Thursday, May 21, 2009

Why I'm Envious of Asian-Americans

29th Asian Pacific American Heritage Festival

The other day Isaac and I were up in Plano,\ hanging out in an adorable local coffee and boba shop. I was fascinated by watching the Chinese-American clientele and staff. There's a huge Asian-American population in Plano, and that was reflected in the people around me. There were three girls studying together with a Caucasian classmate. A friend of theirs was running the register, and he would come over and joke with them when there wasn't a line. The boss was Chinese, and smiled and talked to a number of people that came in that he knew. They all slipped easily in and out of fluent Chinese and accentless English. They all dressed incredibly trendy. They all interacted with their non-Asian-American friends with ease.

I watched because I found myself feeling envious. The Asian American community in the U.S. has often settled in pockets, so you have places like Plano where they have totally integrated into U.S. culture, but at the same time maintained their own unique identity. You still hear Chinese being spoken fluently. There's still a strong presence of Chinese restaurants and grocery stores and churches. They have maintained the balance of holding on to their unique cultural identity because IT IS their identity, but at the same time they are fully engaged and comfortable in mainstream U.S. culture.

I wish I had that ability. I still struggle to define who I am culturally. I often wish that I actually was a different ethnicity, because then people would expect me to be different culturally. I have no experience with China, but if those kids were Indonesian American, I would have had a lot in common with them, but would have felt like I didn't have a right to join their unique sub-culture.

Recently Isaac and I met up with all the guys from his small group at seminary. It's the first time we've met with all the wives and girlfriends. Turned out that because Isaac had shared with them about how his wife grew up in Asia and that I was struggling to adjust to life in Texas (which is all true), at least one of them thought I was actually Asian. Several people commented on both Isaac and my lack of an accent. It sort of seemed like they were struggling to grasp how we could have spent nearly all of our lives until we were 18 years old in an entirely different culture, but then appear ....completely like them.

It's a valid thing to wonder about, because it IS odd. For both Isaac and I, we felt alienated when we got back to the U.S. so we went to great lengths to try to blend in perfectly in order to not feel so weird and different in the place that was supposed to be home. Those tendencies stay with me. At the same time, I still find so many things about me that were formed in Indonesia and are really inextricable parts of who I am. My "home" is overseas, and hasn't faded in my memory at all, it still feels like I could open the door and see jungle and the streets of Sentani. Yet - I can't claim to be Indonesian at all.... I have never felt like that was an option for me. I will always be an orang asin (westerner) in Indonesia.

That's where the term third-culture kid comes in. Kids growing up between cultures take their parent's culture and the culture that they live in, and take ownership of neither, but create a third, unique culture. That is why I clung to the group of immigrants and missionary kids that I met when I came back to the U.S. In them, I found people with very different experiences than me, but a shared CULTURE.... and when you have walked between cultures your whole life and find yourself rather lonely in the moment, that shared culture becomes extremely important.

Since then I have stopped clinging to that identity and have attempted to not be so stuck within my sub-culture, but I still find that I undeniably share in that third-culture. That's why I find myself quite jealous of the Asian-American community. Their sub culture is understood and accepted and is found all over the U.S., but it doesn't separate its members from the broader community at all. I wish I had something like that around me - a subculture filled of people that share the same uniqueness as I do but is totally comfortable still AS AMERICANS.

Board Game Crew at Presidio Social Club


Jaimie said...

Good post. I'm sorry about your situation... :(

And yes, you were right! I stand corrected/defeated/frustrated/depressed/disappointed.

Aussie in the USA said...

Very interestng post. Cheers! :)

junglewife said...

You said that your "home" is overseas. I wonder if these Asian-Americans feel the same way about the US, and if they ever went back to Asia if they would feel the same way that you do, currently living in the US.

I think that this is something we, as MKs, will always struggle with, no matter where we live. Even now, living overseas again, things have changed (and I think it would be the same even if I had moved back to Ecuador - it's not the same as it was when I was in high school - the same people aren't around, etc.) I still find more in common with fellow missionaries who are also MKs themselves, rather than those where this is their first experience overseas.

You said "I wish I had something like that around me - a subculture filled of people that share the same uniqueness as I do but is totally comfortable still AS AMERICANS." I think this hits the nail on the head as to why you are jealous of the Asian-Americans. They have this group around them while living in the STates, while you have to go back overseas to get it!

Franco said...

HI ! I'm Asian and Vietnamese !