Jayme 2

Jayme Lee

Chinese American from Boston, MA    

“My Chinese friend overheard me talk to my father on the phone and when I got off he said to me, ‘why weren’t you speaking Chinese to your father? I’ve never heard any of my asian friends speak to their parents in English.’ I told him, it’s because I don’t know how to speak Chinese. And I thought wow, I must be his only 3rd generation Asian friend and that really put things in perspective for me.” 

Jayme is a rarity, particularly in the greater Boston area, because you don’t run into a lot of Asian Americans who are beyond first or second generation here.  I caught up with Jayme in Copley Square to get his perspective on identity and what it means to be caught in two worlds.  An engineer with an explosive personality and a great sense of humor, Jayme made me laugh out loud many times while I was transcribing this interview. Thanks Jayme! 

“My grandparents immigrated here so that makes me a third generation Asian American. I consider myself not very Asian in comparison to some of the international students that I’ve met because I didn’t really grow up experiencing much of the culture except for during Chinese New Year when I got those red envelopes. I never felt Chinese or ethnic even though I look Asian. I mean on surveys where you have to check off your ethnicity, I do check the box that says Asian, but I consider myself a mix of both. I don’t really see myself as fully Chinese and I don’t really see myself as fully American.”

“I feel that language is a huge part in tying yourself to a culture and like I said before, because I don’t speak any of these languages I don’t feel fully Chinese. I’m still well-versed in the culture and am aware of certain traditions but I don’t associate myself with any of it. Of course, I can name all the different Chinese food dishes pretty well and I can use chopsticks because that was drilled in me as a young age. Whenever I go to family reunions I have no idea what my aunts or uncles are saying but I definitely love the food.”

 Jayme describes his experience on having 6 siblings. . .

“I’m 1 of 7 siblings and Kayla is my blood sister. She’s a self-proclaimed TAB . She’s got the Gucci bags and the weird jacket that’s like $400 but she got on clearance for $100. She is 28 and we are 3 years apart but we grew up really close. She was more of a parent figure to me. She didn’t raise me entirely but she was definitely a big part of the process. She was there to put me on the right and narrow.”

“My parents are separated and my mom is remarried. I have 3 half siblings and then my stepdad had 2 of his own daughters so that makes 4 sisters and 2 brothers. We all get along considerably. I am the third oldest and I always felt like the middle child always getting the short end of the stick. The oldest child gets all the cool things, the youngest ones are the babies, and the middle ones get forgotten in the hot back seat of the 7 seat SUV with the broken window.”

 “Coming from a large family definitely shaped the way that I am especially when it comes to food, sharing things, hand-me downs. I’m totally fine with doing all of that. I’ve been told that I’m very zen or very mellow about things and I don’t attribute that to my race but more so on actually how I grew up. When you grow up with 6 siblings, you just learn how to deal.”

And what makes him different from all of his siblings . . .

“I’m an outdoorsy person who hates the outdoors. Kind of ironic but I’m a huge fan of glamping, when you go camping but you have all the amenities that you need. But in seriousness, I do go regular camping too because I’ve always like to be in the outdoors. When I was young, I was diagnosed with ADD and I couldn’t keep still so I’ve always resorted to being active to help with it. I played baseball but was introduced to Taekwondo from my father. We’re both black belts.”

“I am a software engineer and I knew I wanted to be an engineer of some sort because my dad and grandpa were engineers. I had always played with legos and always have been the kind of guy who likes to see how things work. In college I was an engineering and math major.”

Jayme speaks candidly on growing up in Ashland, MA, a predominantly white suburb and his experience in high school. . . 

“I didn’t have to deal with a lot of overt racism growing up and when it did happen, I just kind of always laughed it off and thought wow, this person had to go to such low measures to insult me. I didn’t let it affect me because whatever they said were just assumptions and accusations based on a stereotype. To me, racism is silly because it is entirely man made and to hate someone based on arbitrary reasons like your features is astounding.”

“In my high school, I was the minority but also a rarity. I was 1 of 2 asian families that attended the entire school. I wasn’t really bullied and of course there were a few Asian jokes but like I said, I wasn’t bothered by it. Of course I was the token Asian and that became my identity among my white friends.”

“People knew me as one of the Asians that went to Ashland but I was never bullied for it. It amazes me everyday that we have to deal with something like this (bullying among Asian Americans).  It’s so pathetic.  It’s like instead of people opening their eyes to see what other races have to offer, they want to resort to these actions.”

Lastly some advice that he’d like to share with all of you, especially the young ones . . . 

“Don’t let other people define you. I spent a lot of time thinking about what would my friends think of me. As I got older, I thought why should I care so much about what they think of me versus what I think of me? The most important opinion is my own and what I think about myself.  If you’re young and there’s something you want to do just go for it. Don’t let them tell you no. Don’t let anyone hold you back and if they do, just get rid of them.”

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