What It Means to Be Asian American??!

Last Saturday (4/17/10) I attended NYCAASC- NYC Asian American Student Conference at the Kimmel Student Life Center.  All NYC university students organized and attended this educational get-together.  My friend Joseph has been on the committee, so he suggested I attend.  And so I did.  I do not think I really socialized with other Asians, but I certainly had my day’s worth of Brundin and education.

This year’s theme was “Change in Motion,” whatever that deeply means.  The keynote speaker was Miriam Yeung, a rather enthusiastic, resounding, and witty woman.  She started asking the audience to respond to the veracity of Asian stereotypes:

1. Asian parents have dreams for their children to be doctors (similarly, lawyer or business leader). She herself listened to her parents and reached as far as taking the MCATs before realizing what she wanted to pursue in life.  And me? I will be a doctor b/c that’s my life’s passion.

2. All Asians look alike… Who has ever been confused with another Asian? Well, that certainly has happened in high school when there were only at most 4 Asian kids in my classes.  Plus, my sister still gets confused with me with my ol’ teachers.  Damn it, NOT ALL ASIANS ARE CLONES.

3. Parents think you are too young to understand… Yes, my parents, particularly my mother, thinks I’m her child forever and I will not survive as an adult in the scary grown-up world.

4. Asian families came to America as immigrants. Most students who raised their hands were 2nd generation, hence ABCs (American Born Chinese).  In my family, my parents immigrated between the 70s-80s.  My father came over from Taiwan when he was 18 y/o to pursue a Bachelor’s degree.  My mother did not come until she started writing letters and dating my father, after which marriage and citizenship followed.  I like to kid around that my mother used my father to escape Communist China and seek opportunities in America.

Anyway, it’s still very horrible and disgraceful that the US passed the Chinese Exclusion Act back in the 1800s to bar the immigration of the Chinese.  It was not uplifted until much later in the mid-1900s.  Still, it still resonates and sends shockwaves that a liberty-loving US could be capable of such discrimination and negative action.

5. Asian families encourage Americanization.  TRUE THAT… While my father does not really care, my mother definitely does.  I guess, she really did not like her experiences in Communist China back in the day. She looks down on my learning to read Chinese characters and growing interest in traditional/cultural values and pursuits.  AND she really wants my sister and I to marry a white dude (uh, I prefer Asian, but I’m totally open… just don’t want to be pressured like that). Hey, I may be ABC, but that does not stop me from staying in touch with my ancestral roots.

6. Asian guys are feminized and nerdy… This is funny, but there’s a hint of truth.  Take my dad- he watches romantic dramas, he’s passive compared to my mother, and he likes to carry a man-purse like Joey on FRIENDS.  I do not think it’s a big deal, American society still remains sexist.  Boys have to be strong, muscular, and dominant.  If guys are too thin, they don’t give off the “man” feel. And what’s wrong with some intelligence and nerdy chic glasses?  Well, I used to be the opposite, the typical, rebellious tomboy, until about late adolescence.  Only then did I start paying attention to my looks and wearing pretty dresses and sandals.

7. Asians are math wizzes... No comment.  Asians are human calculators.  Just try using my dad.

End note:  There are plenty of other stereotypes out there (like how Asians are such posers- a really funny one).  Why pick on and stereotype Asians!  We’ve been brought up with hints of traditional undertones and heritage.  We work hard to reach our goals and we strive high.  Yes, our parents can be difficult and nagging, but they love us at a higher level.  We unconditionally follow filial piety and respect our families until there’s no room left in our pumping heart chambers.  We were given the gift of our very existence, so we honor and love our parents from beginning to end.  We’ve been trained play with calculators early on and master the SATs to get into brand-name universities.  Families have immigrated or escaped harder lives to carve the path for the future generation.  I do believe these beliefs and values still hover over families today, no matter how much we try to assimilate.

A few more notes from Dr. Yeung’s speech.  She was different.  She became an activist.  She came out as a lesbian to her parents, who initially disapproved.  She became depressed after her parents’ failed to accept their beloved daughter.  However, she matured and became a role model.  Here were some of her messages:

1. BE ACTIVE:  Asian Americans come together to form a bridge, one between cultures, languages, values, and futures.  ABCs understand both English and Asian languages.  I have been the translator around the house for a number of years, answering phone calls and communicating with strangers or salespeople.  We are the connection between immigrants and the future.  We still face constant stereotypes, so we need to take a stand for ourselves in today’s ever-diversifying global community.

2. Again, Asian families in America are preoccupied with becoming Americans.  It’s all about what Americans like to do and then adapting likewise.  At the same time, we need to keep in mind our unique identity and hold on to our special history and heritage.

3. You have to be your own person and not just the “perfect” child to make parents happy.  It’s the 21st century… times have changed.  Besides, America is all about freedom, liberty, and activism.

4. We have more work to undo sexism, racism, and discrimination. It’s still out there, and it can get ugly… Next blog about the South Philadelphia High School assaults.

5. Again, BE ACTIVE!  It’s the least you can do for yourself and the future of Asia-America.


3 thoughts on “What It Means to Be Asian American??!

  1. Hello!
    I just happened to come across your blog after looking for blog posts related to race, racism, and discrimination. I’m doing an assignment for class where we have to talk about race online and I’d really like to hear your opinions on the matter!

    I like your post but I sort of think the label “Asian” already implies that a stereotype is placed on us as individuals. When we’re in America you’re automatically stripped of your ethnicity and become just “Asian” simply because we have black hair and “slanted eyes”. It’s almost as if people here think … you look the same so you must be the same. I think that’s why when asked, a lot of people tend to say I’m Chinese or I’m Korean or I’m Vietnamese rather than just “I’m Asian.” I always do this but in the end it doesn’t matter where I’m from because all they see is another Asian among many others. But for me that distinction is important because I think that we are all different and being clumped together just takes away a large part of my identity.

    So I guess I was just wondering what you thought! Also do you think that being Americanized is a good or a bad thing?

    • Hey Cindy,

      I’d be glad to share my ideas. Well my blog is not complete yet, but it was interesting at the conference that I learned that we still have obstacles to face. I mean, it’s certainly easier to be grouped as Asian, but there’s certainly diversity within the Asian realm. When I meet people, I ask them where they’re from and what culture they come from, b/c I understand that we have different histories and upbringings.

      I think that becoming Americanized can be positive and negative, depending on the individual. On the negative, ABCs are at risk for losing their language and history by integrating in America. I would hate to see white-washed Asian people completely turn their backs on who they are. I would hate for them to forget and move on, when they can immerse themselves in a rich heritage. However, because we can be the “bridge” between Asia (wherever we come from) and the Western world, we have a special position. We learn about other people and try to place ourselves among the rest of the world. We can interact with various types of people. There are jobs out there where cultural awareness and language skills can be a huge forte!

      I’d be glad to hear your opinions as well. As I ponder along, I’ll be sure to post more! Thanks for reading.

  2. Hello!

    Thanks for your reply. I also agree that there’s definitely diversity within the category of Asians. I think most people forget that Asian isn’t a race.

    From my time here it seems like the Asians in America deal with the culture in several ways. The first is as you said to immerse in American culture to the extent where they lose their tradition and history. The second is to completely disengage with the American culture and only stay with those who reside in your culture and limit your contact with others as much as possible. The third is to do nothing at all. And lastly, there’s those who embrace this “special position” you mentioned and really try to place themselves within the new environment while maintaining aspects of their own culture.

    I think I’m a combination of the last type and the first type. I feel like I’m very Americanized to the point where I go back home and people don’t think I’m part of the local population even though I was born there and lived there most of my life. A lot of people from the older generation seem to fear that if this keeps going on eventually the traditions that they hold dear will eventually be nonexistent to the newer generations. Any thoughts?


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