Taiwanese American from Boston, MA
This 20-Something Taiwanese American had reached out to me to share their story anonymously. At first I didn’t really understand but as this project evolves, I can see that some people don’t want their identity revealed because it might impact the relationship with their coworkers, family, and friends. This project asks for people to be extremely vulnerable and that kind of openness isn’t for everyone. I want to make it very clear that anonymity isn’t a sign of weakness. For someone to want to share their story with good intentions of uplifting and inspiring others, it takes a certain type of courage. With that said let’s get on with the story.
This 20-Something Taiwanese American had a painful journey with identity while growing up in a predominately white town. They’ve shared with me their feelings of unworthiness and rejection. Things began to change after spending a year at a racially divided college campus and attending a sit-in against an administration’s response to a racially motivated incident. Thank you 20-Something Taiwanese American for sharing your story. I’m sure that so many people from our community and other communities of color can relate to your very personal journey. Also apologies in advance for all the profanity in this interview. As enjoyable as the interview was, this person swears like a sailor.
“I grew up in an upper middle class mostly white suburban town in Connecticut. According to Wikipedia, the town is statistically 95% white and since the 90s, it has gotten really diverse and there are more Asian Americans in the public school system now. It wasn’t terrible back then. I mean, you got the kids yelling ‘ching chong’ and the pulling of the eyes. Of course it didn’t help that I was a really quiet kid and kind of shy so that reinforced the whole weak and timid Asian kid stereotype. It’s not to say that I didn’t have friends. I had a really close group of friends whom were all white and I don’t think that they really cared that I wasn’t white.”
“This is hard for me to talk about but I was really ashamed of being Asian American when I was a kid. It was like a progression, a sliding scale during elementary, middle, and high school. It’s hard for me to talk about because looking back I’m kind of like, ‘What the fuck, you’re such a fucking dumbass’. I tried to reject all the markers of being Asian. Like for example, if you watch fresh of the boat and you know when Eddie take his lunch to school and he’s like, ‘I need white people food’. It was kind of like that. I rejected the food and the upbringing. I was ashamed of being seen with my parents and thought they were so fobby with the mannerism and what not.”
“We had family friends who sent their kids to stay with us over the summer from Taiwan. I don’t want to call myself a bully but I gave them such a hard time and so much shit when they were staying with us. A lot of that for me was just a coping and defense mechanism because I was bombarded with all these images that white is right and in order to be fit in and be cool, I had to be white. I saw in them what I didn’t like about myself. The way that I treated them is still something I think about till this very day. “
Going to college with a racially divided campus, changed this person’s perspective only a little bit . . .
“I think that started to change a bit when I went off to college. I did my first year of school as a Criminal Justice major. I then transferred to a different college in upstate New York after my freshman year because I was getting out of Law Enforcement and going into English. I didn’t do my research and went to this college because one of my best friends went there. He loved it so I just took his word and thought it would be awesome for me too. The curriculum was good, the English department was great, but I found out quickly that this college has a reputation for being a very white school. A lot of the students came from New Jersey or Long Island. There was just this underbelly of racism. A lot of it was unspoken, but it was kind of a tone. Like when you walk into the room and everyone just hushes up.”
“I was living in a quad with four other kids and they were all white except for this one half asian kid. His mother was Chinese and his father was white and I saw that he tried really hard to cover up the Asian side of his identity. His friends would jokingly tease him about his ethnicity and he would get really mad. That for me was one of the moments that defined me. What I saw in him, I saw in myself. I was carrying that baggage from what I had done when I was younger.”
“There was actually a rally on campus because a hispanic student was running for Student Government and someone sent him an email that said, ‘we don’t want a fucking spic to represent our student body’. The student reported that to the administration, the town’s police department, and nothing was done about it. They identified the student who sent the email but because he was suppose to graduate the following semester, the administration said that they didn’t want to screw up his graduation over just a misstep on his part.”
But then a different campus had awaken after the incident and gave this person a new found sense of comfort. . .
“After that, a bunch of us on campus formed a social justice club. It wasn’t an activist group but just a group of us that got together to talk about social issues like race, identity, LGBT, socioeconomic status, and disability, stuff like that. For us to explore those issues in a non academic environment and for us to be able to openly speak freely about this was an eye opening experience. We had a sit-in in regards to the administration’s response and to see professors, administrators, colored students, and white students partake in this sit-in, gave me a sense of comfort. I was getting so jaded and feeling like it’s me against the world, but just to see all these different people with different backgrounds come to show their support and that we’re in this together . . . that was comforting for me.
“This event gave me hope for the campus in bringing more awareness about diversity and different experiences. Before I use to just think, ‘oh this place is full of racist white kids’ but when I saw all these other white kids coming out and being supportive, I thought that what I thought previously wasn’t the case. Maybe the racist ones were a small group that were just more vocal about it. To see all the open minded people come out of the woodwork and support this cause, that was pretty cool.”
“Before my Junior year, I transferred to a different university because they had a great english program, diverse student body, and a great Asian American community and cultural center. When I got there, I was actively involved with the cultural center. That was one of the last pushes of becoming self aware and becoming an individual. I was able to take classes in Asian American studies and learned the history, context, and literature of everything that was happening to me. Before, everything I knew was more anecdotal and through my own experiences. I was reading works of Asian American authors, fiction and non fiction and finally seeing this creative voice and identifying with the creative voice. Looking back now, I was looking at things very black and white and was really buried into the social justice lens of the oppressor vs. the oppressed. It took me a while to get out that and think in terms of me as an individual. I had to break from that very rigid line of thinking.”
“I was part of this Facebook group called Asians not Brainwashed by Media that talked about different things that I hadn’t thought about before -Yellow face, 16 candles, and it was helpful in helping me become self aware. I mean, it also just made me an angry person and I carried that baggage with me. But now that I’m older, I’ve mellowed out a lot. Not in terms of changing who I am, but in how I deal with it and how I process it is different. With that said, I still don’t tolerate bullshit. I feel like when I was a kid I was a pushover and some of that came from personality and some of that came from culture – do what you’re told, respect authorities, don’t make waves and I would hold all that anger in and take it out somewhere else. Now if that shit occurred today, I would just nip it right in the bud.”
And advice this person would give to their younger self . . .
“Don’t jump to conclusions. Kind of like what we were saying before about getting stuck in that rigid line of thinking of us vs. them. And then don’t be a hypocrite either. If you jump to conclusions, you’re no better than the people that you think are the oppressors.”