I remember orientation as a whirlwind of meeting new people and pretending that we would be friends when the semester actually started. For the most part, I was with other Indonesians that I knew through mutual friends. We all bonded straight away, mostly through food and how we could find Nasi Goreng in Boston. It felt nice immediately finding a similar community in a new school—let alone in an entirely different country—yet I found myself wondering whether I’d suddenly boxed myself into one community too quickly.
I’m Indonesian but I’ve lived in Singapore my entire life. I’ve never been a minority, and I grew up in a very diverse community at an international school. That was all I knew. Moving to the United States for college would challenge me in ways I didn’t expect.
Boston College’s diversity, or lack of it, certainly makes it difficult for minority groups to feel like they belong. We tend to stick together because the alternative is overwhelming and challenging. In the 2018-2019 year, 59% of the undergraduate student population is white, 34% AHANA students, and 8% are international students. These are terrifying statistics for someone who has never been a minority before. It is not hard to understand why the so-called “Asian Caucus Bubble” exists here.
Midway into the semester, I found myself spending most of my time with an entirely different social group. I would bombard my family group chat with pictures of my friends, mostly to show off. I was proud to have finally found a group that made me feel comfortable and accepted. Before starting college, I was scared to death that no one would understand me and my background. Of course, that’s not true, but the reaction I got from my family surprised me: “Why are all of your friends white?”
It didn’t occur to me that, yes, the group that I’ve surrounded myself with are all mostly white. But is that a problem? Did I—should I—see it as a problem? I found myself questioning whether I was assimilating, a word so often used to describe minorities who want to fit in. Assimilating is basically a codeword for minorities who have seemingly forgotten their ethnic or racial background in order to fit into the majority culture. The thought of assimilating was actually kind of offensive.
Even my Asian friends, who are kept strangely separate from the rest of my friends, called me too white. I’m not Indonesian enough, because I never lived there, but I’m also not American enough. It felt like I didn’t belong to any specific group, and yet people were still trying to categorize me. We all know how America loves to categorize people.
The unspoken segregation at this school stood out to me, and affected me, more than I wanted it to. I became used to explaining my background over and over again. Having to jump back and forth between my Asian friends and my white friends became a habit. I’ve even developed different slangs for different groups. I no longer think twice about being the only Asian or feeling like the only “fake Asian.” I’ve become so passive that I haven’t even taken the time to realize that perhaps this is what assimilation is: complacency.
What’s the alternative? I ditch all my current friends simply because they are white? I shouldn’t have to doubt my friendships on the basis of race. Just because my friends are white doesn’t mean they can’t understand or truly know me. Perhaps that’s the exact fear of people of color: white people will not understand who we are.
Culture groups serve the purpose of offering a sense of community for minority groups. To be able to talk about similar experiences and cultural backgrounds bring people together. We need that sense of community. That being said, sometimes I wonder if we are no longer able to communicate with other people.
I spoke with Cindy Gotama, MCAS ’23, about her experience as s South-East Asian Student Association (SEASA) Freshman Representative. Cindy and I both came from Singapore, yet our experiences at Boston College have been different. She has immersed herself in the Asian Caucus bubble, and she made it clear that in her opinion, I haven’t been as involved as I should be. “I think joining these clubs really helped me find a community where I feel more comfortable in a place so far away from home,” she said. “But I have been experiencing this bubble, and I feel like I’m not branching out as much. I’m also not purposely trying to change it.”
Maybe I do regret not involving myself in Asian Caucus as much as I would like. Last week I saw the SEASA culture show and immediately felt a sense of community and family, especially after watching my friends perform and cheering them on.
On the other hand, opening myself up to people of different backgrounds outside of my own culture group has taught me things about myself that I would’ve never otherwise realized. I’ve found a new appreciation for the experiences I’ve had as an international student. My background has allowed me to offer different perspectives about the world that others wouldn’t have seen before, and sharing these perspectives has been valuable to me and my friends.
Culture groups are extremely important, especially at BC. They provide a voice to minorities and a platform to show off diverse backgrounds. However, BC and its students need to realize that there is a racial segregation of students at our school. How often do we see a round table of students of different races at the dining halls? It doesn’t happen often, and no one seems to be talking about it.