Born here, yet foreign

Note: this is going to be a very long, hard post. For the next few posts, I will write about Asian American identity and how it has affected my life and how I’ve come to acknowledge my privilege (more on that later). I’ve spent the last several days listening to podcasts learning more about American history from the Asian American POV and listening to other voices on their Asian American experiences.

My experiences of being an Asian American is living with this duality: I am born here, yet foreign. I am sure other POC can echo this sentiment.

If we were having coffee, we’d be talking about AAPI (Asian American Pacific Island) — in some places ESEA (East and South East Asian) — hate and violence. It has been an ongoing conversation all week at my office. One of the volunteers at my work who is a 20-year old Vietnamese American asked me if the news made me more in fear of my life as a Filipino American. I told him it did not, because I’ve been experiencing discrimination and racism almost my life. Let me count the ways:

  • A few years back at my previous job, my coworker and I did our daily lunch walks around the office. My coworker is from Taiwan but lived in the U.S. since he was five years old so he’s lived in the U.S. for more than 30 years. Anyways, we passed this apartment and this man who was sitting on the balcony was yelling a bunch of racist stuff and telling us to “go back to your country.” Ugh…like they can even name a foreign country so they just say “your country.”
  • Many years ago, I was with a couple of my friends going to a mini-mart. One is Chinese and the other is Persian — both were international students. When I went to the cashier, he asked me pointing to my friends, “are you all from Japan?” I say, “no, just because I don’t have blonde hair and blue eyes does not mean I am not from here!”
  • I had a one year stint living in the Philippines with my grandparents when I was five years old. I even went to kindergarten there too. When moved back to the U.S. and started school there, I was placed in ESL for five years. American schools don’t know that most of the curriculum in the Philippines is taught in English. It was funny how was I was praised by teachers and administrators for speaking “great” English when it was never my “second language” in the first place. The friends I made in elementary school were perplexed because they’ve never heard me speak Tagalog.
  • Piles of microaggressions against me over the years from a certain group of clientele in my last job. It was enough for me to walk away.
  • And of course I got the question “where are you from…no where are you REALLY from…” It is not cute at all.

Of course there are many more moments. I realized the discrimination I experienced was after university. In elementary school, I blame the adults who decided I should take ESL before even meeting me.

I also I have to mentioned I’ve experienced my fair share of discrimination from other Asians. I felt it may have hurt more because I did not feel accepted for being “Asian enough” — whatever that means. It was something I experienced in my teens. University was great because I felt like everyone got along. It was a peaceful chunk in my life. After university and when I started working fulltime, discrimination and racism among Asians felt more pronounced.

I grew up in a predominantly white area so I had mostly white friends. I never really thought about what my friends are until one day one of my classmates from university and I were talking about being Asian enough. She was Chinese born in China and grew up in a predominantly black neighborhood. She said to me, “I noticed at Neurology class you always sit next to these two white people. I even wondered if you see yourself as a white.” I told her those two white people in our Neurology class are friends I’ve known since high school. I would say her question was innocent, it came from a position of curiousity. I was not hurt, I thought “finally someone who elaborated their assumptions about me.” It was honestly something I never thought about.

You see, when I was in high school, there were cliques and there were Asian cliques. I saw these Asian cliques as a wall because they were not very welcoming to me. It was a big part of my life where it compelled me to write about it on my college admissions essay. A lot of them did not know which Asian I was or if I was even Asian enough genetically or phenotypically. Did that even matter? The feelings did re-emerge after I graduated from university and moved to San Diego. I never saw myself as white, I just happened to have white friends. But I never knew others around me assume I would identify as white. It was like I was wearing something invisible and unscented, yet noxious.

I’ve had a fair share of experiences reminding I am not white (see above). As I got older, I’ve met other people who were in a similar boat as me but they embraced their whiteness through their white friends or their white partner — they even identified with it. They abhorred the food of their cultural background and dismiss it as “disgusting,” hate their ancestral language, lightened their skin, dye their hair, side with certain policies even if it means hurting their own, change their name, etc. Even though they may see themselves as white, white people still do not. Do they believe they are above that and the rules don’t apply to them? I wonder what their experiences are when someone does remind them they are an “other?”

It’s a beautiful day for some iced coffee.

13 thoughts on “Born here, yet foreign”

  1. It’s sad how much discrimination Asians face, even though many are unaware of it. I know I get plenty of those questions you’ve listed in your post. Recently, during a game of online scrabble, this guy incessantly asked, “where are you really from?” Uh, does it matter where I’m from?
    I also get told a lot, “Your English is good. Did you speak English before you came here?” Inside, I’d be rolling my eyes.
    I used to wonder if I dyed my hair blond and wore blue contacts, would I belong? Um, no.
    Even in a country that’s made up of immigrants, we’re still treated like an outsider. What a sad truth.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Neither dying your hair blond nor changing your eyes won’t change a thing. I learned the sad truth that it is rare to prove a hate crime against Asians. I was surprised, there are recognized hate crimes against Black, LGBTQ+, and Jewish people but not Asians. I wonder why…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you for sharing and for writing so eloquently, yet simply stating your experience .I suppose it begs a question I should ask. Sometimes I ask people where t hey are from, often because I am interested in their accents, more than anything else. My grandmother was from Portugal and she spoke with a wonderful, in my opinion, accent, of thick broken English. But maybe I should not ask that question, or maybe there is a better way to ask it? Thank you, and I am sorry. Michele Somerville

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for stopping by. Asking where a person is from because you are interested in their accent is fine. I’ve done that too because it is indicative that they speak a foreign language. It’s a little different when asked where one is from as a segue to talk about their time in the war and how they had a “girlfriend” they left behind in Korea or Vietnam.

      Here’s an article for your reference (https://www.nytimes.com/2021/03/19/us/racism-sexism-asian-american-women.html).

      Like

  3. Because I wear hijab, people (Muslims included) assume I am foreign. I have been spoken to in Arabic, which I don’t speak, told to “go back to my country” and, while the Bronx can be a foreign land to some, it is still America, and I often get, again mostly from other Muslims who are amazed that I am a white, American woman, “where are you REALLY from”. To that question, I have adopted an automatic response of “Somalia”.

    I am sorry you are facing/have faced racism. It is a sad state of our world.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you, Julie, for sharing your experiences. I’m sorry you’ve been facing discrimination and racism. It’s a sad reality. I hope with more emphasis and education in schools and workplaces about topics such as human rights, diversity, inclusion, equity, etc., our world will gradually become better. We still have a long way to go. #WeekendCoffeeShare

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Thank you for sharing. I have been trying this last year or so to gain more of an understanding of what it’s like, how each individual experiences biases, and evaluating whether I have my own biases that maybe I was unaware of. It has been eye opening. I appreciate hearing what others have gone through. Thank you for letting us sit and have coffee and hear your story.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s