By: Maria Beltran
The Asian-American Identity Crisis
Asian students at my school are divided into 2 categories: Asians who were born or grew up in America and FOBs—defined as someone of Asian descent who has recently immigrated to a new country.
The funny thing about this divide is that it is often used by Asian Americans themselves because culture-wise, they feel that there’s a distinct difference between those who grew up in a Western country and those who grew up in Asia.
I was talking to a friend of mine one day—a Filipina girl who didn’t speak a word of Tagalog and had parents who didn’t speak the language either. We started talking about culture and she revealed to me that she doesn’t really identify as Filipino. I was startled. How can you not identify as something you biologically are?
“We don’t speak the language at home and I’ve never even been to the Philippines.” She reasons.
I would join in with the jokes that she was a banana—a whitewashed Asian. I mean, how could she just say that she doesn’t feel Filipino? She must be one of those Asian girls who are desperate in becoming white.
But after a while I realized that sometimes I also felt like this. I would be at a family gathering and they would be talking about a famous Filipino celebrity and I have no idea who they are. It was times like those that I realize that perhaps she didn’t identify as being Filipino because she felt like she didn’t fit in with what the typical Filipino should be—not because she was so desperate in becoming white.
She didn’t feel like she belonged with the Tagalog-speaking students at school and she found it hard to relate to them as well. She didn’t understand their jokes and their pop culture. She didn’t understand their language and she had no idea what life in the Philippines was like. It made sense to me that she would feel like an outsider.
It is a crisis of identity that Asians in a foreign country often face. We may feel like we have more in common to American culture and we start to wonder if we’re even allowed to identify as being Asian at this point.
But who decides what the standard is for being Asian? Why do we have to choose a box to fit into? We don’t have to give up one or the other. Instead, we need to relish in the fact we are a combination of both West and East—a beautiful mixture of two cultures.
I think it’s time for people to stop mistaking their ethnicity as their whole identity. First and foremost, we are individuals. Our Asian heritage is only a small part of who we are and I truly believe that we need to stop believing that being Asian means you have to fit into a specific category or a specific ‘design’.
We need to stop, as fellow Asians, enforcing others on how they should act. Speaking a language doesn’t make you any more of an Asian as someone who doesn’t.
It could be difficult trying to find a middle-ground between our parent’s culture and the culture that we grew up in. But I think it is important to stop using “being Asian” as a stick to beat others. We need to stop using our ethnicity as a mold that everyone in our community must fit into.
Maria Beltran is a high school student who hopes to share her experiences growing up as an Asian-American girl. She aspires to be a journalist in the future in hopes of using her platform to tell the stories of other women around the world.