social injustice and deep-rooted inequality without sounding like the guy on the corner with the "Repent" sign?

It doesn't get easier, but it does get more and more fun. (See: party)

And some of that fun has to do with realizing that our ragtag artsy and activisty crew ... is everywhere. And that wherever we are -- Kansas or Hawai'i, Oregon or Iowa -- we can find each other. (Here being one of the places we do it). Knowing that we are small but mighty, changes everything.

The Occidental event came together at the last minute, so this post is a wrap-up instead of a lead-in, but all the good stuff -- including the contest! -- still applies.

(In case you're not caught up, Hyphen has partnered up with IW Group and McDonald’s in an effort to inform and empower campuses with its unique perspective on Asian American arts, culture and politics. With style, of course.)

And now for the contest.

This is specifically for Occidental students: Tell us what makes you Hyphen.

Let us know by submitting a comment. The best response will win a $50 McDonald's Arch Card and a fancy sweatshirt. If your response is not chosen, don't fret. We'll have little giveaways for you, too. All these goodies, plus free Hyphen issues, will come at you through the mail.

Poems, pictures, and any other creative responses are also welcome.

And Occidental, thanks for having me over. Hyphen hearts you.


Interested in learning more about the Hyphen College Tour and bringing Hyphen to your campus? Please contact our speaking engagement coordinator, Bena Li, at bena.li[at]hyphenmagazine[dot]com.


erin K Ninh

contributing editor & blogger

erin Khue Ninh is a former blog editor and onetime publisher of Hyphen, who won't seem to go away. She now teaches literature in the Department of Asian American Studies at UC Santa Barbara. Aside from Hyphen, erin believes in recycling, Planned Parenthood, and Type A first-borns.



When others ask me what I am and I simply respond with Chinese, they will think that I am a FOB. Fresh off the boat, that I had just immigrated here, that my English is speckled with grammatical errors, that I don't have a clue to what America's pastime is. But none of those things are true. I was born and raised in San Francisco. I was an editor for the Oxy Weekly as well as for my elementary school, middle school, and high school newspapers. And I am a huge Giants fan! I feel that in order to truthfully and accurately answer the 'what are you' question, I must respond with Chinese-American, because I lack much of the culture that I would have instilled in me had I been born in China. I identify as Chinese-American because I don't want others to see me as just Chinese and force all of the stereotypes about being a Communist or a bootlegger on me. I am hyphen because I am not simply American as I am not white, and because I am not just Chinese because I was not born in China. I am Chinese HYPHEN American.
I am Hyphen. Not because I chose to be, but because this is where I was placed. And this is where I fit. For 10 years of my life I had spent my Saturdays learning my mother’s culture and language. However, when I visit my mother’s homeland, I am constantly stared at and seen as Caucasian. It is a shame and disappointment to not be seen as one of them even after my hard work. I am not Japanese. For all my life I have lived in the United States, I even joined the Girl Scouts (lasted a year...), but my peers’ constantly labeled me as their token ‘Asian friend’. I am not American. At times when I am with my Asian-American friends, they point out that I am Caucasian. At times when I am with my Caucasian friends, they point out that I am Asian. It’s just like my freckles. I know I have them. But it’s not like I constantly remind myself that I have freckles. I am only reminded of them when someone points it out. And the moment they point it out, is just another moment I am reminded that I don’t fit in with the majority of the people. Being Hyphen is being something other; being something that is not distinctly defined. Underneath that hyphen and between those two words, there is so much more to our lives: struggles, challenges, difficulties, and differences that we all face. Our society ignores this and pushes us to try and fit in a distinct single category. And when we struggle to fit in a single category, we make our best to mold the multiple categories that we hold in our hands to form our new category that is ever more accepting of people. That’s why anyone who is finding him or her self, and cannot seem to fit in a single category, is Hyphen. Hyphen is where I was placed because of how society rejected me being in a single category. But Hyphen is also the place where I am accepted purely for who and the way I am 100%. And that is why I am Hyphen.
I am Asian-American, African-American, Japanese-American, Colored-American, What-is-she?-American, Can-I-touch-your-hair-American, Always-gotta-work-twice-as-hard-to-get-half-as-far-American, Never-good-enough-American, Expected-to-fail-American, Confused-American, BLANK-American. But I am never just American. Do all of these hyphens satisfy you Americans? Well I don’t put them in to please your constructed black boxes or your narrow gaze, To make you feel comfortable and say ‘Oh now I understand,’ I do it because there’s more to me than the color of my skin, There’s more to me than the flowered petals my grandfather intricately dyed day after day in the inviting sun that prickled his skin like a comforting hug in Hawaii, There’s more to me than my father’s ancestors ruthlessly bound up in unrelenting shackles that left eternal engravings of their enslavement on that ship to America, I do it because I will rise up, Higher than the mountains that already built their deep foundations, Higher than the thick pillows of clouds looking down upon us, Higher than my father’s voice telling me, “It’s going to be hard for you, being a woman and colored, but I know you can do it. I’ll always be proud of you.” I do it because I’m proud. Proud to be a HYPHEN American.

These are some of the best responses to this contest I've seen, across the campuses so far. Tough job to choose between your answers, ladies -- glad the job's not mine!