Are You Asian American?

This is the question that the youth I work with had to answer yesterday. Most of them said yes, but qualified it, like “Yes, I’m Asian American, but I’m also really American”, or “Yes, I’m Asian American, but also not really. I’m modern.”

When I learned the phrase Asian American, I thought it was a way to combine two identities, Asian and American. Like this:

Asian + American = Asian American

Asian American = me

They defined Asian American as “Asians who live in America” not “people of Asian descent who are also American”. They didn’t think that Asian Americans were really American. This conflicted with the way they viewed themselves because having grown up in the US, they thought of themselves as American. They needed something like this to explain their identity:

Asian American != American

Asian American + American = me

In academic speak, we call this phenomena “The Perpetual Foreigner”. This means that for Asian Americans, no matter how long we’ve been in the US, no matter how many generations our families has lived here, no matter how good our English or American (read white) our food is, we still don’t get treated as Americans. It means that even though my father is white, people ask where I’m from. When I tell them I’m from Boston, they reply “No. I mean, where are you REALLY from?”

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2 thoughts on “Are You Asian American?

  1. Pingback: Unfortunately Some Things Never Get Old « Movements and Moments

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