Recently a friend of mine had sent me an article about a rising snowboarder. Ever since reading it, it has been on my mind. Finally, someone was able to put into words what I’ve been feeling since middle school. To put this post in perspective here is a pull quote from the article: “I don’t know. Like, you know, like, Asian on the outside, white on the inside. I don’t know. It’s, like, weird. But I just grew up in the States, so I feel like I identify more with, you know, the American culture.”
At the age of 13, Chloe Kim was estimated to be one of the top three female riders in the world next to Kelly Clark and Torah Bright. She is one of two snowboarders ever to score a perfect 100 in a snowboarding competition— the other being none other, Shaun White. With the 2018 Winter Olympics taking place in South Korea, it is only natural for Kim to gain so much attention when qualifying for the U.S. Olympic team at the age of 17. There are a lot of things that Chloe and I differ in, having the title ‘professional snowboarder’ being the biggest one.
When reporter Joon Lee published an article on the Bleacher Report recognizing the young athlete’s athletic achievements, he had also discussed how she seemed uncomfortable responding to a common question she’s asked at press conferences:
“Do you identify pretty strongly with both cultures?”
I couldn’t help but empathize with her.
I’ve found myself reacting the same way Chloe did: awkwardly. I could only imagine how growing up in the States is as a Chinese immigrant, compared to growing up as a Chinese-American such as myself. Like Chloe, I cannot confidently say that I identify strongly with the the former because I was raised in the U.S. . My parents are fairly Americanized considering they immigrated before they even hit their teens. When my friends who are “more Asian” than I talk about an *amazing* dim sum place they’ve recently been to, I can’t help but not really…care. Does that sound shitty?
I’m definitely not ashamed of the Chinese culture or being Chinese, its just that I can only relate to a certain extent. Did I suffer through endless piles of Chinese school homework like my peers? Yes, but that only lasted for two years before dropping out. But if one of my Asian friends were to ask me if I wanted to go to karaoke in the middle of K-town, my answer would be a hard “no.” Would I go out of my way to travel long distances to eat supposedly *really* good Asian food such as baos, bubble tea, and jelly dessert? Probably not.
It’s kind of ironic that my Asian friends who grew up in cookie-cutter, predominantly Caucasian suburbia has more of an interest and liking towards Asian culture than myself, who grew up in a melting pot of a city. A plethora of culturally segmented neighborhoods are easily accessible to me with one swipe of a Metro card. Chinatown is a 30-minute train ride from my home in Brooklyn; yet, I hate going there or the Brooklyn Chinatown known as 8 Ave just because it’s too…Asian. To put into simpler terms, I do not mind part taking in cultural Asian traditions, but I won’t go out of my way to participate. This doesn’t mean I do not have an interest in traveling to Asia, because I do (hint hint). I guess my interest to participate lessens when at home.
If someone were to say I’m a ‘Twinkie” or a ‘banana’ I would agree. For those who don’t know what these terms really mean: Asian on the outside, white on the inside. Lee had asked Olympic gold medalist, figure skater Kristi Yamaguchi (fourth-generation Japanese-American) about her thoughts on Chloe’s comment. She mentioned that it was something she too thought about when she was younger. “”I totally get where Chloe is coming from when she said, ‘I see myself as a Twinkie,'” she said. “It’s not because she doesn’t see herself as Asian. I think it’s not necessarily seeing yourself as white.”” It’s not something to be ashamed of, it feels right to identify as American because it is the culture that we were raised with.
The small disconnect between myself and my family’s origin is not something that I think about daily, but it is in the back of my mind. At times I ask myself, “am I a bad Asian?” There is a small amount of guilt, but only for one reason: the fact that I can’t communicate with my grandparents without the aid of my parents. I’m not one to be regretful, but not being able to speak to the pair who helped raise me is incredibly saddening.
Not only does this effect me, but my own family in the future as well. My children won’t know how to speak Chinese unless I put them into schooling. More or less, they won’t know what it feels like to come home to a proper Chinese home cooked meal that includes choy, pai-kuat, or fan-seen. They definitely won’t know how what it is like to be forced by their grandparents, to drink a homemade soup that supposedly cures every single one of your current or potential flaws– including your future spouse. What I can say is that they will see the lion dances on Chinese New Years, and receive red hóngbāos with money inside. They will also know the importance of going up to the cemetery to pay respect to their elders on big holidays like Christmas, Qingming, and Thanksgiving.
As of right now I’ve come to terms that my own kids might be called a “Twinkie” or a “banana” and they will be okay with it. I’m actually okay with it because I’m okay with being called these names. I’ve concluded that it’s perfectly okay to identify as American, but it doesn’t mean you should turn your back completely on cultural traditions.
To wrap this up a bit, I cannot confidently say that I identify strongly with Chinese culture, but I’m not one to reject it. Over time I’ve come to learn that this isn’t a “bad” thing, it’s simply how individuals like Kristi, Chloe, and I have been raised, American. Lee’s article has been able to further validate that how I identify and feel is okay and that
all is swell.