Friday, March 7, 2014

being an asian-american on exchange: frustration, barriers, and defining me

As a US-American on exchange, I've had the opportunity to challenge a lot of common beliefs about my home country. I don't have a Southern accent, I'm not a cheerleader, I'm (relatively) intelligent. Most importantly, I'm Asian. As in Not White.

This has been really great in a lot of ways. Since Europeans know a lot about American culture but very little about Asian culture, it makes me feel foreign and interesting to explain Chinese New Year or to describe lion dancing. It's an extra bonus to be able to pretend I don't speak English, just so that the street vendors will go away and stop bothering me.

At the same time, though, I've gotten the most racist and ignorant questions and assumptions ever. Most of them make me laugh. Some of them make me sad. A few make me angry.

It was funny at the beginning to see people double-take at the news that I'm an American, and funnier still if they ended up complimenting my English. It was funny to explain that I don't speak fluent Chinese, neither do my parents, and yes, I am indeed an American citizen. It was funny to get questions about whether I was adopted or whether I'd be allowed to marry someone who wasn't Chinese.

But to be honest? Right now, I'm sick of it.

I'm sorry to put that out there, but it's true. I am sick of people constantly assuming I am from Japan or China or Korea (by the way, people, there ARE other Asian countries). I am sick of people insisting I tell them where I'm REALLY from. I'm sick of people who ask me if I want to go "back" to China, who ask me if I can see out of my eyes or if I can read Japanese and Korean and Thai or how I can tell Asians apart.

I just want to be treated like a real person.
Is that too much to ask?

And it bothers me, that I cannot simply float into Europe and fit in. That whenever I walk into a room, people immediately know that I am not originally Swiss, or German, or Italian, or French. That I have to try doubly hard to adapt and to fit in. That simply by right of birth, I have more cultural barriers to climb than most of the other American exchangers do.

But at the same time, I'm realizing how much I am defined by my heritage. My heritage, both Chinese and American.

The way I look tells people that I am Chinese. The way I speak tells people that I am American.
And I wish that people could see that it's not mutually exclusive. It is not that my family is Chinese and I am American, it is not that my language is English and my heritage Chinese, it is not that I am a twinkie or an egg or anything divided by color or race or country.

it is that I am Asian AND American, and I am still a person.

It is simply that I am who I am. 
and I wish that people could see that.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Hannah, I want you to know that Beaverton Rotary is very proud of you! I have been reading your blogs and you are wise beyond your years. Take care and keep on "swimming" in the culture.

    Ken Dailey, Beaverton Rotary


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