My parents came to the United States with a suitcase filled with things from their previous lives. They worked two jobs, seven days a week, while studying as full-time students to complete their education. My dad tells me stories about how he waited tables late into the night, while my mom sold shoes at flea markets on her days off to earn spare cash to buy a car. They built the privilege affirmative action says we have from nothing but hard work.
I was given the gift of being able to be born into a family that defined the American Dream. My parents taught me English and Chinese simultaneously, spent hours reading me stories of Snow White and Cinderella, and the Monkey adventures in Journey to the West. It wasn’t until much later that I realized that they had learned English from memorizing vocabulary cards and reading old textbooks on grammar.
And though my parents taught me English, they ask me to deal with scheduling doctor appointments for them; they ask me to proofread emails for them, out of embarrassment that they feel their English isn’t sufficient to be taken seriously, it sickens me when I realize that while their mastery of the English language is more than proficient, it doesn’t matter, because the rest of the world doesn’t care.
But you wish you were Asian.
I grew up, hearing the words of boys whose only “standard” for the girls they were interested in was “Asian,” realizing that the disgustingly scary fetish of Asian women is actually a reality. I grew up, watching the world’s understanding of my cultural heritage be reduced to ching chong’s and ling long’s, kimonos, and fortune cookies. I grew up, being asked if my parents belonged to the communist party, when I held in me the stories they told me of labor camps they were sent to at the age of 13, of how one day, they couldn’t go to school anymore, of how my grandparents tried desperately later on, long after Mao’s regime ended, to force their children, now adults, to eat copious amounts of food, as if to make up for times when there was nothing to eat.
But you want to be Asian.
I live in a country that has yet to realize that yellow face is not appropriate on mainstream television, a world that somehow doesn’t realize that statements like, “Kill the Chinese!!” are not acceptable to be aired on talk shows. I live in the 21st century, where the only understanding I can get about the story behind my heritage comes from my own parents, where the only times I can see people who look like me on screen is on Youtube.
I grew up as an Asian American, an individual in a group of people that never really belonged anywhere. Because in the United States, we’re nothing more than descendants of the people who invented orange chicken, and in China, we’re foreigners who fail to adopt the careful nuance of the dialect spoken there. We grew up, holding our ethnicity as something of great pride, and at the same time, of great burden.
Our representation in the United States government practically is nonexistent. There is no proof that we as a group of human beings existed beyond the pages of Amy Tan novels. The caricatures on television taught us that we were nerds, deficient at English and social skills, bound by our supposed tiger parents to live out their dreams.
And because we apparently don’t exist to the rest of the United States, the inherent racism my “fascinating” ethnicity faces also ceases to exist.
But still. You enjoy your green tea and kungfu movies and paper lanterns. You love your Chinese 1 class and your Japanese Civilizations course and Wang Leehom. And my goodness, what you would give, if only you could be Asian.