What is nationality? What is MY nationality? The root of the term is “nation,” and nations are about a shared identity–a shared identity, so powerful, that often people are willing to die for it. I was born and raised in the USA–a nation that I have come to love, so much so that I continue to love it even in the face of its flaws. And though I watch baseball and eat apple pie and embrace the glories of freedom and democracy, I continue to be identified by others as “other.” So is my nation the one that I love, or the one that people associate with my appearance?
I am not the All-American girl next door, and I never will be. Instead, I am characterized by that pesky hyphen in Chinese-American. I am characterized by that little box that I’ve checked on every form since the age of three–that little box lumping me with the other 4 billion “Asian/Pacific Islanders” in the world. Don’t get me wrong, I count my many blessings every single day. And when I step back I realize that my “struggles” make me one lucky gal; however, that fact does not make the confusion, sadness and pain any less real.
I am ashamed to admit the number of times I wished I were white. Ashamed that even though my grandparents scarified both their freedom and their pride for me, I continue to view my family lineage as a flaw I’d like to fix rather than I gift I choose to celebrate. I recognize my own hypocrisy. Because, if I cannot even accept myself how can I expect society to accept me? But my childhood has shaped me to be hateful and self-deprecating. I have lost count of the times that I’ve heard “chink” used as a word to dismiss me. Chink–the sound that metal makes against metal, originating during a time when thousands of Chinese immigrants died to build a railroad that would connect the country geographically but not socially. I will never forget the times I have heard the words “I’m just not into Asians” carelessly said to my face. As if what is in my heart and in my mind is not enough to make up for my “coin slot” eyes.
After 19 years of life, I still struggle to name one female Asian leader, businesswoman, or sex symbol. And growing up, I quickly learned that powerful, beautiful woman did not look like me. I have been conditioned by society. Conditioned to believe that no matter how many A’s I get, it will be attributed to “being Asian,” rather than to my hard work. Conditioned to act as outgoing and absurdly as possible to combat that “reserved Asian” stereotype. Conditioned to believe that the phrase “you’re not like other Asians” is a compliment. I have bought into this ugly system. A system that I have sadly come to perpetuate instead of fight against.
I still have no answers. All I have is a first step. And maybe there will come a time when I will look at myself in the mirror and see something in myself that is beautiful. Maybe one day I will learn to love not only the nation in which I was born and raised, but also the nation that sheltered and shaped the generations that came before me. And maybe one day “American” will no longer be associated with a certain appearance, but rather with a love of neighbor and love of country.