In March 2017, Vogue released their “diversity” issue, featuring a white-identifying American model as a Japanese Geisha. I remember, vividly, that week, feeling as though I were split down the middle. On one side, I was revolted, repulsed, shocked that a door had been open for diversity and slammed closed again. And on the other, maybe I was being overdramatic -- I’m not Japanese and besides, pop culture is a mess, no use taking it personally.
Growing up, being adopted created a number of unique challenges, one of the most prominent being neither Asian “enough,” nor American “enough.” This bisecontionality will affect me for my entire life, and I was helpless to it for a long time. When I was in second grade, I did a presentation of my family lineage and culture, German. Yes, German. I was adopted, and most of my family was white, and about as American as it gets. My brother and I, however, were born in Vietnam. People call me a banana -- yellow on the outside, white on the inside. I didn’t grow up with the right parents, the right culture, the right name, or the right anything to be Asian. People also call me a chink, which is a derogatory term for anyone Asian, often relating back to being indeterminable from one another. I had almost all Asian friends, and more importantly, I have Asian skin, Asian hair, and above all else, Asian eyes. Stereotypes and all, I faced what many adopted children face, which is a distinct lack of belonging.
For a long time, I believed I wasn’t allowed to be either, my identity was no longer “Asian” or “American” but instead I was “adopted.” I was adopted, so I didn’t “count” as Asian. I wasn’t allowed to be offended as an Asian, but I certainly wasn’t allowed to be ignorant. I felt I had to be the most woke in the room about all Asian culture, not just Vietnamese, but also the least entitled. I felt, and was sometimes told, I wasn’t allowed to be upset by racial injustice, but I also was expected to be the biggest advocate for racial injustice. It was impossible to maintain those expectations for myself, and for anyone to hold themselves to.
All of the identities we hold are intersectional with one another; therefore, just because two people may share a common identity, no two people are the same. My experiences about my identity are unique to me, just as every other individual’s identities are unique and multifaceted to them. It is imperative that we discuss these identities openly, and honestly with each other, in order to wholly attempt to understand the experiences others have endured and to view a more complete picture of who they are.
APASS, American/Pacific Asian American Student Services, has been a place for me to explore my contrasting identities. It has been a place where I have felt a sense of belonging, a safe space for me to simply exist and moreover be accepted as I am. It can be a place for any community member that may be feeling that lack of belonging as well.
Over time, and through a lot of hard work, I’ve learned a lot about self-advocating and developing my identities as my own- not how other people define them but drawing from my experiences and staying humble: ready to learn but without apology for who I am.