“What Asian are you?”
That is a question I have been asked on numerous occasions. And yes, phrased exactly like that, word-for-word. Not even expressed as what type of Asian I am—as if that would be any better. And as if that question is a major problem in itself, something I find even more problematic is the answer I get to that question.
I’ve gotten the, “You’re such a white Asian,” and the, “But you don’t have Asian eyes” comments. I’ve also gotten the, “Has anyone ever told you that you look just like Brenda Song?”, and pretty much any other Asian generalization you can come up with.
But I will never forget the time I walked into my math class and a guy sitting at my table asked me, “Aren’t you Asian? Why are you in the stupid math class?” What I should have responded to his question was, “Are you ignorant? Why are you asking me a stupid question?” Instead, I laughed at his comment. The thing is, the only humor I can find in this situation is how absolutely not funny this situation is, period.
Let me explain what being Asian means to me. Both of my parents are Filipino, and in fact, I was born in the Philippines. But my family and I soon moved to the U.S. in order to live the American dream.
I acknowledge just how privileged I am. I have been raised in the land of the free, and am working towards finishing my college education. This is exactly the lifestyle my parents dreamt for me. But I can’t help but feel that the comments aimed towards my ethnicity and who I am are anything but the American dream.
Because I moved to the U.S. so early, I have no recollection of living in the Philippines. However one thing I know for sure is that it explains why I look the way I look. But since when does my ethnicity, and really any ethnicity at all, dictate how we act? Granted, it doesn’t take rocket science to know that culture plays a crucial role in our character and mannerisms. But believe it or not, I am certainly not the first Asian who isn’t good at math or science. And I will certainly not be the first Asian who isn’t going to grow up to become a doctor, work at a nail salon, or any other occupation that society has predetermined for me through cultural stereotypes.
So the answer to what Asian am I is that I am an individual. I am an individual who has big aspirations, flaws, likes and dislikes, and things I am passionate about. I am a human being. But whenever I receive questions and/or comments about whatever type of Asian I supposedly am or are supposed to be, I cannot help but feel invalidated and feel as if any individuality I have is being stripped away from me. I just don’t want to be put in a stereotypical, racist box.
Let’s leave it at this: I am Filipino-American. It is a part of what I am but it is not who I am.
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Love this, Ella! Race, ethnicity and culture are difficult subjects but you tackle them well :)