As I put together this last post for the #OwnYourAsian series this year, it has triggered some thoughts that have been lingering around in my mind. I'm not only extremely happy that I am fortunate enough to have friends and family who are willing to share their stories with me and my audience but also proud that I have friends and family who feel that it is important for their voice to be heard. I've learned a lot about who I am as a person through this series which has enabled me to keep this project going! So stay tuned lovely people because there is SO much more to come. But for now, ahead are three more of my dearest friends and their stories. To Kai, Alii, and Jess thank you for sharing your stories with me and for allowing me to share them with others!
Kai, 28, Traditional Chinese Herbalist + Acupuncturist- Chinese-American
Bearing the visual shorthands of a teenage girl, she’d run out the door to catch the school bus: midriff abare, low waisted jeans hugging her love handles, and her flip flops lip-smacking the floor. Her Mom would bark at her in Chinese, saying things that loosely translated to, “valuing your beauty over your health I see.” The girl would dash to slam the door behind her to silence the hollering. The motherly proverb was quickly ignored. The teenager had grown to believe that the more she looked and acted like her white counterparts, the more they’d like and accept her. She was a white washed Asian-American teenybopper in the halls of her high school, but lived a varying reality at home.
It was at home where fluent Cantonese would flow out from her mouth in order to communicate her needs and connect with her family. It was at home where she’d nurse and nurture her insecurities about her ethnic differences. But most importantly, it was at home where food was a love language and an orchestra all in itself. Family meals were an ensemble that began nearly every afternoon. It was an amusement park for the nose, and for the ears. Simply by smelling and listening alone, she could decipher all the action in the room. The aroma of the day’s herbaceous slow-stewing soup would call her over, while garlic and ginger would fill the air with pungency as they tangoed in oil. As seductive as the smells were at home, she always worried she’d be carrying the rich scents of Chinese cuisine out with her into the streets, or even worse, to school. She had become meticulous about laundering her clothes and keeping her backpack and all of her jackets as far away from the kitchen as possible. She also ritualized brushing her teeth right after eating meals with her family, for she feared her breath might reveal the indulgence she just partook in. She rarely invited friends over for dinner, thinking they’d judge her and her family for taking in such exotic flavors and grimacing at the dish presentations that were rarely seen in the kitchens of her neighborhood.
The girl described in the setting above was my younger self. Back then I knew of only two choices: to conform to the stereotypes or “Americanize” myself. And no surprise here, I would choose the latter. I would go on to distance myself from Asian typecasts and categories by degrading my own race, and honing a practice of deep self-loathing. I found that the more I rejected my own identity, the more my peers would include me. The more they perceived Me as having more in common with them, the more acceptance I received. This white-washing process had me chipping away bits and pieces of myself. An internal conflict would arise, inflicting years of self-dissatisfaction and low self-esteem. It took studying abroad in the Yunnan Province, and two years of China-living thereafter, for me to realize my naive perspective was inherently limited and filtered by my surroundings at the time. I discovered that some of my values about my identity were conditioned by cultural programming, and that I didn’t actually subscribe to them. Today, my heritage no longer burdens me, and I understand what it means to be an Asian born and raised in America. It simply means I border two cultures. I grew up in a Western country with all the health secrets and youthful looks that my Chinese roots grant me. As a result, I am able to happily celebrate both!
Alii, 23, Artist and Designer- Chinese-American & Irish/Scottish-American
When I was very young, being half Chinese and half Irish/Scottish was my favorite fun fact about myself. I have always liked to be different, and so I was a very proud multiracial child. Growing up, however, was a much different and rockier road because people didn't respect me the same way that I respected myself. I was often belittled and taunted. Kids would tease me throughout high school, giving me Asian nicknames and comparing me to Asian characters and actors. This was interesting because they would often speak of me as if I wasn't white, just like them. In college, my mixed facial features were often fetishized by older white men, and I became a target when I was out with my friends for being exotic. Even within the Asian-American community there was prejudice, because to them I wasn't 'Asian enough'. This alienated me further because, to the rest of society, I wasn't 'White enough' and I felt there truly was no one out there to support or validate me, and I would have to support and validate myself forever.
I don't want to sound like I was bullied because I was never traumatized by these events, but they did damage my pride in some way, and left me feeling silly for ever thinking that being Chinese was something to be proud of.
Coming to terms with being Chinese/Irish in the social climate of today has been interesting. It's been harsh and it has been supportive at the same time. I've met many others who very much pride themselves in their various ethnicities and they inspire me greatly. I will be frank, it is difficult to be as proud as I once was. I don't think anyone truly recognizes the difference in treatment that Asian-American women get in today's society, and at times it is discouraging. When it isn't discouraging, it's incredibly inspiring! I do hope one day to inspire others by being unapologetically Asian American in this generation.
Jessica, 26, Educator- Filipino-American
“Oh, you’re Filipino? You should be a nurse when you grow up!” For years I’ve struggled with the concept of a predetermined life plan that was “set out” for me based of my ethnicity. The more I heard it the more I resented my culture because they weren’t allowing me to discover what I truly enjoyed. Who are you to determine my future?
My mother wanted to be the next Barbara Walters, but she knew that nursing was her one-way ticket to America. As a first generation Asian American I learned that parents only want what’s best for us because they had to make a TON of sacrifices to get into this country. Though nursing is a highly respected career choice, I had to break that barrier because I chose to break that barrier and take advantage of the sacrifices my mother made to allow me to fearlessly pursue my passions because it is me who is in charge of my identity, not my identity in charge of me Though I didn’t choose that path, I am proud to be a nurse’s daughter.
Starting the #OwnYourAsian series has allowed me to learn so much about myself as well as the people I surround myself with. It's encouraging to see that there are so many women right in front of me who have gone through challenges and hardships to flourish into remarkable human beings today. As an ode to these women and all of the women and men who experience racial profiling/stereotyping, keep on living your life and being yourself. You should be proud of what you are, where you came from and who you are.
If you haven't checked out the other posts from this series, be sure to read below:
I'd love to hear about your stories as well! Feel free to leave a comment below or PM me!