HomeIndian AmericanOpEd: A reflection on my experience with the Washington Post

OpEd: A reflection on my experience with the Washington Post

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By Nathan Reddy

I admit it, the piece I just wrote about David Nakamura not including me in his article is woefully misinformed. There were a number of problems with it, apart from my referring to my sister’s boyfriend as “my girlfriend’s boyfriend” (an issue that my sister’s boyfriend just pointed out). However, as a result of my writing it, I have learned a lot more about the journalistic process and Asian American identity, including my own.

For context, David Nakamura of the Washington Post contacted me to talk. He said he was writing a piece and would like to quote me in it. I was slightly perturbed because I thought he wanted to talk about Asian American issues, but instead he redirected the conversation towards Kamala Harris.

Nonetheless, I was delighted to be quoted in the WaPo, but when the piece came out I was nowhere to be found. To process my feelings, I wrote a piece (the one linked above) about the slight.

Kelly Yamanouchi of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution read my piece about David Nakamura and reached out to me, asking if she could share a few thoughts.

Firstly, David Nakamura is a White House reporter, so the pieces he writes, currently, must be about Bidenworld. Secondly, Kelly told me that it’s been many times where she had interesting conversations with people in her reporting, but they ended up not making it to the final piece. It doesn’t necessarily mean that she wasn’t interested in what they had to say, she just had to ensure that she ended the process with a cohesive document.

I made the mistake of assuming that David interrupted our discussion to insert Kamala Harris into it because he was disinterested, when in reality he may have been running on a tight schedule and needed to get at the meat of what he was investigating.

I connected this to the marginal status of South Asian Americans when it comes to our voices on matters that pertain to Asian America. I have come to the conclusion that that wasn’t the case, and even though I rightly disavowed identity politics in that piece, I reified it by insisting that somehow my being Indian American explained everything and justified my grudge.

Basically, I renounce my analysis of the incident I had with David Nakamura, but the ultimate and basic point that I made about how our common racialization brings us together can form the basis of our resistance, in indivisible solidarity with other oppressed groups, stands.

It was a call to action, but my conversation with Kelly also has me reform my thinking on that too. I started thinking about how we can, as Asian Americans, fight for justice while still retaining an ethnic identity that critics (including other Asian Americans) have pointed out is inherently capitalist.

I said the Asian American psyche strives towards material success to prove that we are better than our Asian brothers and sisters, and though this may be true in a sense, a truer sense would be that we strive for material success in light of what our parents and elders went through.

Kelly is Japanese American, and her family has been in America for generations. She did her own research on David Nakamura after reading my article, and it turns out he’s Japanese American too, and his parents were interned.

In the piece I wrote about him, I implied that he was the shill we should be cautious of becoming. But unlike many White Americans who occupy his prestigious and professional status in society, he did not grow up with generational wealth. His parents were incarcerated. This is an important history there that contextualizes his accomplishments, and that history is inextricably tied to his identity as a Japanese American.

Indian American parents certainly weren’t interned, but they have faced their fair share of obstacles. When their son or daughter graduates with an MD, they feel that their hardship was worth it in the end.

It took me a while, but I ended up severing what my parents wanted for me and what I wanted for myself.  I have no animosity for others whose life desires link with their parents. I understand the struggle.

But having an MD doesn’t mean one has to be a card-carrying member of the upper echelon, and that’s where I refine my thoughts on children of Asian immigrants who ascend to the professional managerial class. Social class is not just about wealth, it’s about cultural mores too. One of the mores that define upper class society are its unwillingness to engage with others who don’t occupy the same class.

Of course, doctors are paid well (although they do have to deal with considerable student debt) but being paid well doesn’t necessarily mean you have to identify with the upper class.

Pexels by John Guccione

Being a doctor can be not only about healing the individual, but also the ills of society as one develops an increasingly critical consciousness. This requires a solid political identification with the working-class, and that identification must be made clear through one’s chosen field of practice, whether that be medicine, law, engineering or journalism, like David and Kelly’s trade.

In fact, Asian American professionals can be at the forefront of creating an egalitarian American society that prioritizes the community over the individual, while also respecting the history and struggles of our parents and elders, which is a common theme when it comes to Asian American identity. We don’t have to destroy our Asian American identity and look down on our parents or their history to enact social change with others.

What we need for more Asian Americans to realize this, especially the many Asian Americans at colleges who are following in people like David Nakamura’s footsteps,  is service-learning education. Education that connects community service with progressive and humanistic theory.

I freely admit that despite my calls to “dismantle capitalism” (a phrase rendered meaningless by wokeness at this point), my education and subsequent political radicalization happened at Cornell University, not in the jungles with the Naxalites (tribal communists in India).

It, however, wasn’t a matter of reading texts within the walls of the Ivory towers, but reading texts—especially Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed—in conjunction with working directly with a working-class community in Ithaca, constantly learning to upset the power relations in the process of becoming more human with them.

David Nakamura isn’t the villain. It would be way too easy to cast myself as the righteous class renouncer and him as a corporate hack, but that rendering would be insulting to his family history and Asian American identity. It would also be disrespectful to my own Asian American identity in that deep down I still want to make my parents proud and redeem them of their sacrifices.

As young, progressive Asian Americans, we must understand that renouncing our class position doesn’t necessarily mean renouncing our family. There is a middle way in which we use our relative privilege for the betterment of society, thus undermining the system that normalizes that privilege as we work.

In the end, I am thankful for my snafu with David Nakamura, because it led to an eye-opening conversation I had with Kelly Yamanouchi that established in myself an Asian American identity grounded in both social justice and respect for Asian American history and family. It is poetic justice that David is a watchdog for the State that incarcerated his parents. Our life can be poetry too, but we must write it.

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