Growing up as an Asian in America, I've been able to experience the perks and experiences of very different cultures.
Because of my ethnic background, I've been lucky to have an childhood immersed (even if partially) in the languages and cultures that my parents grew up with. I'm able to use three different languages to converse with various family members living in different parts of the world, communicate and meet new people who speak the same language, and even get around when I'm visiting certain countries in Asia.
I'm sure the same applies for any American of diverse backgrounds who grew up and can speak their parents' native tongues.
But a recent trip to Asia this summer has, as always, reminded me and opened my eyes to what it really means to identify oneself as Asian, even if means not necessarily growing up in Asia.
Usually, Asian Americans visit Asia for one of three reasons, and sometimes for all three reasons:
1) For a vacation
2) To attend an educational program (usually to learn or brush up on the language spoken by their parents and family)
3) To visit friends and family who live in Asia.
My summer trip to Asia this year was a vacation, a reunion with my family, and naturally, to brush up on my Cantonese.
I visited Hong Kong and later South Korea with some family members. My mother was born and raised in Hong Kong, and I've been lucky enough to visit my family there multiple times throughout my childhood, which has made picking up Cantonese a lot easier.
And, logically, you're probably thinking that since my mother is from Hong Kong, then my father is from South Korea. Well..no.
South Korea was just a vacation, but as it was my first time visiting the country, something stood out to me.
As South Korean media is increasingly getting more and more popular these past few years, the number of tourists visiting Korea has greatly expanded, from the number of tourists to the diversity of tourists. However, a majority of travelers to Asia are still Asians from surrounding countries like Japanese and Chinese people just to name a few. Store employees in popular shopping destinations have grown accustomed to this and can usually recognize whether a customer speaks Korean, Japanese, Mandarin, or English.
I was impressed by the swiftness these employees were able to switch between languages to communicate with their customers, but when my sister and I were approached, we received a bunch of different languages spoken to us. Yes, we are Asian, and yes we are American. It was amusing, but I also got me wondering how these employees could recognize so quickly what ethnicity a customer was.
It was my first time to South Korea, but it was my millionth time visiting Hong Kong. And only when I was older did I really come to appreciate what it means to come from a multicultural background.
I really feel like I'm somehow a step closer to being a local, or even being "more Asian".
My parents and relatives know all the spots to hit that most tourists probably don't know about, whether its for food, shopping, or local wonders.
When it comes to shopping, they give us the inside scoop of where to buy something cheaper than offered at popular tourist destinations. When it comes to shopping, ordering is naturally a lot easier and faster. Also, you are introduced to more diverse foods that are often overlooked by popularized Asian foods in Western countries.
When it comes to language, you are somewhat in the know how for slangs of your parents' and relatives' native tongue because most likely you've heard them say it around the house growing up.
You have your own tour guides that you also call grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. They devote themselves show you around and feeding you. Because we all know Asian culture is huge on food.
These aspects definitely apply to anyone who come from multicultural backgrounds.
Unfortunately, we often overlook this when we are young as we all tried to figure out a way to fit in to the culture that we grow up in. But remember it's never too late as it is an infinite and life long learning experience when one is of multicultural descent.