People are constantly asking me â€œwhatâ€ I am, and Iâ€™m beginning to feel like Iâ€™m on the verge of an existential crisis.
Â I know to an outsider asking me about my race is an innocent question. Itâ€™s intended as a good natured question to gain deeper insight into my origin- or at least to be able to comfortably categorize me by my race. But I want to tell you, it is a little weird.
Â I am of nearly equal parts Chinese- Portuguese- Filipino- Italian- French- Mexican descent, but many find my racial ambiguity disconcerting. I identify myself as being culturally Asian American for the sake of simplicity.
Â My entire life people have asked me what I am, and not until I became an adult did I begin to see the implications of the question or my answer to it.
Â In America we like to believe that we are â€œthe melting pot.â€ The United States of America touts itself as the archetype for a racially diverse and unified country.
Â We consider ourselves accepting of all minorities. But in my own life, I have seen society demonstrate again and again that equality is not extended to all minorities.
Â I have been called an eggroll, a fortune cookie, and on occasion someone thinks itâ€™s cute to call me a â€œgeishaâ€ despite the absence of any Japanese heritage in my blood or experience in ceremonial tea serving.
Â Strangers routinely ask where my homeland is and how recently Iâ€™d immigrated despite my having been born in the U.S.
Â Well intentioned strangers have complimented me on how well I have mastered the English language, going so far as to comment on how I â€œhardly have an accent at all,â€ when the only detectable accent is their own Midwestern drawl.
Â Despite my status as what I refer to as being â€œracially ambiguousâ€ I often find people assuming I have an Asian background based on my appearance. I am not offended by the assumption because culturally I do identify myself as Asian, however racially I am unwilling to negate the other seven races that make me who I am.
Â The American fascination with an individualâ€™s heritage is borne of the reality that, with the exception of NativeÂ Americans, we are all immigrants in some way. Itâ€™s just some of us are externally more obviously not of European descent.
Â I hate to pull the, â€œIâ€™m an American,â€ card, but I am. I was born in the U.S. and therefore a citizen.
Â Why is it that people think that itâ€™s acceptable to question my presence here with jokes and the perpetuation of Asian stereotypes?
Â If I was a more readily defended minority, would you be more cautious with the ways you address me? Would guys at the bar stop asking me to feign a Vietnamese accent, and repeat, â€œme so horny?â€ Â Â
Maybe, maybe not.
Â I have struggled with my racial identity for as long as I can remember. My identity cannot be broken down into individual boxes to be checked on generic government forms.
Â My racial background is too complex to be demoted to nothing, a box designated to those of us that are â€œothers.â€
Â What is the value in knowing my racial origin? I want to know what changes for people once armed with the knowledge of my heredity. Do I become a new entity in their eyes, saddled with the weight of stereotypes that have no pertinence in my life?
Â Iâ€™m amused by the people who precede their inevitable inquiries with disclaimers that they mean no offense by asking where I come from. Iâ€™m not offended, simply puzzled.
What does any of it have to do with â€œwhatâ€ I am?