As school comes closer (half a week to go til it’s back to CoMo!), I’ve been thinking a lot more about what I’ll have to readjust to upon stepping foot back on campus.
Besides doing my own laundry, obsessively checking my bank account, and keeping a calendar of when my milk will expire, I’ll also have to readjust to getting strange looks when I open my mouth.
My New Year’s Huffington Post article is still getting tweeted and Facebook shared, so it seems Asian-American experiences like these are on everyone else’s minds as well. It’s been two weeks since I first broadcast my thoughts, so instead of continuing to repeatedly check my email for others’ praise about how it resonates, I’ve decided to fuel that energy into writing up my own self-reflection about Asian-American identity.
I was at the University of Washington this weekend, and it was w-e-i-r-d seeing so many Asian-Americans milling about, clustering together and speaking in perfect English in the multitude of Asian restaurants up and down University Avenue. No one bats a mascara-ed eyelash there when you meet an Asian.
But in Columbia, MO, it’s the exact opposite. I complain about there being a lack of Chinese places around town, and everyone sneers at me for being ‘so Asian’, as if it’s strange to crave the food I’m accustomed to. I deal with this conflict of interest by slapping a Pikachu sticker on my Macbook, pretty much to purposely provoke comments on ‘how Asian I am’ but have the advantage of a prepared retort. It’s a matter of seeing how many I can extort. I mean, I can feel the unsaid ones when I speak Chinese on the phone with my mother in the dining hall and see more than a few people roll their eyes at me as they walk by, even after I hang up and greet them with an unaccented ‘Hi’.
I came to the Missouri School of Journalism in August with a lot of misgivings; a major one was that it’s a state school not immediately located near any major cities. But the other was that no Asian in my community knows where the hell it is.
I also get weird looks here in Oregon, because when an Asian-American such as myself explains that she’s going to ‘a place where no bird dares poop’ (鸟不拉屎的地方; Chinese proverb to indicate the unappealing remoteness of a location), adults wonder why. And then when I express that I want to pursue a major very few of us would even go to an Ivy for, they try to turn the weird looks into sympathetic smiles, the equivalent of the phrase “That’s nice, dear”. My mom then awkwardly tries to explain that journalism fits my extroverted personality, which also happens to be controversial to the conservative ‘auntie’/阿姨s who expect women to be submissive (even if their ‘tiger mom’ personas are anything but quiet and meek).
Come on, I’m doing perfectly well here, I grumble to myself as a professor talks about female orphans in China and then stops to offhandedly toss a ‘no offense to the young lady in the front row’ my way.
Sure, I don’t need the approval of an Oregon community, where my Chinese is better than that of many peers my age, yet is still grounds for my mother to fret that I’ll be forever unmarriable because my personality is American-ized.
But at the same time I don’t act Asian, I don’t look very un-Asian. I know because I always hear a joke about why I’m not with that group of Asians across the street, I’m accused of having a white guy fetish cause liking a race other than your own is apparently a beeline straight for this label (yeah, no one ever said I had an ‘Asian guy fetish’ in high school…), and I sometimes struggle with being unable to sing along to classic rock songs I didn’t grow up with.
Most of the time, I can decently embrace being bicultural. Even though I still really only have the vocabulary of a 12 year old, I’m taking Chinese classes next semester and reading and writing Chinese news. I contribute to a magazine for immigrants. I engage in conversation with adults in Chinese. And of course, I’m trying to continuously consume as much pop culture as possible, just like your typical English-speaking American kid.
There’s a certain Asian-American culture here, as there are numerous others with Hispanic-Americans, and Pakistani-Americans, and any ‘non-Caucasian’ race under the sun.
With the particular culture I’m referring to, there obviously comes a spectrum of people. We all dealt with a dissonance and exposure to western values differently, and I attribute my outgoing, bubbly and unrestrained emotional demeanor partly to this. I happen to be breaking tradition, even in this sub-culture. But I’d much rather this sub-culture be acknowledged, and therefore analyzed, so I can begin to have some sort of niche regardless of geography or frequency or whatever you’d like to blame for feeling foreign (no pun intended).
But because there isn’t any explicit acknowledgement of this third culture –Asian American culture– across the board, you’ll still see my awkward attempts to compensate. When I’m back in CoMo, I may humble-brag or complain and overall feel the need to prove myself by being super driven with writing yet seek constant approval from both sides. And hopefully someday, as the media changes, I can change my own tendencies as well.