You can't change the blood in your veins, the family you were born in, you can't change the branding Asian American that hangs over your head. I was too young when a kid in my class called my Chinese, when the kids at school singled me out as the 'Chinese Girl'. I mistook it for bullying, but really that was the first dose of racism that I would receive.
I am not Chinese. There is this misconception that being Asian means being Chinese. But if that is true, then what am I? Because when I tell people my nationality, they look at me with question marks in their eyes, and those question marks burn holes into my skin. There was once a time where I avoided the question what is your nationality? There was once a time where I omitted my nationality from others, because of the fear of those question marks.
Does their not knowing erase my existence? Does their knowing make my existence more absolute? I wonder now why I had cared so much once, but how could I not? Because when people look at you as if you're an oddity, when people don't even know what you are, then how do you even belong?
I've scrubbed racial slurs from my skin. Gook. Oriental. Yellow-skinned foreigner. I've scrubbed and scrubbed until the skin is red, until there is nothing left but the truth that I can never escape. Because I am Asian American. That will never change, my roots will never disappear, my culture will never be erased no matter how much I deny it.
The Whites call me an alien. The Asians call me 'white-washed'.
I've gone to school where I am a minority, where I can count the number of Asian Americans at the school with only both hands. For all my life, I've felt an aversion, one that is subtle, underneath the surface, but there. Because even when people don't say it, it's there. It's there when you look at the pale faces and blonde haired blue-eyed people passing by. No one needs to say it for you to know what they're all thinking. You don't belong here.
I grew up in America. I've been surrounded with the values of this country and I have made them my own. My people, my culture, their old-fashioned values, I cannot agree to them. I do not agree to marrying before graduation, to animal sacrifices, to raising a family when you are still a child, to a women's worth being chained to the man she marries. And they reject me for this. I grew up in America, not in District 3 in Vietnam or a village in Laos. I grew up with the values of America, with their language, their culture ingrained into me. I cannot say hi in Vietnamese or Hmong, but I can say hi five different ways in English. I do not understand what they say when they speak in their native tongue, and I am forced to smile and nod along to whatever they say. I am a stranger in my own home. I do not belong here.
My parents, they are both immigrants from other countries. They came here for a better future, for a life that would be far greater than the one they left back in their home country. They came to America, straight into poverty from poverty, barely picking up the language bit by bit. Hardship is all they have ever known their entire life. They know how hard life is: growing up with one pair of shoes for a whole year, wondering whether they'll have dinner tonight, barely having enough money to take the bus back home. They know this, and so they raised me by teaching me English before their native language. They taught me how to bite my tongue and swallow my pride, they taught me to stay nearby but never in the center. They taught me how to survive.
This world, it was built for the whites.
And I am the yellow-skinned Asian American vying for the American Dream.
I do not know how to express my sheer disappointment in this country, how I was left trembling in my car, afraid of going to a store because of hate crimes against Asian Americans. I do not know how to describe anger that shakes your heart and leaves your blood boiling to the point where you forget who you are. I am angry, I am disappointed, but most of all I am scared. I have been hurting for the past couple of weeks, and I've ignored the news just so that I could pretend for a second that what was happening outside my window wasn't really happening. So welcome to my diary series, a series where I tell you what it means to be an Asian American, where I tell you the secrets I've kept locked up for far too long.