‘We are so, so diverse’: Princeton’s Year of the Tiger series continues with Angel Velasco Shaw

Written by
Liz Fuller-Wright, Office of Communications
Dec. 8, 2022

The Year of the Tiger that launched with this Lunar New Year is a moment of pride and reflection for Princeton’s vibrant Asian and Asian American community. Throughout the year, we are elevating the voices of faculty, staff, students, alumni and researchers in a series of thoughtful interviews exploring questions of identity, pride, hope, the lived experience of anti-Asian racism and meaningful steps that allies can take.

Angel Velasco Shaw

Angel Velasco Shaw. Photo courtesy of Angel Velasco Shaw

Angel Velasco Shaw, a lecturer in Princeton’s Effron Center for the Study of America, is a visual and media artist, educator and curator living in New York and Manila, with works in many museum collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Manila, Cinematheque Suisse Schweizer Filmarchiv in Switzerland, Casa Asia in Spain, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York.

How do you self identify?

That’s a tricky question, especially for someone who grew up in an interracial and interreligious Filipino-Jewish household in the Bronx and Chappaqua, New York, in the 1970s during a time when there were not a lot of interracial and interreligious families around. My mother was a pediatrician working in the service of the urban poor and my stepfather was a music producer. Many of our neighbors were critical of the “atypical” way that we were being raised.

My internalization of feeling like I was not part of the American “norm” caused an unease that haunted me until my early 20s, when I became acutely aware of our difference, a difference that I embraced with dignity despite being bullied for years by my classmates.

Context is really important. Sometimes my response is “Asian American,” “Filipina/x,” “American,” “a human being” or I don’t respond at all. It depends on the situation I am in, who is asking an identity question and the tone of the person that is asking. There are so many variables that influence how a person identifies — one’s upbringing, education, life experiences, self-confidence, involvement in pan-Asian American or ethnic-specific Asian American communities, etcetera. For bi-racial and multi-racial people like my sister, niece and nephew, how they identify is a whole other series of complex negotiations.  

Ironically, I feel like I’m a little too old to keep addressing this question. Nonetheless, as tired as I am of the “tyranny-of-appearances,” I will continue to name myself. This deliberate action continues to be a source of empowerment and agency.

Read the full conversation on princeton.edu: