Breaking Silence

Apr 272009
Authors: Natasha Pepperl

Decades after Asian Americans were persecuted and entire families were imprisoned in internment camps during World War II, one woman said Monday the treatment of her people has not changed much.

Asian stereotypes and prejudices are still pervasive in today’s culture, according to fourth-generation Japanese-American cultural intelligence trainer and former Editor in Chief of Asian Avenue Magazine Erin Yoshimura, an issue she said is exasperated by the media.

“(Asian Americans) are still regarded as foreigners no matter how long we’ve been in this country,” Yoshimura said during an event, “Tea Time,” hosted by several student organizations as part of the Asian/Pacific American Student Services’ Asian Fest.

“If you think we’ve come a long way . think again,” Yoshimura said.

As a child, she said was teased because of her race, called derogatory names such as “gook” and “Jap” and had rocks thrown at her.

She said she did not learn anything about the contributions of her people to America in school, but only that she was the “enemy” and that they bombed Pearl Harbor.

“Even up to my mid 30s, I lived almost like an apology,” she said. She traces this shame back to the internment of her paternal and maternal grandparents during World War II.

She said her grandparents were among the 120,000 Japanese citizens who were incarcerated from 1942 to 1945 because of the nation’s fear that they were spies and disloyal to America. Two-thirds were American-born and half were children, Yoshimura said.

The Japanese were given a week to leave their homes and were only allowed to take what they could carry to the internment camps. Yoshimura’s mother almost died from whooping cough as a baby while interned because of the unsanitary conditions and lack of medical aide.

After the internment, her family relocated to Colorado because they had nothing to go back to in California.

She said many Japanese families passed down the shame of this occurrence just like her family did and stopped celebrating their heritage in an attempt to assimilate into American culture as quickly as possible.

Though she believes more people are becoming aware of stereotypes, Yoshimura said that Asian youths today experience the same obstacles and prejudices she grew up with.

She said that Asians have the power to break stereotypes by becoming more vocal. She also said that the media has a responsibility to more accurately depict Asians in order to increase American understanding.

Many CSU Asian and Pacific Islander students’ experiences echo Yoshimura’s.

“It’s hard; you’re ashamed of (your race), you apologize for it,” pre-med sophomore and A/PASS Education Coordinator Deborah Yeung, said.

“(There were) so many stereotypes growing up,” Yeung said of her childhood.

Stephanie Tanny, a fourth-year ethnic studies and sociology student and A/PASS education coordinator, said she feels her race makes her stand out. She receives a great deal of attention from guys who she said assume she fits the promiscuous Asian female stereotype.

“Sometimes I wish I wasn’t (Asian) so I wouldn’t get all that attention,” Tanny said.

She said that she feels CSU’s Asian culture is hidden from most of the students and stressed that A/PASS events are for all students.

Mikiko Kumasaka, the Asian/Pacific American Student Services Director, said at CSU there are 800 Asian and Pacific Islander students, which comprises slightly more than 3 percent of the student population.

Kumasaka said Asian culture is relevant to the entire CSU student body.

“We are all Americans,” Kumasaka said, “Asian American culture and history is part of the fabric of America.”

She said Asian Fest is “a celebration of our history and American culture” and that its purpose is to inform students about current issues facing the community.

“Our office is not focused on A/PASS students; it is for all students,” she said. Kumasaka said A/PASS’s focus is on student retention and they have a peer mentoring program and leadership workshops. She said their office also collaborates with other CSU organizations to put together a variety of events.

The last Asian Fest event is a Luau, which will occur on May 3.

Tanny said of Asian Fest, “These events are open to everyone . we want other people to come and learn more.”

Staff writer Natasha Pepperl can be reached at

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