An (Asian) American in Asia

I can’t believe it’s been almost a week since my last post. I’ve been slacking lately, but work has been draining and I honestly haven’t really been going out and doing much because I’ve been in need of some recovering from non-stop exploring for 6 weeks straight. I have 2 weeks left in Hong Kong and even though I’ve done my must-do list, there’s still so much more for me to experience.

So now I sit here in need of a post and I’m deciding write a thought post on a hot topic as of lately: race.

If your Facebook friends are anything like mine, you’ve probably been seeing a lot about the George Zimmerman trial verdict. I admit I fuel the fire a bit, but I try to be unbiased and justify my opinions. My point is, everyone is talking about race and “racism” lately but what is the one thing you don’t hear about when people talk about race?

Asians.

More specifically, Asian Americans.

Being an Asian American is a constant identity crisis. Am I Asian? Am I American? Living in Asia for seven weeks has only made me experience this feeling even more.

Asians have been living in the United States since the mid-1800s when the Chinese started working on the transcontinental railroad. The Japanese began arriving at the turn of the 20th century. Both of these migration waves faced prejudice with the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Immigration Act of 1924. Then the mid- to late-1900s saw a wave of refugees coming from Southeast Asia, which is where I hold my roots as a second-generation Vietnamese-American.

Asian Americans have been a part of the U.S. for almost two hundred years, so why do I feel like we are still “foreigners?” I can go on and on about this but I will speak only from a personal level. I can’t speak fluent Vietnamese and I have an SAT English score of 800. I have never set foot in Asia until this summer, yet my whole life I’ve noticed this invisible wall separating me from my non-Asian friends. For the past six years, I’ve been the “token Asian” in my high school and college friend groups.

To reconcile this feeling of not being neither “American” enough to be “American” or Asian enough to be Asian, I’ve taken up Asian Studies as a minor. Like, if I can’t be a “real” Asian, maybe I can learn about being one through textbooks and lectures and absorb the culture. And when the opportunity arose for me to spend a summer in Hong Kong, I grasped at the chance, thinking that going to Asia would “get me in touch with my Asian roots” or something.

Never have I been more wrong. Being an Asian American in Asia is a struggle, especially if you are not from/don’t know the language of the Asian country you are visiting.

Being an Asian American is though but I think being an Asian American in Asia is tougher. Although being Asian American presents its challenges, I have enormous Asian pride. I am a huge advocate of Asian advancement in terms of equal treatment and representation in the American public. However, I don’t think I have ever consciously wished I was white or any race other than Asian until I came to Hong Kong. Because when you’re white, local Hong Kongers don’t judge you when you can’t speak Cantonese. When you’re white people don’t assume that you’re from Hong Kong. When you’re white, your co-workers don’t need a visual reminder that you can’t understand them when they carry on the conversation in a language you don’t understand. I know that the situation would be slightly different if I was studying abroad in Vietnam and knew at least a little bit of the language, but all the same, the entire culture would be totally different than American culture.

Now in Asia, I am the “token Asian American.” The rest of the East Asians on this trip from my school are literally straight up from Asia. I can still recall something a friend I made on this trip said when we were out one night. Perhaps a little bit weary from culture shock, a little bit home sick, and a little bit tipsy, she said, “I am sick of Asians.” I was the only Asian person that was out with those girls that night and I gave her a funny look.

“You don’t count,” she said, jokingly.

I didn’t take offense because what she said only echoed my feelings. I told her, “Being an Asian American is an identity crisis.”

So if in America, I’m not really accepted in society, and in Asia I feel more comfortable identifying as American, where do I belong?

That is the ultimate question that faces second-generation Asian Americans.

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2 comments

  1. Reblogged this on VALOURgirl and commented:
    So if in America, I’m not really accepted in society, and in Asia I feel more comfortable identifying as American, where do I belong? I face the same problem in Australia and when I return to the Philippines , people are really unaware that second gen immigrants aren’t fully integrated into the society we reside in. I plan on going to HK for a 6 month exchange in 2015 so I would like to shout out to Hello, I’m in Hong Kong who is letting me know what I’m in for

  2. […] I went to Asia on a study abroad in Hong Kong a couple summers ago, I felt for the first time the dissonance of being an Asian American on Asian soil – that not quite Asian, not quite American feeling. […]

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