May is Asian Pacific American Heritage Month and to celebrate, several publications are sharing stories on Asian and Pacific-American identities.
I’m having THE ABSOLUTE hardest time writing about my experiences as an immigrant growing up in Miami and finding my identity as an Asian-American because it’s SO HARD to find a place to begin. I’m forcing myself to talk to my friends about their experiences, find what voice is missing in our collective identity and then speak on it. There are so many things I could discuss, but I think I’ll stick to what I’ve experienced and what I know is true.
For the sake of being organized (and for my sanity), I’ll break it up into “chapters” – each one focusing on a part of me that made me feel like I stood out from my peers growing up.
I’ve been switching between “Bad Feminist” by Roxane Gay and “You Can’t Touch My Hair: and Other Things I Still Have to Explain” by Phoebe Robinson to get inspiration and ideas on how to write this since they do a great job of discussing important social topics by relating their experiences to it. But then I realized, I don’t know of any writings from Asian-American authors I could read for inspiration. That’s probably my fault and I’ll hear someone school me on it real soon, or it’s something we have to address as truth – we as a society don’t know many Asian writers. Of the few Asian writers I read in school, I can only remember Amy Tan, Yasunari Kawabata and Lao Tzu. Even “The Good Earth” was written by a white woman and we were okay with that.
We as Asian-Americans are part to blame. My cousins (in the above photo) were raised in the Philippines and they’d always tell me how José Rizal was their hero while they were learning about him in school. I had no idea who José Rizal was because my parents never told me about him. I don’t know of many Filipino writers because I don’t know of many Filipinos who keep up with the literature from the homeland. So I read about others’ experiences (“others” being women or people of color).
I read “The Joy Luck Club” in high school and I remember making the sarcastic remark that I was reading about my life to another Asian friend. In truth, I cried as I read it because Tan was the closest to knowing what it was like to have a relationship with a mother who’s an Asian immigrant. Still, there were cultural aspects that didn’t align with my experiences and made it hard to totally connect (i.e. foot-binding and mooncakes).
When you look different or do things differently because of where you come from, it’s hard not to think everyone notices and sometimes anxiety arises because you’re hoping no one points it out and (gods forbid) laughs at it.
I know there will be a few people reading this thinking nothing embarrassing ever happened to them (some Filipino friends told me they never experienced any adversity growing up), but accepting how people react to/treat us because we’re so used to it happening is part of the problem. I never realized some of the shit I’ve put up with was not okay until I came into my own.
And I know other people will roll their eyes thinking I’m either exaggerating, am too sensitive or think this is all inconsequential. But I ask you to consider – are you part of the problem? Are these stigmas and stereotypes allowed to continue to happen because you choose not to challenge how you’ve always thought? “Check your privilege” is a phrase I’ve turned over and over in my head on my journey of becoming more self-aware. How I’ve simplified it is: if something isn’t a problem to you, ask yourself why? Then think about the people who DO have a problem with it and try to empathize with them.
I don’t aim to shame anyone, put anyone down or offend. I simply wish to start a conversation I believe should have more voices by putting myself out there. The choice to laugh, cry, be offended or horrified, act or sit down is entirely up to you.