Life as an [Asian] American

I really hate to get serious and/or political, but this is something that seems to be coming up more and more in my life and it’s been pretty upsetting for me. When people first meet me, I think the first thing they notice is that I am Asian. It makes sense. When faced with a new situation or a new person, we all draw on our past experiences to figure out what to expect or how to respond. If we have no other relevant experiences, I guess stereotypes or images from the media are all we have. I understand why it happens, but it’s still hard for me sometimes.

The fact is, I am American and on a daily basis I feel American. I was born and raised here and I don’t typically feel like there is much about me that is that “different” than other Americans. Everyone has things about them that give them a sense of “otherness”, but for some people that “otherness” is something that is impossible to hide. It is the first thing that people see when they meet you and it is automatically what first impressions are based on. Like I said, I understand why it happens, but I suppose it’s really only been harmful to me when it became obvious that people are unable to change their views once they get to know me past what I look like.

I grew up not really knowing that racism was still prevalent and every once in a while I am encountered with something new that really hammers that home. I guess I was aware of certain things like the “smart Asian” stereotype, but nothing felt necessarily discriminatory towards me. It was only years later that I realized how harmful even a “positive” stereotype was. When I was younger, I wanted to be my own person and I didn’t want to fit into the image of what other people expected me to be. People thought I was supposed to be smart, so I was intentionally not studious. People expected me to drive slowly and abide by all traffic laws religiously, so I had a habit of speeding. People probably expected me to be a dork, so I put all of my energy into my social life. That didn’t keep me from being a dork, but I certainly tried. I guess it all came to a head when I failed an Asian American Studies course in college. I can laugh about the irony of it now, but the more I think about it, the more I realize that in trying to get away from this stereotype I only succeeded in harming myself. None of that stopped people from judging me based on stereotypes if that’s what they wanted to do. And that’s the lesson I’ve been learning over the past few years. As much as I like to think that I am more than my race, I have to accept that to some people my race is all I will ever be. That will never sit well with me, but I have to accept it in order to understand that there is really not much I can do to change their minds.

I guess what really bothers me now is the fact that people make blanket statements about ethnic groups without taking into account the fact that each member of these ethnic groups is an individual person rather than simply a faceless, nameless piece of a whole. Do people really think their blanket statements are anything new? Do they think we’re all not well aware of what people are saying about us? I am not one to be easily offended. Sometimes the best way to address something is to make a joke about it. However, it is crazy to me when people feel comfortable posting blatantly racist “jokes” in a public space. It is actually scary to me when people like this seem genuinely floored at the backlash. It’s one thing to be offensive. It’s another thing to be surprised when people are offended.

A couple months ago, a video surfaced called, “Why I’d Hate to be Asian”. I don’t really want to describe it partially because it’ll upset me and partially because it’s been a while since I watched it and I don’t feel like reliving it. You can watch it here, if you like. The one good thing that came out of it for me was another woman’s response to the video. It felt like someone had put into words exactly what I was thinking and it felt nice to finally be understood.

There’s this blog called Asian Angry Man that makes me really sad because it is basically a compilation of a lot of things I didn’t even know were happening. One post in particular has stuck with me for a while since I read it. It’s “A racist letter to the ‘filthy’ Filipino community“. This bothers me for a few reasons. The fact that someone would go through such elaborate lengths to single out a group of people is sickening. The idea of people going about their lives not knowing that they are actually a part of an “us vs. them” battle is disheartening. And the following section of the letter is the worst part of all:

We are attempting to have our community a law abiding one, without having yet another gang of Filipino scum such as yourself and married daughters who have attempted to assimilate into this once clean non-Filipino dominated area in American Canyon (Napa Junction) which includes those of your female offspring who have aligned themselves with CAUCASION husbands to assist in ensuring their half-breed children have “straight noses” in order to be accepted in non-Filipino society.

This really brings to light the fact that no matter how long my family has been in this country and no matter what we do, to some people we will never belong. In this case, women can’t even get married and start families without people thinking it is some artificial, calculated move to belong. This hits close to home for me as an Asian American woman in a relationship with a Caucasian man. It’s actually really strange for me to describe my relationship that way because I don’t think about it in those terms. It is hurtful to think that someone could look at my relationship and think that I am using him as an object because of his race.  It seems to me that even though it is widely known and accepted that our country is a “melting pot” founded by immigrants, some immigrants become Americans and some immigrants will always be foreigners.

I don’t really know how to end this because I don’t know what my purpose is. I don’t expect this to change anything, but I needed to put it out there. I just recently discovered that it is Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month, so I guess this is more appropriate timing than I anticipated. Happy May, friends!

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One Response to Life as an [Asian] American

  1. mellyelly says:

    I just got a chance to read this. First, my favorite part is “That didn’t keep me from being a dork, but I certainly tried.” Lol!

    I think you bring up the interesting point of a minority status that you cannot hide (race, size, etc.) vs. those that you can (sexual orientation, religion, etc.), and how you learn to expect and even accept that people will see you how they want to. Sad truth I guess. The best thing is to find pride in your identity, however you interpret it, and feel good about yourself so no amount of ignorance can take that away!

    It’s also interesting that you have to bear stereotyping as an individual and within an interracial relationship. I know your relationship and mine have their own sets of stereotypes that are uncomfortable. I guess I just try to let the world think what they want because people who actually know you know what you are in it for 🙂

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