“Do you know Gia?” “No who’s she?” “She’s the Asian girl….”
… Or something along those lines. Having lived in Upstate New York for essentially half of my life, that was essentially how people identified me.
I was only one of two Asians in my graduating class.
I was the only Asian in my Robotics team.
Same goes in National Honor Society and in my student-body government. And brass bands. And choral groups. And in my local church.
For a year or two, I was the only Asian in my school who’s an active member in the music department in my school.
If you haven’t already caught on, my humble abode is in a predominantly Caucasian community with Asians as the minority. Of course, you still see a lot of people of Asian descent in Upstate NY, but the ratio of Caucasians to Asians are far, far, far greater than 1 in the rurals and suburbs of not-NYC.
When I say to people that moving to Northern California is a change, I really mean it. It’s not just the change of weather from the extremes to the oh-so-desirable moderate temperatures here at Berkeley, and it’s not the vast and beautiful campus I’m studying in. No, I’m going to be honest here. It’s also the fact that there are a lot of Asians here. In a mere location change, I’ve suddenly become the majority of the population. No more comments saying that my English is good (even though I’ve lived in the US for years). No more comments saying, “speak Asian to me!” (Word-for-word, yes it did happen). No more complaining about the lack of good, authentic Asian cuisine around, because obviously Berkeley’s food collection is vast and vastly diverse. My only overall comment thus far: yaasss.
At the same time though, a part of what identifies me feels lost here. Ironic, I know. But I kind of miss having that special identifier – that something that facilitates people getting to know me or knowing of me. Although quite shallow, these identifiers become a point of conversation (which, as an introvert, is great) and it can be an effective tool in leadership and communication. It’s just expedient, and let’s be real here. When you’re one of only a handful of Asians in a community, people are bound to be curious and want to know something about your presence. Now, you're a dime a dozen.
When moving to another place, I’m sure this is a topic that people of other ethnicities have talked about or noticed too – regarding the population of their ethnicity in that place, or its lack thereof.
And almost all times, mixed feelings come with it.