Warning: It gets pretty controversial so feel free to stop reading if you get offended. Your body, your choice…wait.
This is a topic that I have been debating whether or not to officially address publicly since it is extremely controversial and I am aware that no two experiences are alike. ‘Tis a complicated subject matter to discuss, especially from only one viewpoint which makes it an even more dangerous task(who doesn’t love a little danger though). Of course, I’m writing this with the hopes that openly talking about my own personal experiences could potentially help someone who feels that they are left without a voice or are alone with their struggles. Despite experiencing my fair share of unjustified shame(sometimes self-induced) because I was born a certain race and gender, I am very fortunate because many of my close friends also happen to be Asian American women and so we are able to discuss certain aspects of our childhoods with each other that the other can relate to. It helps a great deal that I have more than just my own experiences and multiple perspectives to refer to when addressing such a multi-layered subject. However, most people do not get to grow up in the Bay Area where Asian people are the majority and have to deal with the general discrimination that all Asians face but on steroids. I am also aware that not everyone has the luxury of being understood by another person so I would say my true aspirations for the reader(aka you) would be to use this as a guide to lead yourself closer to building an identity independent of what society stereotypes you to be and forces you to conform to. Don’t let anyone define you or keep you in a box…unless you like being in a box then more power to you, you do you.
So what is it really like growing up as an Asian American woman? Let’s tackle this one step at a time.
Being Asian I always felt like, dare I say, a freak. Albeit I got the longer end of the stick and grew up around an abundance of asian people, I still felt like the odd one out so I can’t imagine how asian people who didn’t grow up around other asian people feel. We were given the “model minority” status by society but not to surprise anyone, that didn’t make us prideful or proud to be asian. It was quite the opposite. The pressure placed on us to achieve was more anxiety inducing than it was motivating. We were conditioned to feel like it was a privilege to be “positively” stereotyped. Sure we faced less bias and blatant racism than say, African Americans, but we were still discriminated against. Oppression is oppression even if it is disguised as something else. I have been called racial slurs like “chink” and referred to as “ching-chong” or some racist Chinese sounding name by a non-asian person who was simultaneously stretching apart the ends of their eyes with their hands so they achieved smaller looking eyes. NOT a good look btw so could you not. It was either that or they would ignorantly call me another ethnicity(not all asian people are Chinese). It was extremely dehumanizing. But hey, it’s all fun and games..why are you being such a Debby downer? Lighten up it was just a joke. So we would pretend to laugh and play along because this was expected of us…agreeableness. That’s part of the reason why everyone loves the token Asian person, right? We are supposed to be benign, absolutely harmless and good at math but oh so horrible at driving. We don’t like conflict/confrontation and never ever stir up the pot. Any of this sound familiar? If not, let me clear things up…women deal with the similar generalizations.
In regards to previous generations(our parents and grandparents), Asian people did not have the language skills to speak up for ourselves since we left our countries and immigrated to a foreign place where no one understood anything we were saying. Instead of considering this as admirable, people made fun of our accents even though we were attempting to learn their language to be able to communicate with them. Most of my fellow Asian American friends have parents who have immigrated to America when they were a bit older and as a result have an accent when speaking English. I think this is commendable because it indicates that they can speak another language aside from English(which they put a lot of effort into learning). Not everyone feels this way though and so they make fun of them for not having perfect English. Their hard work is not appreciated. When you see a white person speaking Chinese you automatically are amazed. Which brings me to my next point, all of our accomplishments are downplayed and nothing is ever good enough. We must work twice as hard to even be recognized for half the things that a white person gets credit for(no offense to white people…but admit it ya’ll are undeniably privileged).
Maybe this is why our parents expect so much of us. Because they never felt like they were good enough to fit into American society no matter how hard they worked. Asian parents want their kids to be so high achieving that their children no longer have to face the struggles that they themselves battled with their entire lives. In a way, they are mirroring the culture that pushed them to strive for the impossibility of perfection and are protecting their kids by embodying the society that has supplied them with countless obstacles because if they became the enemy then they could prepare their kids for what they themselves were so unequipped to battle.
Piecing the parts together…being Asian American you feel like you do not belong. You’re not fully American because you do not fit the mold of the typical American but you’re also not Asian because you grew up in a different environment than your ancestors. So you end up feeling misplaced. Your exterior is contradictory to how you feel on the inside. You end up having an identity crisis because you are not what you appear to be on the surface and it’s fucking confusing. We struggle to bare the weight of our parent’s culture as well as the culture we grew up with. I had to learn to balance both these parts of myself and to own who I am but it didn’t come without a lot of pain and endless self-reflection. This adversity made us stronger but the pressure we faced from both our family and peers either made us or broke us. More often than not, many Asian Americans grew up feeling inferior and unseen. It was not until recently that here was even an effort being made to include Asian people in popular culture and to attempt to represent them as members of American society. When you are brought up to feel ashamed of what you are, it is tougher to develop a stable identity so I see a lot of asians either fully commit to their asian heritage or completely deny it. I may never be white or have naturally blonde hair but you can’t take away my Starbuck’s pumpkin spice latte, Lululemon yoga pants, Uggs and my attraction to Chad/Brad/Thad(kidding).
This one’s tricky. This has been a battle that has been fought for countless generations and hopefully it won’t have to extend to many more. Where do I even begin? Okay first off, fuck the patriarchy lol.
Being a woman in a man’s world is harder than it looks. I don’t need to be the person telling you this, of course. It is currently 2020 and if you are not aware of the oppression that women have faced and are still fighting against, which rock have you been living under and why haven’t you invited me over for dinner under this blissfully ignorant rock? As a matter of fact, women have faced similar struggles that asians have faced but just played out in a different way. We get paid less for the same work, are not encouraged possession or ownership of our bodies(in all senses of the concept) and are looked over when a position of power is up for grabs. The inequality women face is not acknowledged because the people who are writing and enforcing the rules are mostly men. Our voices are stifled by our gender and the differences in our anatomy just serve to emphasize the claim that we are the weaker sex.
Throughout my entire life, I always felt like I had to tone it down because being assertive and seen as a leader could be construed as “bitchy” if you have a vagina. So I just played along and nodded quietly when and if ever my opinion was elicited(it rarely was). Essentially I had to sit down and be humble whereas my male counterparts would be encouraged to go balls to the wall. I was not born with the golden balls(in reference to being born with a golden spoon if you did not catch on) and so I could not bring them to the wall. However, as I grew older, I learned that being a woman is a strength because we are taught to internalize at a young age and in doing so we are able to master ourselves more effectively. Self control and emotional regulation came earlier for girls than boys because we were forced to be aware of others’ feelings and to put them before our own. Though tragic, it made us resilient and aware of what it takes to be compassionate to others. Not saying that men do not possess the same qualities, they do but it takes them longer to fully master it. We had to create our own golden balls and this built character.
As you know, this portion can be elaborated into a whole separate post or even turned into a book…maybe a series. But I will save you the pain of me complaining about periods and men who can’t take no for an answer. If you’d like to learn more about the oppression women face, just go outside and have a look around you.
Growing up as a minority–or should I say a double minority–I was always taught to never ruffle the feathers and was encouraged to stay within the lines…”you should always listen to and respect your elders” and yes the stereotype is true, being asian two things were expected of you. Excelling in school(especially in math) and being obedient(to everyone but your own inner voice). People assumed the asian kid enjoyed being invisible and always followed the rules. This was true to an extent( though I rebelled at times). It’s even worse if you’re a girl. Now it wasn’t a matter of just your race that was scrutinized and appropriated but your gender as well. As an Asian American woman you had multiple battles to fight. The triple standard(being smart, attractive and competent) that women are expected to uphold combined with the double standard(being overachievers and model citizens) that asians are bombarded with were all aspects that I had to confront growing up. The pressure to succeed was heavy on my shoulders and when I did accomplish something it was shameful to be proud of it and unheard of to expect any acknowledgement that was proportional to the quality of work I produced. So I learned how use self-deprecating humor in order to make others feel comfortable at my expense(I know so many friends who do this too and it’s sad). Instead of receiving positive reinforcement for the things I did right I found that I got more attention when I did things wrong which is probably the root of all my problems now that I think of it.
Treating other human beings with respect and love should be the universal code but unfortunately there is still racism and discrimination present in the world. The sooner we openly acknowledge the issue, the sooner we can find a way to resolve it. Many millennials use humor(especially memes) as a way to address the issues that are present in todays society and although it is sometimes not the best way to solve problems, it offers a platform for open communication and if we talk about it then there is potential for deescalation. Once we identify the problems that each of us face because of another human then we can work out a compromise because we are all one and the same. There is no other species that harms their own–whether intentionally or due to ignorance–except ours. That is something to ponder.
Anyway, the moral of the story is just be who you are and fuck what everyone tells you you need to be. I am expected to write a proper conclusion because that’s just how things are done around here but I give zero fucks.