Alice is a second year Carlson student who started Women of Asia (WOA) in 2014. WOA is one of the student groups on campus which aim to promote women’s rights. I caught up with Alice to find out what makes her and her student group so special.
Why did you start Woman of Asia?
One day, my ex-boyfriend and I were eating dinner with friends. Afterwards, he said to me: “Alice, I’m really disappointed with you today.” I said: “Why?” He said: “Today during dinner you shouldn’t have ordered for yourself. As a girl, you should pretend that you weren’t hungry and handed to someone else to order.” Of course, I didn’t think he was right. He was an average well-educated Chinese guy; it confused me where he even got that crazy idea. Then it struck me that maybe there was a deeper sexist expectation about women than I thought. I remembered my parents always address the importance of finding a good husband to me, but men weren’t taught the same thing. Especially for girls who grew up in a certain cultural background, they find it harder to understand that they have the same right as men to pursue their careers and finding a good husband may not be the top priority in their lives. These girls don’t know how to protect themselves and they don’t even want to protect themselves because certain sexist ideologies have been so popularly planted and played in their lives, they started to think sexism was normal. Afterwards I decided that I would help them understand not only how to protect themselves, but also what it really means to be a women. I was lucky enough to have my co-founders and board members, Nan Wu, Yumeng Ye, Anna Zhao, and 11 others to help me along the process.
Can you tell me what rights you think women in Asia don’t realize they have?
First of all, they have the right to pursue their careers. Second, they have the right to not be judged for their marital decisions. For example, when girls are in their 30s and still single, they are seen as abnormal, yet 30-year-old bachelor guys are never judged. Women have the rights to be independent. To me, women from Asian cultural backgrounds are taught to be timid, and to not express or pursue their uniqueness, which is something that I really want to address and change.
What are you trying to accomplish with WOA?
I think in the US, a lot of women understand the importance of independence and individuality, but not so much in Asia. I want to show Asian women that it’s a really cool thing to be different and independent.
What events have you organized with WOA?
Last semester, we dressed up in traditional clothing and took pictures with random students on campus, which aimed to show how beautiful we are in our own ways. We also hosted an event with UMPD and Aurora Center to talk about relationship violence. This semester, we are partnering with refugee women student group and help them gain confidence and independence.
How do you feel about being an Asian international student?
Asian students are stereotyped and quiet, nerdy, unsocial, and I was like that when I first got here. The stereotype was inevitable because the culture that we were raised in is applauded for modesty, hardworking, etc. For me, the American values, individuality and independence, fitted me and I was able to adapt to the situation fairly quickly. I don’t see myself as American even though a lot of my beliefs have changed. I believe that part of individualization is to create my own culture, which is what I have been doing and is also the only way for me to make sense of myself right now. A lot of international students are struggling between preserving their own cultures and adapting to the American way of life. They want to stay in their comfort zones and they want to blend in as well. I think for me, it’s not really a choice, also I think it’s cool to be both.
How do the cultures differ between where you’re from and America?
The Chinese culture that I came from is dramatically different from the American culture. It’s so dramatic that the only thing that is more dramatic would be the culture difference between North Korea and America (laughing). I think the relationship between people is really different. In China, people are more dependent with each other. Families live really close; they have fun together and they are really supportive of each other. In US, people prefer their own space. Also in the US, if you’re foreign or exotic, people tend to stay away from you and they don’t know how to talk to you. In China, if you’re from another country you’re like a celebrity. People ask you where you’re from, and offer to help you with your Chinese. I can’t say which one is better. There are merits on both sides.
How do you like the fact that you’re a combination of both cultures? Do you feel isolated because you don’t really belong to either side?
More or less. This is getting personal (laughing). I had an American friend who told me that I’m crazy and if I ever go back to China, people would definitely find me strange. I know there are Asian Americans, other ethnic Americans, and international Chinese, but I feel like I don’t really belong anywhere. It bothers me when people try to put a brand on me, classify me as either American or Chinese, when I’m just an awesome Chinese person. On the other hand, I believe that wherever you are, there will always be people who appreciate your uniqueness. There will be people who want to be your friends.
Have you ever thought about where you’re going? Are you going to stay here or go back to China?
I don’t know. Just thinking about how much I have changed over half a year, I find it really hard to predict where my life is going. I used to be a timid little girl, now I feel so confident that I can do anything.
Alice Xie and Women of Asia have done fabulous work concerning women issues especially ethnic women’s issues. See https://www.facebook.com/pages/Women-of-Asia/576049249165635 to find out more about them or reach Alice at email@example.com.