For the conclusion of Asian Pacific American Heritage month, I thought I’d participate in an “Growing Up Asian American” tag. I also feel guilty that I didn’t do more posts dedicated to this month, so hopefully this can help make up for it.😁
1. Which ethnicity are you?
100% Chinese 🤗
2. Which generation are you?
I consider myself to be a 3rd generation Chinese American, but I think according to the Webster dictionary, I’m 2nd generation. My grandparents immigrated to the U.S. when they were young, and in fact, my great grandfather on my dad’s side was working in the U.S. and would occasionally return to China. While in California, he found a suitable husband for my grandmother to marry. And so my grandmother then immigrated to the U.S. essentially as a “picture bride.” On my mother’s side, my grandparents were married and had their first child in China. Soon after my uncle was born, they immigrated to California.
3. What is the first experience where you felt that demarcation of being a minority/different?
It’s hard to say because when using the words “minority” and “different,” this question seems to imply that learning I was Asian American was a bad experience. But between growing up in San Francisco, which has a huge Asian American community, and my parents who were actively engaged in Asian American community organizations, knowing that I was Asian American was something to be proud of and something I learned at an early age. Especially around Lunar New Year because I could brag about how the huge televised SF Chinese New Year Parade was an event that honored my culture. Plus…red envelopes!😆
But it’s hard for me to pinpoint what exact experience made me realize I was a minority. And even if I did realize that being Asian American meant I was different, being around a large community of Asian Americans reassured me that it wasn’t wrong to be one. In grammar school (K-8th grade), the popular girls were Asian, the MVPs of our female sports teams were Asian, the girls most of the boys liked…were Asian. I owned a hoodie that said “Generasian” on it and practically wore it everywhere I went when I was a tween.
From a young age, my parents made it a point to teach us about our ethnicity and culture and to expose us to the community. An experience that I think is unique to cities and areas that have a dense Asian American population.
4. Were you always proud of your heritage or was there a time you rejected it?
The time in my life that I regretfully rejected being Chinese American was in high school. To this day, I feel like I am still fighting to win back that Asian American confidence I once had in grammar school.
And maybe this pertains to the previous question, but I distinctly remember one day in high school when I was trying to get my books out of my locker. I was in a rush because I gave a presentation in my previous class in which I had to dress up as a jazz singer. Trying not to be tardy, I had to quickly change my clothes and head to my next class. When I got to my locker, the guy who owned the locker above mine, was leaning against them and therefore blocking my way. Instead of stepping to the side, he just ignored me. And this wasn’t the beginning of the year; he knew I had the locker below his.
I finally spoke up and asked him to move. He scoffed, turned to his friend, and said something to the effect of “She thinks she’s a Chinese princess over here.” And those words don’t seem scarring, but for some reason, they stuck with me. Why is it that all of the sudden I’m a demanding Chinese princess for speaking up? But as someone who is also a major introvert, I don’t like to cause a commotion (in public at least😅). And if speaking up prompts that kind of response, then maybe it’s better if I just held my tongue.
So throughout highschool, I tried my best to not come off as “too Asian.” And granted there’s probably more to unpack in that one experience (me being female, him being male, him trying to be cool, me being stressed, him being a Sophomore, me being a Junior), but the overall tone of this interaction was racial.
5. What are some stereotypes that you struggle with?
Because I’m Asian American, many people assume that I’m smart and quiet. Both which feed into the model minority stereotype – which is a larger, more general stereotype about Asian Americans. And I agree, there are many Asian and Asian American families that have been extremely successful. My family is probably even considered successful. We’ve had the privilege of not having to worry about money, living in a house we owned, being able to work free of disabilities, and having English be our first language. But there are also so many families that experience economic struggles, domestic violence, and immigration issues. And they’re often overlooked because so many people believe the model minority stereotype.
But I like to think I have my smart days. Ask my boyfriend about the countless million dollar ideas I’ve pitched to him.😂 And in school, I did manage to get some good grades and took a few honors and AP classes. But don’t be fooled because I had to get good grades in those classes to offset the ones I failed in.🙈
And in general, I’m pretty quiet and keep to myself. But that’s because I’m an introvert. As a child, I was probably taught to be quiet rather than loud because that’s the respectable thing to be in Asian cultures, but if I was an extrovert at heart, I would probably be more outspoken.
But as an Asian American female, the expectation that I’m to be quiet and submissive is compounded. There have been multiple times in my life where a stranger would try to dominate the situation because they figured I’d roll over and they could get away with being overly mean. But be warned, I have held my own in a few instances! Asian American females are also often hypersexualized. Luckily I’ve never had to deal with those kind of encounters, but unfortunately, many Asian American females do.
6. Can you speak your language?
Sadly, no. I can order a chicken bun and know a few baby words (milk, bad, “don’t pick your nose” is a handy one), but that’s the extent of my Cantonese. Don’t even ask me about mandarin. >.<
7. How has being Asian American affected your relationship with your parents?
Since my parents are American-born, they were better equipped to navigate my “American” upbringing compared to my immigrant grandparents raising them. And as I mentioned earlier, teaching us about being Asian American, and to be proud of it, was something they prioritized. My mom made us watch Flower Drum Song, one of the first movies to feature a predominantly Asian cast. For the release of Mulan, my family coordinated with my friend’s family, who was also Asian American, so both our families could see it together and celebrate Disney’s first animated Asian heroine. They would even bring us along to events hosted by those Asian American non-profit orgs so we could meet their colleagues – aka social justice advocates, like themselves. In fact, my parents’ involvement in Asian American non-profit community organizations is what inspired me to take Asian American studies and Sociology classes focused on non-profit orgs in college.
8. How do you feel about your heritage now? Do you identify with it?
Yes, I am grateful to be Asian American and identify as being Asian American. But occasionally, I also feel hesitant to fully claim it because there is a myriad of Asian American experiences that many have experienced, but I haven’t. I never knew what it was like to have to translate English for my parents. I never had to feel ashamed of my “weird” Asian food at school because I was usually signed up for the school provided lunches. I did have classmates pull their eyelids to the side and make funny faces at me and my friends, but my teachers knew to immediately educate them on why it wasn’t appropriate. And I won’t get into being Asian v. Asian American.
9. What is your favorite thing about being Asian American/your heritage?
I think being an Asian American female gives me a unique perspective on the world. It enables me to provide a different POV to others and hopefully encourages them to share theirs as well.
I’m also proud of the leaders in the community that fight for the social injustices that affects the Asian American community. And I’m especially proud of those who try to further Asian American representation with more diverse and dynamic stories. Asian American representation is something I value and the reason I started this shindig in the first place!
If you’ve made it through this whole post, thank you so much for lending me your eeaaarrr…eye!😉 I hope telling you my story encourages you to tell yours! And even though APAHM is coming to a close, we can still ask each other these questions and talk about our shared experiences year-round! The more we tell our stories, the more we can learn from one another and grow together.