Over the last year or so, I started noticing people were dropping the hyphen from Asian American and other similar terms. To my own ignorance, this wasn't something new. Dropping the hyphen started more "formally" in 1993, though it seems not universally. I guess before recent years, I had only ever seen and was taught to use the hyphen. So, me being the person who will use a semicolon in a text message, first thought people were just being sloppy. However, as I noticed it more and more, I decided to look up why this might be, and eventually came to the conclusion that I'm also done using the hyphen and I feel so much freer.
I found an article by Henry Fuhrmann that specifically addressed why we need to drop the hyphen in Asian American, and the most poignant statement that led to my own a-ha moment, was the author's statement that "[these] hyphens serve to divide even as they are meant to connect." This made me think about why I used to refer to myself as American Asian instead Asian-American. Being "Asian-American" often made it feel like my American-ness was secondary and often overlooked as part of my identity. Whereas, being American Asian seemed to me at the time, to be saying that I'm an American of Asian descent. There was also a time I probably thought way too hard about this and completely confused myself, leaving me to not know how to identify myself at all! Even now I question whether my former use of American Asian makes sense, and is accurate. Although in the UK they also use that format referring to people as "British Indian" or "British Nigerian," for example. However, it also feels weird to follow the colonizer's lead in this case.
It's weird, because as Fuhrmann says, the hyphen is meant to connect but it actually creates division. Maybe it's all in my head but when I see "Asian American" I see all of me. Whereas, as I mentioned already, I feel that "Asian-American" or "Chinese-American" often leads others to see only one part of my identity; and there's definitely a difference between being Asian and Asian American, as well as Chinese and Chinese American. The hyphen also makes it feel like my Asian identity and American identity are at odds. I mean, sometimes they are because that's the duality of being a BIPOC American; but that's a different story. Referring to a quote from Maxine Hong Kingston, the article also points out that "Asian-American" gives both words equal weight “as if linking two nouns" and creating a certain misperception of a person's identity. Along the lines of what I already stated, I'm Chinese American, so I'm an American of Chinese descent. I'm not a Chinese national and an American national. A good example of the misperceptions the hyphen can lead to, is for example, "Japanese-American" can make it seem like a person is of dual loyalties, which was problematic during WWII. Without the hyphen, Asian American becomes an adjective describing a noun. Without the hyphen, Asian is a type of American. It may seem trivial and we could probably talk in circles over it. My lawyer brain has already argued over all sides. But I'm in agreement that the hyphen needs to go. It’s so strange that the removal of one little punctuation feels like I’ve finally undone one knotted tangle in my multicultural identity confusion.
Perhaps once this is universally the norm, people will stop seeing and treating Asian Americans as "other than," or outsiders, and even foreigners. Punctuations, as little as they may seem can make a big difference! You do not want to say, "I like to eat my cats and my family" when you mean to say, "I like to eat, my cats, and my family."
Do you see a difference between "Asian-American" vs. "Asian American?" This isn't a test. I'd just love to hear your thoughts.