Last week I staffed a co-sponsored event for the Chinese New Year that our office and a Chinese student organization put on. It was a great event with free food, an educational presentation, activities, and to cap it all off…fireworks!
I knew that it would be a great experience for the students but I didn’t realize that it would trigger and bring to light, once again, a long standing and deep seated struggle I’ve had for most of my life…my Asian-ness.
The trigger was when some of the Chinese students tried to speak with me in Chinese and I had to inform them I only spoke English.
After the event, I reflected on why that triggered me to think, once again, about my Asian-ness. It was after reflecting that I finally realized what it was: I was intimidated by their Asian-ness. I felt like an imposter. That the Asian part of me was in appearance only, however, I was and always will be identified and judged as “an Asian”.
Now this is nothing new. The first time I really remember encountering this inner conflict was back in high school.
It was time to audition for our annual school musical and it was going to be Rogers and Hammerstein’s Oklahoma, one of my favorite musicals. I knew I wasn’t going to get a lead role because I’m not that great of a solo vocalist but I hoped to get one of the funny supporting roles. During the auditions, I remember overhearing several conversations of fellow students who were trying to determine who would get what roles, and the comment “the only part Brian could have is Chorus Member because there were no Asians in the Wild West” came up multiple times. When I was placed in the Chorus, I was grateful to even get in the cast, but had to wonder if that was why. It was one of those comments, regardless the outcome of the situation, I would refer back to and always question the legitimacy because of others’ thoughts. I remember for months after, I was ashamed of being/looking Asian and wishing I was blonde haired and blue eyed. I still struggle with this today.
I’ve never forgotten those conversations I overheard. Ever since then, I have been hypersensitive about it. If you could read my mind you’d see me often ask myself over and over; Am I Asian or am I white? Am I a person of color? What makes me Asian or white? How do I “represent” Asian-ness? Do I have the right to identify as Asian or white?
I’ve looked into the journeys of those who identify as biracial who go through a similar identity journey, in finding the community they belong to. And in some ways that has helped me understand my own journey.
However for me, an interesting twist I develop from is, since I am considered a “doorstep baby” (a baby left at a location, in my case an orphanage, with no information) I don’t know if I’m biracial or 100% Asian, nor do I have a personal connection with my birth parents to understand their identities, etc, and at times that seems to enhance my struggle.
For many years now, I have just kind of “floated”. Rolled with the punches and if the group I’m with needs me to be more white then I am or if they need me to be more of a person of color /Asian then I am.
But as I go down my journey I feel a inner desire to find some sense of peace and ground myself in some firm understanding of community and my role. Unfortunately I’ve acquired more questions than answers. But this latest trigger of my struggle was the first time when I’ve been able to identify a reason why I was struggling with it.
This process definitely helps me better understand the struggles of my colleagues and students and hopefully giving me a space where we can work together on identities and our journeys and maybe come to better understanding of ourselves and each other.
Like I said, I’ve no answers and only a growing list of questions and ponderings. But I process the best when I write, so I figured I’d put this out there and maybe my perspective, journey and questions can help someone else with their own identity journey.
Until next time,
Peace, Love and Pandas!