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A Call to Social Scientists — Segmenting Population & the Inadequacy of English

August 25th, 2015  |  Published in FEATURE, SOCIAL SCIENCES

| Anyone of Asian descent born or mostly raised outside of the motherlands, particularly, in English-speaking nations like Canada, the US, Australia, and England share so many similarities in terms of history and interests that I am surprised academia has not coined a term that groups these populations and that allows us to talk about ourselves without sounding awkward and long-winded. What about “banana” and “twinkie”? Don’t even consider these. They are slurs with serious baggage and there needs to be a better option, a real option.

As a Chinese Canadian, I have a lot more in common with someone of Asian descent who’s not Chinese and is from an English speaking country, than I do with someone who is Chinese and is from, say, mainland China. Unfortunately, English fails when I want to talk about Asian Canadian and Asian Americans as one group. How long and inefficient something can come out sounding: “I’ve been interested in Asian American and Asian Canadian films since I saw Better Luck Tomorrow.”

Here’s another example of the inadequacy and inefficiency of English. It gets worse when I want to include more than two nationalities:

“Vancouver, Toronto, Sydney, San Francisco, New York, London. In cities like these, Asian Canadians, Asian Americans, Asian Australians, and what-Asians-in-England-call-themselves, many whose primary language is English, want to see proper representation in their media markets. More and more are caring less and less about mainstream movies and television as they grow bored with the same faces and continually recycled characters that have never looked like them, never behaved like them. They were never recognizable, never really identifiable, never all that appealing. Fortunately, they’re starting to make their own content and that needs to continue and grow.”

A friend of mine suggested using “diaspora.” This works sometimes, but it fails in a passage like above coming off clunky, non-specific, and strange:

“Vancouver, Toronto, Sydney, San Francisco, New York, London. In cities like these, Asian diaspora members (members of the Asian diaspora?), many whose primary language is English, want to see proper representation in their media markets.”

One might tangentially ask if we make a term for the situations above when will the creation of all these new terms end? What about Asians raised outside motherlands that are not considered English-speaking like France? What about those diaspora stories outside of the “West” like in the Middle East? What about the cousin that came over when she was 2 years old and acts the same way you do? She wasn’t born here, but it’s pretty much like she was. Does she fall under that newly created umbrella term? What about her cousin that came over when he was 15?

So where does the creation of words end? It doesn’t. It shouldn’t. It mustn’t. Language evolves with the times. No one should think language is finite. That’s why we have “Google it” and “smart phone” today. If vocabulary needs expansion that only highlights how inadequate a language is in serving its speakers. And so it must grow.

One might also digress and contend how countries like Canada, the US, Australia, and England are not the same so to lump those of Asian descent raised in these places is not appropriate. Of course, they are not the same. But they are remarkably similar in many ways due to their own shared history dating back decades and they all have been heavily influenced politically, socially, and economically, namely, by Britain. These influences have not disappeared. Hence, it is not surprising how an immigrant family that finds itself in an Australia that is in many ways British has a life similar in many ways (but not all ways) to an immigrant family in Canada, which is also in many ways British. As a result, we need something to discuss these people on opposite sides of the world but inextricably linked culturally.

I’m not going to shoot for the moon. I thought we could take this step by step and simply start with a term that encompasses Asians born and/or raised in English speaking countries. Once we’ve got a handle on that, sure, let’s look at another group like Asians raised in Spanish-speaking countries.

If this term already exists, someone market this! And please let me know and I will inform everyone I know because out of the hundreds of people I have encountered in my lifetime, none of them have told me what this term is and I don’t think they’re keeping it a secret.

Let’s go social scientists!

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