In the month of February, I’m challenging myself to write more (everyday), share more, and risk more. So, here’s the start of an A to Z series based on whatever came to my mind first. 😉 Enjoy the ride!
I think a lot about what it means to be both Asian and American. My earliest memories of realizing my racial identity as “being different” came from hearing whispers of the term “diversity” from my mom regarding their decision to move me and my brother from our White Christian Private School to the Public School.
When arriving at said Public School, my memories include mean boys assuming that all the things I did on the weekend were That Chinese Thing. These were the first whispers telling me that I was different than Them, that I was inferior, and that an “Us” existed but I wasn’t part of it. I learned that it was possible for others to know me only for what I looked like: my chubby cheeks, dark hair, small eyes, and flat nose.
I remember hearing whispers from my parents of the reason why we attended the Chinese Church. We wanted to be around people who looked like us. But, at church, I met whispers in Chinese that I didn’t understand. My parents had never been to China and didn’t speak Chinese. While everyone else studied for their Chinese School tests, I sat by chilling out. I didn’t envy their dreaded Chinese School homework, but it was yet again, another point of difference.
This persists in present time. I meet others with expectations of my cultural and linguistic background. As if my dark hair, small eyes, and flat nose, They are able to derive the values and traditions that I grew up with. Assumptions are made about my knowledge of “my country.” The country that I’ve never been to, yet supposedly carry with me everywhere that I go.
All things considered, I didn’t have a problem with my racial identity growing up the only thing confusing about it was that other people seemed to be confused. Yet, at the same time, I’m not going to lie – as a budding teenager I often thought that it’d be easier to be a white girl. I could blend in more, not be called out as much, not questioned for my lack of bilingual-ness, and maybe be heard more for what I had to say.
Yet even still, the woes of discrimination as an Asian American woman are limited. Nobody assumes me to be dangerous or stupid. Nobody assumes me to be illegal or dishonest. The social stereotypes of Asian Americans are unacceptable, yes. However, a stereotype that disrupts my comfort is far different than a stereotype that disrupts my safety as a human being. And in that, I must recognize the privilege that I hold.
In college, I learned to embrace my unique cultural and racial identity. My college courses put terms to my experiences and ideologies that explained the racism I had experienced. I surrounded myself with a homogenous group of Asian American Christians, and I finally felt “normal.” I felt safe to be myself and to explore the diversity that exists within a homogeneous group like this. Even more so, I felt grateful that I had the privilege to choose to situate myself in groups where I was either in the majority or the minority.
As I’ve learned more and more about my racial identity as a 2nd generation Chinese American woman, I can honestly say that I love who I am. I love the bridge that my culture is able to build between one generation to the next. I love the shared experiences that I can embrace between anyone who looks Asian, and the way that we are all unified by the way that the world perceives us. I love that I am able to defy others’ expectations and sometimes serve as an educator in culture.
In recent years, what I’ve grown to love most is the empathy that I can begin to build with other people of color, and the challenge that I have to take on their hurt and racism as my own. I love that my identity has fueled me to ferociously and passionately call racism when I see it, learn more about the injustices of the world, and act justly in all the best ways that I know. And even more so, to never stop seeking to do that more deeply and expansively.
What about you? What’s your story?