I grew up in a very small white town in Western Massachusetts. It was type of town you hate growing up in because there was nothing to do. There was not even a fast food restaurant. As I got older I realized it was a really safe quaint and beautiful town for raising kids.
I was one of six Asians, in my grade, in high school and one of two in middle school and elementary school. My graduating class was 98% Caucasian with a handful of minority students, including myself. You can imagine how difficult it was for me to make friends, and adapt to the culture change from my household to school, especially with a mother who never let me have friends over. Even though I stood out a lot more than everyone else, I was lucky to have found friends to hang out with at school, and who are still close friends today. Outside of some racist jokes or actions, “do you know kung fu?”, “Asian eyes”, and “peace signs”, I don’t think being Asian affected my childhood much.
Does age change your mindset?
As I got older, I noticed it affecting me more. People would ask me where are you from and I would respond, “Massachusetts”, but what they really wanted to hear was “China”. There was a time when people constantly asked me to “speak some Chinese”, even though they didn’t ask the French girl or Spanish guy to speak their native language. I knew Chinese was much more foreign in our town, but this always bothered me. People always assumed my group of friends were all Asian, but I never really had any Asian friends growing up due to the lack of Asians in my town. I was or maybe still am, as they say “white-washed, Twinkie, or banana…”.
What bothered me the most was that I couldn’t live up to family’s expectations, and this was depressing. It was a harsh reality knowing I couldn’t change who I was, and be a perfect student or have a perfect job (in terms of Asian culture, Doctor, Lawyer, Engineer, etc). It made me feel like I didn’t fit in anywhere and I was getting beat from both sides. It really wasn’t until these past few years where I’ve grown to have a group of Asian friends and really embraced my Asian heritage. All of my family and friends were shocked when I married a Chinese woman. As my aunt once said to my mom, “your son’s going to marry a golden hair girl”. My mom shook her head displeased, but probably thought that would happen.
Being an Asian dating and working
The first time I traveled to Asia for work, I felt so different from everyone even though we were the same ethnicity and they “looked” like me. I knew quite a bit of Chinese customs and culture from my mom, but how to interact with another Asian, that wasn’t family, was foreign to me, and it shouldn’t have been, but I made it that way. This soon changed.
At my jobs, I felt I had to work harder than others. I always felt that my bosses expected more from me because I was Asian; Asians are all super obedient, hard working, and extremely smart. I was always asked to stay longer or do more tasks, maybe this was all in my head, but it sure felt that way. I have even read that Asians are judged on a higher standard when applying to colleges. This may or may not be true, but considering the lawsuit against Harvard, there probably is some merit to it.
Dating I felt was much harder for me than all my non-Asian friends. I’ve read multiple times that Asians have the short end of the stick when it comes to online dating. I always had to work much harder than my friends to get dates, or carry on conversations with random girls at bars. I really do believe this was because I am Chinese. Maybe it’s because Asian men are unrepresented in mainstream media that American women overlook us.
What did I gain from all this?
I learned to embrace my racial identity. It is something you can’t change. It may take time, but as we grow, mature, meet new people, and see the world, It grows in you. Growing up, I mostly identified as “white”, but others obviously didn’t see that. I wasn’t into my Chinese culture. I only did what I was told when it came to customs and traditions, but I didn’t really embrace it. If I listened and followed everything my mom said, I probably wouldn’t have broken out of my shell and put myself out there socially.
As I mentioned above, I first felt uncomfortable in China, but it changed with my second trip. I felt much more comfortable and actually enjoyed not being the minority. I thought to myself, “wow this is probably what all white people feel like in America”. With more time and being able to immerse myself in China, it grew on me. It feels nice being surrounded by people who “look” like me, especially when I am used to being the minority. I feel like I’m on the same playing field as everyone else.
I am at a point now where I fully enjoy being Chinese, maybe my wife is pushing me towards it, or I am come close to living up to the Asian expectations. I don’t know what it is, and maybe it will change again, but in the future. For now, it is something that I whole heartedly embrace.
I would love to hear how you identify, and how you grew up.