Frustrations on being Asian American

Originally written 4/2/17, and not fully formed thoughts. A topic I’ll revisit later.

The other day as I was browsing travel sites in preparation for my summer post-grad trip to Asia, I came across a post on safety. The blogger, a very beautiful American blonde, had enthused about the friendliness of the locals, and how safety isn’t an issue.

A thought popped into my head rather unmercifully: “Well, of course people are friendly. You’re a beautiful blonde American girl.”

The identity of the Asian American is something that has interested me for a while, in all of its complexities, especially in its relation to me. In some ways I feel quite American, native English-speaking, born and bred in the cradle of the San Francisco Bay Area, arguably one of the places that most embodies American ideals. In other ways, I feel less American, an outsider standing because I am neither white nor black, Christian, homeschooled, and so forth. I consider myself Asian American with a Chinese heritage, but cannot identify with many of the other people who claim the same dual identities.

As I was growing up, the cultures most prevalent in my household was first American (my mother, LA-born and bred) and then Malaysian/Singaporean (my father and my father’s family). Navigating this has produced some problems, especially as I’ve learned Chinese.

  • [in Chinese class] “Of course her accent’s the best, and she can do the best, she’s Chinese” — Thanks for trashing all the hard work I’ve done, and the fact that not a single person close to me actually spoke Mandarin Chinese natively.
  • [in China] “Why can’t she speak Chinese? Is she Korean?” — I’m a 华裔, but that doesn’t meant my parents can speak any more Chinese than I can. In fact, they don’t speak Mandarin at all.
  • Learning Mandarin is not an attempt at me “finding my heritage.” If I wanted to do that, I would go learn Malay. I would learn Cantonese. I’m frustrated at others and myself for viewing this as “making up for some deficiency” that I clearly have. I’m tired of people thinking that this is something I should have already done as a kid — starting at -30, as opposed to starting at 0.