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The Meaning of Being Asian-American

Today I realized something important. Today I was able to dig out the thoughts in the the back of my mind. Today I realized how important my identity as an Asian-American truly meant to me and that there is no other experience like it.

I etched these three sentences in my journal a few months ago. Moments prior to that, I was on a bumpy subway ride back home, sinking in the intense interview for a volunteer program.

I was coming home from the screening session with an organization that serves the Asian community in Lower Manhattan that I am working with today. I’ve done a lot of volunteer work and I’ve gone through a lot of screenings, but this was a rather thorough and nitty-gritty unconventional questionnaire that got into my personal details. After all, I would be potentially making a profound educational impact on kids for one of the city’s largest Asian-American organizations.

There were pressing questions here and there, but all was fine. It was surprisingly a smooth process to answer these questions that even my close friends don’t ask—family values, abuse history, religion. Then, the one question finally hit me: Do you identify yourself as Asian or Asian-American?

Then came another pressing question: Why?

In the five seconds of pure silence, my mind was going through quick flashbacks of some moments of my life where I felt like I stood as a representation of an Asian-American.

I’ll be frank, guys. For the past year, I’ve been more mindful of equality for Asian-American women (and Asian Americans as a whole) and I’ve been trying to connect more with Asian-American women across the country to build a community where we all can share our stories and empower each other. Some of the interest might come with getting older and appreciating who I am. But one of the biggest reasons is due to the past presidential election, where racial violence has risen, and where a whopping 29 percent of Asian-American voters voted for Trump.

I’ve been calling myself “Asian-American” lately rather than just “Asian”—it was something that always came out subconsciously, but I never knew why. What’s the difference? I’m an Asian in the United States. I’m also Asian-American because I was born and raised in the US, but I guess you can use those two terms interchangeably.

In the past year, as I’ve started getting more curious and involved in the Asian-American community, I started embracing my Asian identity more. Joining UEAA (which lead to joining YWLP) and being able to meet other Asian-Americans outside of my network gave me perspective and awareness of what’s happening and what has happened in the Asian-American community. Everyone has a remarkable story of their roots and how they’re trying to preserve their heritage. In the past year, I’ve also learned more about my own heritage and how my family got here and the hurdles they had to jump through. It may be just another story out of millions of other immigrant stories, but it is special to me because it made me, well, me.

My parents—though they spent a huge part of their lives in China—consider themselves Asian-Americans. Like many immigrants, they left their comfortable lives back home and had to start from scratch upon arriving to America. That often means taking on odd, low-paying jobs that were less than delightful while juggling night and weekend English classes, learning to file taxes, figuring out how 401(k) plans and health insurances work, setting up a retirement plan, but before all of that, most of all, comes raising a child and making financial contributions for his or her future education—all in a new country. They didn’t become Asian-Americans just because they live here. They became Asian-Americans because they fought through the struggles and hardships of making their way up in a new country to make a comfortable living.

There is something special and magical about the Asian population coming together and helping each other grow, because most people know the struggle as a minority and most people are still learning on how to “make it in America”.

I was ready. I was excited to tell the interviewer how proud I am to have faced so many challenges just because of my race. Positive or negative, they’ve all helped build and shape me as a person.

I identify as Asian-American, rather than just Asian. There were many hurdles that I’ve faced in my experience as an Asian who grew up in the US.

There is no right or wrong in how you identify yourself, whether it be Asian, Asian-American, Asian-Canadian-American, or even Asian-Antarctican (if there is such a thing).

I pride myself on being an Asian American, but that does not mean my identity as an Asian-American is of a higher value than say, an European-Asian (EurAsian) or an Asian-African. I really can’t speak for Asians in other parts of the world, but there has been a long history of racial tension against minority races in the US that fighting through racial discrimination has almost become a part of the struggle that is to be expected.

The US is a melting pot of diversity and each ethnic group has dealt with their share of difficulties in this country, which is what makes living here so bittersweet.

The interviewer, a minority herself, smiled as she said “Okay”. I sensed her empathy and there was just nothing else she needed to say.