Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Identity Crisis For An Asian-American

This is my last night here in Korea for at least several months before I proceed onward with the next chapter of my life in California.  Its been one hell of an experience being far and away from America for such an extended period of time.  When I thumb through those pages filed away in my memory of Korea there isn't a single one that I disregard with sheer contempt or regret.  Whether they were good, bad, happy, stressful, frustrating or even the saddest of times is interesting but irrelevant; the land I was once fairly distant and unfamiliar with has become my 2nd home.

While my experience in Asia has broadened my horizons in a multitude of ways, I feel awkward returning to America - the land where I was born and raised like most of you - to continue where I left off several years ago. To travel abroad and immerse myself in a different culture for a lengthy timeframe is a fascinating experience, but even more so when the land is of my own ancestry because I can identify with it for some inexplicable deja vu-like reason.  For once in my life I physically resemble the majority giving me the opportunity to seamlessly blend in with the crowd without much effort.

Some of you may have grown up in a densely populated Asian environment. If you're one of those individuals, frankly, I envy you a lot. I mean, A LOT. The racially motivated identity crises I experienced from childhood all the way on up to young adulthood always kept me in limbo.  A part of me wanted to be white in order to fit in better with the rest of my classmates.  This includes not falling victim to,
  • Slant-eyed taunts and gestures.
  • "Konnichiwa" or "Ching Chong" greetings.
  • "Me Chinese. Me play joke. Me put pee pee in your Coke" jokes.
  • Getting asked the proverbial question, "Are you guys brothers?" and again having to respond, "No. He is Chinese." "No. He is Vietnamese." "No. He is an alien from another planet."
  • The disreputable, "Go back to your own country" line.
  • (Surprisingly, I never heard small penis jokes until the latter half of my college years.)
On top of that, half of my K-12 crushes were white girls while the other half were Asian.  It wasn't until I entered college did I get a full blown Asian majority experience.  I found it hard to adjust to be around so many Asian people all of a sudden since it felt foreign to me.  During those days, I was chagrined to see all these "Asian Pride" groups roaming around campus.  It just seemed too narrow and ethnocentric.  Obviously, I didn't understand the socio-political implications behind the message since I was blind to the ongoing struggle rarely publicized by the mainstream.  In retrospect, I regret chastising and not actively participating in these social groups promoting Asian-American awareness.

Hence, the reason why I believe a trip to the motherland is imperative is for the sake of gaining a deeper, broader and more profound understanding of your Asian-American identity.  It will give you an appreciation of what your parents battled with to make it in a foreign country, using a foreign language and simultaneously raising you in the process. This is something that should not be dismissed nor taken for granted as some sort of trivial feat. Even if you're adopted, it'll still bring meaning to your life and sense of belonging. Lastly, instead of resorting to that feeling of wanting to be white, you can experience this majority privilege while maintaining your ethnicity, heritage and ultimately your self-respect.  In America, you may have always been known as that one Asian [insert specific ethnicity here] person, but in Asia. . .you're just a person.


  1. Good post. Welcome back to the U.S. Would love to read more of your Korea experiences.

  2. I can relate! You said it well. The challenge for me now is to make it in an Asian culture not "my own".

  3. Thanks for sharing your experiences. I can also fully relate. More than you imagine. Only in my case I was living in a tiny highly homogenous European country.

    I have been living in China and Thailand for quite some years. In addition, I have been working with Asia Pacific for many years. I guess all of the aforementioned was part of my "identity exploration".

    Being back in my country of birth, I am still not fully at ease with myself. However the international/Asian experience definitely helped.

    All the best.


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