Bonjour, mes chéries! How are you all? I’m a little bit sad that I haven’t chatted with you as frequently as I want to, but I hope you know my absence on the blog and less active social media presence isn’t because I lost my love for blogging but rather for me to take time to recenter myself and figure things out. We’re almost halfway through 2018, and I cannot say it’s been the nicest year for me. I’m actively trying to find my way back, so I figured I close out the month of May with a personal post!
Did you know that May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month? I actually did not until about a week ago… Whoops! You may have noticed that I rarely talk about my ethnicity or cultural background not because I’m not proud of being Asian-American but rather because I often “forget” that I’m Asian sometimes. Since I was born and raised in New Jersey, I assimilated very quickly as a kid. I was very lucky to grow up in a diverse neighborhood, attend a diverse university, and live in a very diverse city. Spending all my time in these bubbles has definitely resulted in me “forgetting” that I am still a minority and different from the vast majority of the country.
So in honor of Asian Heritage Month, I wanted to actually take the time to talk a little bit about my ethnicity and my experience growing up Asian-American. I found this tag on Jenn Im’s YouTube channel and was inspired to do it myself!
What ethnicity are you?
I am mainly Taiwanese🇹🇼! My family has been there for hundreds of years. My mom grew up in a powerful family in Taipei the capital of Taiwan, while my dad grew up in the humble farming villages of Nantou County in central Taiwan. There’s also an unknown percentage (since it’s from about three generations back) of me that is Japanese possibly which I definitely want to trace back sometime soon.
Which generation are you?
I am second-generation, although I’ve come to realize some people have different definitions of first and second generation. To clarify my definition, I consider my parents (who were both born in Taipei, Taiwan and moved here and obtained citizenship in their late 20s) as first-generation Americans. I was born and raised here years after.
What is the first experience you felt the demarcation of being a minority?
I always knew I was different as early as preschool because I had jet black hair and could speak another language. Luckily for me, I grew up in a relatively diverse area where maybe 30-40% of the school district was not Caucasian.
However, I left our public school system from 4th grade through 8th grade for a private school because my parents believed that this school’s curriculum would prepare me better for both high school and college. While there were also minority students, the school was predominantly Caucasian due to both its location and the socioeconomic status of the students’ families. Walking in on the first day, I felt completely out of place almost instantly. The kids in this new school behaved slightly differently and looked different from me. Even though I was able to quickly adjust to the changes in environment, the first real struggle came when we all entered into the middle school years and one of the guys in my class thought it would be funny to nickname me “Eggroll.”
At first, it started as a random joke made in context. I’m not that sensitive to stereotypical Asian jokes, especially when they involve food. To me, if you’re going to make the effort to be a racist asshole, at least be original. Otherwise none of that bullshit is worth my energy addressing. However, he was not very happy with my lack of response and started openly and aggressively calling me “Eggroll” whenever he could. It got to the point where the more I ignored it, the angrier and more aggressively he’d attack me. Eventually, the random outbursts of unwarranted insults from “Eggroll” to racist slurs were so frequent and loud that faculty stepped in.
Part of me never wanted to bring attention to it or get him trouble, although inevitably he got himself in trouble which then brought a lot of attention to the incident. Part of me enjoyed watching him fume when he was reprimanded.
I usually default to ignoring racist remarks unless they’re brutally terrible mainly because I don’t find it useful trying to converse or combat someone who has such close-mindedness in the 21st century. At the end of the day, just like I can’t change my genetics to please someone, I can’t always change people’s mindset if they truly believe their perspective is the only right one. Hopefully one day these people will learn to be not “color-blind” per se, but a lot more accepting and respectful to those different from them. Until then, I’m very content with doing my own thing and putting my time towards myself rather than the hate someone is spewing for the color of my features and the language of my tongue.
Were you always proud of your heritage or was there a time you rejected it?
I’ve never rejected my heritage, but I think it took becoming an adult towards the end of college for me to truly appreciate and be proud of my background.
As a kid, I attended Chinese School every Saturday morning till a little past noon. Afterwards, the days were dedicated to spending time with the community or our large group of family friends. Throughout my childhood, this massive community was incredible but prevented me from really having free time or time with my Monday-through-Friday school friends. When you’re that young, your only friends come from school. Not spending any time outside of class with my classmates eventually isolated me from many of them. I would be late to birthday parties on Saturdays or not even able to make it sometimes due to an event with our family friends from Chinese school. By third grade, I don’t even think I got invitations anymore.
I unknowingly harbored resentment towards my heritage because I felt being Asian and attending Chinese school took away parts of my childhood that I didn’t realize was missing until I grew up. But at Carnegie Mellon, I met a lot of other Taiwanese-American students and my ethnicity was celebrated along with every other person’s. Knowing how to speak and read/write even a little bit of Chinese was praised and admired, something I didn’t appreciate throughout all my Chinese school years until recently. Now, I’m proud as f*ck to be of Taiwanese descent and a dual citizen in the US and my motherland.
What are some stereotypes that you struggle with?
Overall, the biggest struggle for me was not falling into either of the Asian girl stereotypes (nerd or “Asian Baby Girl” aka ABG) and being asked why I wasn’t stereotypical. The comments I always get are:
“Wow! What are you? I know you’re probably Asian but you really don’t look like you’re a ‘full Asian’. Are you half something else? You look so exotic!”
“You also don’t act very Asian for someone with immigrant parents. Were your parents not tiger parents or are you just white-washed over time?”
“You’re so cool, you’re not like the other Asian girls I meet.”
In terms of looks, I understand people’s intrigue because I am not of the stereotypical Asian physique. While I’m very pale naturally and tan easily, my undertone is neutral as opposed to warm and yellow. I’m not flat or stick skinny; my chest and butt are not proportionate and force me to size up sometimes. My hair has since tamed from its lion mane days but still remains unruly, frizzy, and naturally wavy. I also have decently large eyes. In terms of the nerd stereotype, I am the least studious person in every friend group at college, and I did NOT go to a college where you can skimp on studying. In terms of the ABG stereotype, I love makeup, own a set of hair extensions, and love going to festivals/concerts. But on a daily basis I don’t wear a ton of makeup and lashes, don’t put my extensions in, and definitely don’t wear the typical ABG “uniform” at festivals/concerts.
I’m very unapologetically myself. I don’t really care if someone thinks I should be one stereotype and I’m not offended if someone is “surprised” that I am not what they thought I’d be like. I think the feeling I bear is mainly sadness that people make fun of the stereotypical Asian. Yet when you don’t fall into the stereotype, which is what the general population seems to not like, you are interrogated as to why you don’t before deemed as either weird and irregular or exotic, cool, and “white-washed.”
Sorry to be frank, but can’t you all just let a bitch live her life?
Can you speak your language?
Yes! I can speak Mandarin and read and write a little bit of Traditional Chinese. I understand bits and pieces of Taiwanese dialect as well.
How has being Asian-American affected your relationship with your parents?
Oh boy. That’s a loaded question. Out of respect for my parents, I won’t air out all the details online. I’ll leave it at this: Growing up in Asia in the 1960s and 70s is extremely different from America in the early 21st century. They lived strictly in the known and were taught to have control over their lives as much as they can. Technology was not a part of their daily lives. Hard work was rewarded; creativity and being different often lead to failure. Because there was not much racial diversity, they didn’t need to understand how to be accepting of different cultures, which can condition people to be close-minded and not see what was wrong with their ways.
Most of our fights growing up was just surrounded around me wanting to do something or learn something that I’m interested in and my parents saying no because they don’t like it or have a preconceived notion of it. So when I went to college, I fostered my own interests my parents didn’t let me growing up and formulated my own very open-minded opinions. I even joined a sorority which completely took them by surprise. As a result, my parents and I started ferociously fighting. They didn’t understand American college culture and chose to reprimand me instead of getting to know who I am, where I spend my days, and who I want to be when I leave college. They never experienced college the way we do now, so because they didn’t experience it before and have no knowledge of it, they didn’t accept it.
I think in Asian cultures, you are taught to play it safe and be smart with your choices. I grew up with the idea that there is very little room for mistakes in life and you have to control as much of it as possible. Looking back, I think they had no idea who I was/was becoming and felt like they lost control over their only child. They’ve never really rebelled against their parents so they had no idea how to handle it when I disagreed with them. So instead of trying to understand me, they often defaulted to what they did know: using punishment or anger to instill fear into me. So when I asked them to try and understand me and the need to grow on my own outside of their influence and they refused, I decided to completely shut them out of communication for over a year.
Despite that rough patch, now we’re great! I have never been more at peace with my parents. I think after a year and half of fighting and silence, my parents each made the effort to step back, take themselves out of the mindset they were used to growing up in Asia, where obedience and studiousness was good and everything else was bad, and get to know their daughter. While there are moments that the way they grew up still negatively influences our conversations, I’m extremely proud for how understanding they’ve become and how supportive and encouraging they are today.
What is your favorite thing about being Asian-American/Taiwanese?
My favorite thing about being Asian-American is the open-mindedness and resilience it’s given me. I’ve become so much more confident than I thought I’d ever be because I learned quickly at a young age that if I have to face discrimination or be taunted for the genetics I cannot change, I will be damned if I’m talked about for the things I can change. Instead of crying over Eggroll comments, I’ve worked on myself as a person, making sure I have a moral character, am a loyal friend, and develop my talents and interests to the best of my abilities. So now whenever an Asian joke or remark is thrown at my face, I laugh it off because I know my worth. Being different taught me to be strong and to focus on what’s within in myself and in others, a lesson that I would never trade for anything in the world.
I hope this helped you understand a little bit more about where I come from and who I am! Thank you all for being patient and supportive as always. Until next time, mes chéries. Bisou, bisou…