(The following post is an assignment for my class, Imagining Asian Americans, but that doesn’t make it any less real talk.)
I used to be one of you. Yeah, two years ago I would have skipped out of this post like you’re tempted to right now just after reading the title.
Early on, I was taught without words that if I didn’t think I was a minority maybe they won’t treat me like one. That I was better than those minorities. So like a camel sticking its head into the sand, I disavowed that I was different and loudly questioned why we spent so much time studying race at schools. I argued against affirmative action because I thought we should be postracial and colorblind. Whenever minority issues came up, the knee-jerk reaction was to shrug it off, to prove that I wasn’t like those militant-for-no-reason minorities.
In this way I isolated myself from the other minorities. And then I left the Asian-Americans behind, too. I traded in my model minority mandates for new-to-me white rebellion (as much as I could, anyway) because sex, drugs, and rock and roll were way more appealing than the only agenda pop culture ever laid out for me. I avoided other Asians like the plague, worried that people would think I was one of those Asians. I fought to be included in that edge case of “cool” Asians as if my lives depended on it–my throat hoarse from proving that I can be just as loud as anyone else, my purity score plundered by (occasionally reckless) experimentation. Fighting the expectations with increasing intensity, I broke free of the gravitational pulls of the communities I grew up with–to find myself eating moon cakes alone.
It wasn’t really until I went to Jamaica that I started questioning all of this. First, I learned that despite answering “China” for the last 12 years when asked where I came from, I actually identified more as an American at a third point because it explained much more about who I was. Second, I learned that I was pretty happy with my perch outside of the racial binary in Jamaica, which made me realize that I was on a similar perch here. Finally, despite the racialized (racist?) catcalls (“Pssssst Ms. Chin” and “Chinese Japanese!”) that hurricaned on me, I found myself happier about being Asian than I had been in a long time. Why? Because despite the frequent politically-incorrect statement from black Jamaicans, Asians in Jamaica didn’t seem as constrained as Asian-Americans in terms of expectations and stereotypes. They were accepted as just as Jamaican as everyone else. All of a sudden, I felt freed from having to constantly distancing myself from The Stereotype (because it didn’t exist on the island!), an activity that occupied far more of my time and energy than I realized. And then I started wondering why things were so different in America.