One of my grad school application statements begins like this:
“Late at 3 a.m. in The Miscellany News’ office, I skimmed the walls of my office where former Editors-in-Chief had left their signatures. Out of the twenty names before mine, only one appeared as Asian. I began to wonder how many Asians, as well as people of color, had led the newspaper before me.”
In the statement, I go on to explain my research in finding that answer, consulting shelves of old newspapers, Vassar’s archives, Google, a book on The Misc’s history written by former Editor-in-Chief Brian Farkas ’10 and a LinkedIn message to Farkas himself when my evidence seemed inadequate. The result of this research is discovering that in the ’80s, the newspaper had its first Black Editor-in-Chief and its first Asian Editor-in-Chief in the 1990s, followed by the newspaper’s first female Asian Editor-in-Chief in 2006, and the newspaper’s third Asian Editor-in-Chief in 2015. This would mark me as the fourth Asian Editor-in-Chief and potentially the fifth editor of color for The Miscellany News.
I am not exactly sure of the accuracy of my research, but it’s the best I could muster during my junior year while juggling classwork, studying for my GRE and managing Vassar’s student newspaper within the same semester. We’re often led to feel a sense of pride with these kinds of “firsts”—look to Michelle Yeoh, for instance, becoming the first Asian to win Best Actress at this year’s Academy Awards—without questioning why these “firsts,” or in my case, “fourths” and “fifths,” exist to begin with. As I wrote in my applications, I should’ve felt some form of pride upon my discovery. But instead, I felt a form of mourning, indescribable yet familiar.
I am often exhausted when writing about race, and yet whenever I write about myself I feel obligated to mention race as a pivotal component of my existence. Indeed, as I have overheard some of my international peers say, it doesn’t make sense why Americans are so obsessed with race, or why many of my Asian-American peers will describe themselves as “Chinese,” “Japanese” or “Indian” instead of American, even though they don’t have as intimate of a connection to the country of their ancestors as, say, someone who actually lives in that country. In spite of this supposed discrepancy, we Asian Americans are never given the opportunity to label ourselves as simply “American.” We are too accustomed to the deceptiveness of the question, “Where are you from?”, knowing that people who ask this question don’t really care that we’re from New York or California—they want to know what Asian country gave us the monolids or other ethnic features that they are staring at. This question, “Where are you really from?” is so prominent that it has even become a cliche in Asian-American writing. Look at the poor protagonist in this work of Asian-American literature who can’t decide if she’s more Asian or American—it’s almost like she has dual personalities! And yet we succumb to these narratives. Plenty of my old work from creative writing classes often pits China and America as two separate worlds I exist in, both never mine to claim.
That is to say that unlike my other Misc peers, it is impossible to write about my time on the paper without sounding like other stories many students of color at Vassar are familiar with. The isolation one feels being one of the few students of color in a room filled with white classmates. The inanity of voicing your discomfort to those who have the privilege to not understand you—you repeat the same story again (“As a [BLANK] person I…”) and find yourself wondering, are you really explaining your circumstances well enough or do people just not care? A certain blank look on the face if you mention taboo words like “race” or “diversity.” And perhaps, to those of us in leadership positions, the overwhelming dread that you are doing it all wrong or not doing enough for your respective communities. These are all the anxieties I have felt as I’ve moved up the ranks of The Misc.
Many people often forget how quick four years can go. Originally I was convinced that I could immediately transform The Misc into a publication highlighting marginalized voices on campus, only to inevitably realize that such a change would take time, and definitely not within a semester’s worth of leadership. And yet within those four years of seemingly no progress, The Misc transformed who I am as a thinker and writer. I am conscious of the narratives that surround our culture, and The Misc has been my platform in highlighting the various communities I am in. Still I wonder about the mark I have left at Vassar. Have I done enough? Was the four years of work worth it? Will it be remembered?
But the final questions I have for myself are these: How do I say goodbye to a newspaper that has given me both grief and joy? How do I acknowledge the hardships I endured, while also recognizing the people and experiences that made me a better person? As I leave Vassar, how do I want to remember The Misc? Quietly I leave my name on the office walls, close the door, and do not look back.