Oberlin Blogs

A Different Experience

December 31, 2022

Phoebe McChesney ’25

Usually, my intermediate and extended family are all together for Christmas, but we spent this year apart. My mom, dad, sister, and I spent the holidays in Chicago, dedicating a significant portion of time to making a Chinese feast for Christmas day. While my sister and dad selected most of the menu items, they did give me the freedom to do some tweaking to the list. I added jiaozi (dumplings): both pork and vegetable, and agreed to make the Mapo tofu. 

We headed to H-Mart for ingredients, where my sister and I wandered the dried goods aisles while our dad located the meat, fish, and vegetables. That afternoon, I worked on the pork dumpling filling and collaborated with my sister on the veggie type. As I chopped green onions, ginger, shiitake mushrooms, and tofu, and I measured out varying amounts of peanut oil, soy sauce, rice wine, and five spice powder (among many other ingredients!), I reflected on the differences in Asian American identity-based community between my high school and Oberlin.

I had attended a predominantly white middle school and it wasn't until high school that I first spent time around many other Asian American youth my age. It had been a culture shock to be among people whose families had come from where I had originated. I had hoped to find an Asian American community there, but a mixture of my own apprehension and a nonunderstanding of certain social/cultural expectations left me feeling disconnected from my own Chinese roots.

In college, I searched for Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) centered resources, landing on Asian American Alliance’s (AAA) mentorship program and Asian Diaspora Coalition (ADC). I signed up as a mentee with AAA's initiative, hoping for some guidance from an upperclassman who had been able to successfully navigate their intersecting identities in college. We have since connnected over specific experiences, viewpoints, and ideas. I've gotten recommendations for classes and professors and have had an exemplary role model of an individual who truly understands and takes pride in who they are.

With ADC, I bit the bullet as soon as I joined, and ran in their elections for club board. I was selected as secretary and have since both observed and experienced authentic connection and collaboration based on a shared ethnic/cultural identity that drives a common passion for social organization and communal gathering. This sense of shared mission, of a new type of community, is new to me and has shifted my own perspective on Asian American identity and its potential for inclusive collectivism.

I have come to understand that there is a space and a place for everyone at Oberlin, even for those who straddle different cultural/social identities, like me. There is room to talk about a spectrum of experiences, whether they are positive, exciting, harmful, or confusing. I have a renewed sense of appreciation and gratitude for my intersecting identities and an emerging hope for the cultivation of a positive legacy and the continuation of safe and brave spaces for AAPI Obies. This is work, student-led and driven, that I can believe in.

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