For the most part of my life, I’ve always been the only Asian person in my friend group. I’ve accepted the #TokenAsianFriend over the years and now have finally come to embrace it. I’ve been the butt of many jokes, the one who always figures out the restaurant bill, and the one who my friends look at for guidance when we are amongst other Asian people or eating at an Asian restaurant.
Now, at first I admit that I felt indifferent about it all. We, as in Asians, are all different. We do not look alike nor act alike and we should not be reduced to a certain typecast. We have all gone through different experiences that have crafted us into the beautiful humans we are today. It is our stories that define us and those stories are ours to tell. In lieu of Asian Pacific American Heritage month, it is only fitting that we celebrate these experiences. Celebrate the challenges that we have overcome to become prouder, stronger, and self-respecting individuals.
Below four women, including myself, describe what it was like growing up Asian-American and how their experiences should not be diminished to a stereotype but instead celebrated. #OwnYourAsian
Rachel, 26, Influencer Marketing- Chinese American
Growing up, I always knew I was different from my friends. I didn’t have light hair or skin, my eyes were pretty much monolid and I didn’t have freckles. I’ve always wanted freckles. It wasn’t until high school that I realized my body also didn’t fit my “race”. I would get comments like, “Oh wow you’re definitely on an American diet” or “You’re pretty thick for an Asian,”. And to be honest, I thought I was pretty average but I guess if you compare my body to other Asians you would see a difference.
I am a Chinese-American woman, who embraces both my Chinese culture and American culture. I have come to the realization that I am a mix of the two and it is beautifully complex and riveting. I have learned to not only accept who I am but also to embrace who I am. To embrace the thick thighs and butt that God gave me. Today, I am proud to be Chinese-American in my own way, no matter what it looks like.”
Josephine, 22, News Editorial- Vietnamese-American
“Ching-Chong. Ching-Chong,” a 5th grade classmate yelled to me, “Do you understand what I’m saying?” I remember standing there feeling disheveled and embarrassed as it started to catch the attention of other classmates This day was one that changed my perspective of being Asian American for what seemed like forever. Having moved from New York to California and back in the span of three years, I was constantly the ‘token’ Asian. Although it is something that I take pride in now at 22, it was something I had shied away from. I remember altering my appearance so I can look like other people. Whether it was dying my hair a lighter color or enlarging my eyes with cosmetics, I was suddenly on the other side with the majority and turning against the ethnic group I once identified with.
Today, I’m 22 years-old and I’d like to say I’m owning it. Of what felt like an internal struggle and self-denial, I’ve learned how to carry my culture with grace. Being multicultural now paves way for recognition and embrace and it is beautiful to see that we are no longer afraid to talk about what sets us apart from everyone else.
Maria Luisa, 27, Writer/Producer- Filipino-American
I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood in the South. I think I was in first grade the first time I overheard different classmates' parents mistake me for their nanny's daughter. But I remember hearing "You speak English so well!" and "But you don't have an accent at all," when meeting my classmates and teachers in Kindergarten. At the time I didn't know what microaggressions were, but I remember feeling singled out, like every visible trait that made me different than the "normal" group had been called out, just to remind me that I wasn't the same as everyone else.
It's interesting how much damage another person's ignorance can inflict, and how good intentions should be more than enough to let racism in all forms and at any level slide. All of this played a part in downplaying my culture and heritage when out and about in white society. I figured that if I didn't acknowledge my brown skin and Asian-ness, no one else would either and I'd finally be seen as an equal or at the very least just another regular ass person.
If I had a nickel for every "How are you so bad at math? Aren't you Asian?" comment I had to swallow with a smile because surely it was "just a joke," I'd be swan diving into a pool of gold coins like Scrooge McDuck every night. There's so much self-hate I'm still working through and unlearning, but having been fortunate enough to be able to leave that bubble of home showed me that there are so many people in this world, and it's more than okay to be different and happy about it.
Even in today's political and social climate and in the rise of outspoken white supremacy, I'm proud to be an immigrant, proud to be a brown Filipino woman, proud to speak my language and eat my "exotic" food, proud to ask everyone to take off their shoes when they enter my home. When I think about all the people who wanted to make me feel inferior simply because of the color of my skin and my culture, I remember that me living my best life is the best revenge. There are people who will never respect me and never think that I deserve to be happy and treated as an equal. Every day I wake up and am able to put a smile on other people's faces and make the world a better place in my own small way is a victory for me and my ancestors who were never supposed to get this far, and I'm not slowing down any time soon.
Jennifer, 26, UX Designer- Chinese American
I didn’t always feel so proud about my heritage, and when I look back at my teenage years - I wish I had stronger Asian American figures to look up to. Growing up as a minority was tough when you were bullied for speaking a language that always sounded like you were arguing, or that your skin tone was darker than all the white kids around you. And a crowd favorite - the ‘chinky’ looking eyes when you smiled or for others, all the time. Kids were ruthless and they fed on that kind of difference for pathetic entertainment.
I’m disappointed that I had lost myself in order to ‘fit in’. I refused to speak Cantonese, swore off any Asian guy who was interested in me, dressed like I was going to the Hamptons, and even told myself that I hated being Chinese.
Until I really went through some dramatic life experiences and learned more about the hardships both my parents went through to be in America today - did I realize how stupid and ashamed I was for trying to throw away my own identity...to look like every other white person.
I love my ‘jungle’ Asian skin tone, my beautiful almond shaped eyes and having the ability to speak my mother language. I am immensely proud to be the strong Asian American woman I am today because of my family, history, and Chinese heritage.
Now that you've read about these four inspiring women, I'd love to know your story! Tell me about your own journey in the comments below or feel free to email your story to me at firstname.lastname@example.org - I'd love to know!
Be sure to check back for more stories in the #OwnYourAsian series.