Let’s share immigrant stories as #MoreThanALabel

betty ming liu Inspiration, Relationships 16 Comments

I’m thrilled that America’s future social workers have asked me to join their campaign against immigrant discrimination. To stop the name-calling, abuse and violence, they are using a very 21st century weapon: the hashtag.

#MoreThanALabel is the brainchild of social work graduate students at Simmons College. They want us to attach #MoreThanALabel to anything we post on social media that refers to immigrants and the immigrant experience. Their goal is to get people talking about the evils of stereotyping that unfairly label immigrants.


I will not repeat examples of trash talk because this post should feel like a clean canvas, a sacred space. But surely, we all have obnoxious examples of immigrant hate that we can pull from the day’s latest headlines — or maybe even our own experiences.

Instead, I’d like to encourage us to arm ourselves with accurate descriptions of our community. Here are some useful links:

  • Who are we? For that, check out my blog post about what it means to be first-generation and second-generation American.  
  • By 2055, whites will no longer be a majority in the U.S., according to a new study from PEW Research Center.  By 2065, one in four people in this country will be Latino. Once the fastest-growing immigrant group, Latino immigration has peaked. The new growth group are Asian immigrants, with Asian Americans accounting for 6% of the U.S. population today.
  • Today, one in every four people living in America is either an immigrant or the American-born child of immigrants. This is just one among tons of important facts in another new report. The study, which covers more than 400 pages, was done by a team of scholars at the request of the federal government. 
  • For specific information about immigration trends and specific immigrant groups, another reliable source is the Migration Policy Institute.

As for how I describe myself, one of my most important identities is the one that drives this blog: Recovering daughter of Chinese immigrant parents. My mom was from China and my dad, from South Vietnam. They gave me what they could. But it was my responsibility to make this life my own.


As you can see from our family portrait, I tend to look grouchy in most of my childhood photos. I knew even then that my folks wanted me to graduate from an Ivy League college and be a medical doctor.

But I had other ideas. So over the years, I’ve added many key words to describe myself. There’s journalist, foodist, artist. More words include mom, college professor, pet lady. Chinese American and Asian American are on the list, along with woman, feminist, human being, sister, girlfriend, divorced.

The point is, we can’t let anyone stereotype us — whether it’s our parents, bigots, society at large or self-stereotyping by our own hands. That’s why we are #MoreThanALabel.

I am in very good company in this campaign by Simmons College. Other bloggers include UCLA Dean Kevin John, immigration lawyer and writer Will Tao and student activist Jason Fong. Join us too!

By the way, if you want to know more about Simmons College, it’s ranked #16 among northern regional universities by U.S. News & World Reports. Located in Boston, it’s a small women’s college with a co-ed graduate school. About 25% of its students are men and women of color. The social work graduate students number 600 strong in an online educational program that spans the nation and the globe.

So congrats, Simmons, for the successful launch of #MoreThanALabel! And, how about you? What’s your immigrant experience, or experience with labels? 

Comments 16

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    P.S. — A special thanks from me to Megan Dottermusch, who is the Simmons College community relations coordinator. I usually take a pass on the stuff pr folks send me. But she crafted such a caring pitch that showed her concern for the project, along with a thoughtful reading of my blog. Thanks, Megan!

  2. Great post! I entirely agreed that we should not be judged. When it comes to older people in Japan, they treat me like complete Chinese person even though most of my life is in Canada and I am second generation (Chinese born in Japan). Actually, living in China is nothing, since it was only 2 months to 6 years old, which isn’t even the age to learn anything good. I basically got verbally abused by one of those Japanese person online. That post, however, is already deleted. There were some people replied to that message, but they were not that bad. It seems to me some Japanese people still view Chinese negatively due to historical reasons even though Japanese also did extremely negative to China like the Nanjing massacre!

    Well another point is that why second generation children tend to stick to their own group while first generation has better chances to stick to locals…like how my parents moved to the area where my cousins resided…and so my childhood life has always been stuck with Chinese community.

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      Yoko, you are an example of the Chinese diaspora. The diaspora is all about people from a particular country who have dispersed all over the world. Immigrants do tend to stick with “their own kind.” My parents definitely believed in safety in numbers too. That’s why I grew up in Chinatown. But now, as a grown up, I define “my people” as anyone who is a kindred soul. Passions, shared beliefs and love make the difference. We have to get out there and be part of the world community. We can do it!

  3. As a history professor, my first reaction to the irrational uproar about immigration is “here we go again.” The same fears predominated when the wave of Irish immigration hit back in the 1840s, then the Germans, Italians, Central Europeans and simultaneously, regarding the Chinese in the far West. Add to that the anti-Catholic bigotry of the Know Nothings and recall that all of that was taking place against a background of slavery and brutal racism and one is inclined to wonder how we have managed to work together at all!
    I think the answer to that is that through it all, even at the worst times of prejudice and oppression, there have always been some people – a few at least – who stood up for kindness, compassion, equality and common sense; people who have manged to keep alive our humanity and sense of decency.
    One might say that all of our problems today can be traced to a too-liberal immigration policy on the part of Native Americans. That’s a joke of course but it does point out that, other than Native Americans, we are all immigrants or the descendants of immigrants.
    As a teacher at a small college in NJ, I have many students who are immigrants. I see them daily working from dawn at low paying jobs, then coming to the college to continue working hard at their studies, day after day, until late in the evening. I have to ask “how can anyone think these people will not be an asset to the community and an enrichment to the nation?”
    There is a great lady standing very tall in New York harbor with a brief but deathless inscription on her platform: “send me your tired, your poor, the wretched refuse of your storm tossed shore. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.” We are at our best, our strongest and our most successful when we mean those words and every time we have betrayed them, we have been at our most shameful – our worst. History proves it.

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      Well said, Toby! Immigration and integration are messy human endeavors. I’m glad you mentioned what this country has done to Native Americans. And we also have the issue of slavery — unforgivable. Its legacy continues to haunt the African American community and this nation. But like you, I believe in the power of the individual to love. So here we are. Every morning is a new day.

  4. Great article and awesome pictures of family. As a 4th generation , divorced, single mom, 1st generation college graduate, rescue volunteer and environmental activist I love the idea of “more than a label”. Kudos to your parents also for setting the goal of Ivy league grad in your to do list. I agree there are people who are extremists on the immigration issues. The crux of issue with immigration is really more than someone being from a different country or skin color etc. It is about following the legal paths put in place to live in this country. It is about not receiving the same treatment With several friends from different countries that were “naturalized’ at different ages in their life, I have never thought of them as a sub- person or that they didn’t deserve to be here. I appreciated the effort they put forth to get to be a US citizen. My friend and co-worker who was born in Korea but came here as a toddler, I don’t consider her and different than myself. In fact we had similar childhoods- dad or mom the only provider and working hard labor days and not having much in the way of means. I shared a bedroom with my two siblings and didn’t have a car until I had earned enough doing 3 jobs(minimum wage or less jobs I might add) to buy myself one. My dad couldn’t afford to pay for my college and so I did. Having to take out student loans and still paying them off(loans from 3 degrees). I remember too having to pay at the clinics when I was so sick but didn’t have a dollar to my name, yet I guess they assumed I could pay by The way they labeled me. I was not more than the label of being”white”. I remember others in the clinic not having to pay because they were here from another country and didn’t have any money either. I struggle now to make ends meet so I can pay for daughters music lessons and other items that my ex doesn’t help with. The race issue has been confused with the immigration issue also. Most normal non- extremists would agree the immigration issue is not that a person couldn’t immigrate, it’s the way they immigrate, with no legal path in mind. Social welfare services (like the clinics) are not serving a lot of the homeless and people who are here legally. Higher ed- students with no legal status are given eduction, paid for with tax payer money, at the state schools. State schools who were cutting funding for numerous areas because of the money crisis. While I still struggle to pay my loans off. The demands of children in K-12 with parents of no legal status take away from the children struggling whose parents are putting into the system that pays for classrooms, teachers,etc. I could go on but unless you have worked/volunteered in classes in diverse areas you would not understand. A big part of what is different, and successfulwith many of the asian 2nd generations is that they follow the paths to get to not only legal status, but to a different status economically as well. Probably why their parents came over – to give their children a very different life than they had or ever would have. Not the same life, but in a country slightly less corrupt than their previous one. In another article ( can’t remember which)you mentioned also about yet to see an Asian NBA player. Probably the main factor in that stat is that their parents are telling them that Ivy league schools are their ticket out of the hood- not sports. What are the parents teaching them? Sorry if a little scattered on topic. Like the #more than a label. I personally want a label as someone who “made me feel good” or “helped me at my darkest hours” or “best mom ever” which may take a few years since my daughter is just a teen :).

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      Jax, thanks for stopping by. I hope you feel better after posting your rant! Your fight to care for yourself and kids makes you supermom. That is more than a label too. It’s a reflection of your will to survive and keep dreaming big. But I urge you to re-think the blaming of immigrants for unfair treatment towards you. The complicated issue of legal immigration needs us to see that we are all #morethanalabel. Quite frankly, my father had fake papers in his early days. So if all undocumented folks were kept out, I wouldn’t be here either. Think how much I would’ve missed having this chat with you. :)

  5. Amen to that, sister!
    We must stand strong, let us not allow ANYTHING and ANYONE label us; racial slurs, stereotyped and sexualised media, porn, that harmful parenting you mentioned, many, many things. Let’s create together a better world and better future for ourselves, our children and our community, love your blog and keep up the good work!!!

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  6. Great article. I’m a third-generation Black woman and all the above-mentioned problems are similar. Gee, I do remember messed up families, neighborhoods and stuff: drunken charivari, hollers, spanking, domestic violence, street walking, rape, drug abuse and whatnot.. Added to this terrible conditions in prisons, tortures, too many to count. However, I do hope for the kinder, gentler world, minorities are in general extremely resilient and with unity, we can change the status quo.
    Yes We Can, love ya sis ;)

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      Love you too, Minny! And love how everyone is identifying their generational roots. Now. We. Know. Don’t let anyone take that away from you, me, any of us. Of course, the sad reality, is that the problems don’t go away. Thank you for your positive energy,and for dropping by.

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    2. The thing about what happened (to you ?) was the closet door was opening and closing on you. By this is we needed an Obama then and now.
      There is far to much door slamming on almost all issues especially empathy. GOD LOVE YOU

  7. Betty- you missed my point. I do Not blame immigrants for my problems. That would be similar to believing that my lot in life is the result of my stereotype and how society treats me. My point was I don’t think 95% of Americans have a problem with immigrants- they embrace that. Just do it the right way like your parents!

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      Jax! I’m sorry. I DID miss your point. On behalf of my late parents, who drove me nuts in many ways, thank you. And after many years of therapy, I agree with you. Whatever their failings, they enriched my journey. Thanks for setting me straight. :)

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