Braided: An Asian-American In White Suburbia
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Politics and Activism

Braided: An Asian-American In White Suburbia

A surface examination of growing up Asian-American

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Braided: An Asian-American In White Suburbia
Jason Jung

I'm currently enrolled in an Ethnic Studies course that delves into what it has meant to be an Asian in America since the beginning of Chinese immigration back in the 1850s. For the first time in my life, in a formal educational setting, I hear a professor discussing Asian-American history through an Asian-American lens. A professor who teaches the transition from anti-Asian sentiment and nativism resulting in anti-Asian legislation, to the mono-racial general perception of all Asians as the minority myth, as used to increase bi-racial stratification between blacks and whites during the 1960s. And perhaps most importantly, a professor who explicitly acknowledges the social implications of internalized and external oppression that so many of her students have felt at one point or another in their lives.

I grew up in an area in which the primary agents of socialization were upper middle-class families with new Priuses and bicycles parked outside of two-story houses featuring grand pianos and panini makers. As a kid, I spoke French, Mandarin, and English. I spent a considerable amount of time with white kids, learning to adopt their vernacular and mannerisms. I always knew I was Asian, because it was the box I checked. And while I could hang out with the white kids, I was perpetually unassimilable. No matter how long I spent with the white kids, at the end of the day, I would go home to a family that spoke Mandarin and that upheld Chinese traditions, culture, and mores. It was apparent that though the white kids and I were very similar, we were also very different. Perhaps most prevalent of this cultural discrepancy were our contrasting beauty standards. Modern-day Eurocentric standards of beauty describe the perfect girl as having a big butt, big boobs, and tanner skin. The diametric opposite is true of standards of beauty in Chinese culture as of late.

I had been with generally the same group of kids since elementary school. In high school, when I began meeting people from other schools, I was often asked if I was half-Asian. It was interesting to me that my bigger eyes, double eyelids and ability to speak French would lend people to believe I was mixed race. In fact, in college, I have been asked on numerous occasions, "Are you Hapa?" I remember meeting someone who, after less than a minute of our conversation paused, asking, "Wait, so what are you?"

Growing up with white people who looked so obviously different than me, it was easy to racially disassociate myself with the idea of ‘white privilege’; however, it is important to note that this privilege is not exclusively gifted to white people, but in fact, to those who act white as well. Unlike my parents, I can speak fluent English, which eradicated the language barrier they faced. I have always been trusted to check my white neighbors’ mail or babysit their kids. My tendency to shop at thrift stores is labeled ‘bougie’ and ‘retro-chic,’ but never assumed to be done out of necessity. Though I rarely explicitly acknowledge my white privilege, it has been particularly eminent in my life, allowing me many opportunities that have advanced me to where I am today.

While I will never be "white" as we currently define the term, I recognize that I have many of the privileges that white people do. They may or may not be attributed to a tiny nuance in my salient features. Nonetheless, I believe it important to recognize that while in many ways I am disadvantaged, I am also advantaged. And it is from this privileged standpoint that I should listen to the issues of others that may not be afforded the same privileges as me.

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This article has not been reviewed by Odyssey HQ and solely reflects the ideas and opinions of the creator.
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