In 1975, my mother and father did something more impressive than anything I will ever do: they left their home country of Vietnam, and immigrated to the United States. While leaving Vietnam may have been daring, it was not the end of our family’s struggles. My parents learned right away that in order to thrive in America, they had to adapt. After awhile, they learned English, went to American school, and now, they are living lives similar to a non-immigrant family. They are able to enjoy life in America (within limits), but are also still very much established in their Vietnamese culture. They have assimilated, but not completely.
Now, as the son of immigrant parents, I face an identity crisis. I’m too Asian for the white kids, and too white for the Asians.
Growing up, I was pressured to “succeed” in America, and to do this, I needed to adapt in a society that wasn’t really my own. I always thought of myself as an American, as my guilty pleasures included cheeseburgers and reality TV. However, being pressured as a child to fit in with American culture caused me to become “too white” in the eyes of my parents, while at the same time, the white kids at school (I grew up in Florida, going to predominantly white schools) would insult my Asian traditions.
The issue I face now is that I am disconnected from my family, and I am also disconnected to the society I live in. My family and I have issues with communication due to my lack of knowledge of Vietnamese customs, and I am considered an outcast to white America. While not fitting in with American standards is mostly not my own fault, being apart from my Asian identity is definitely due to my own actions. I wanted so badly to fit in with white people that I ended up feeling a sense of resentment towards my parents’ culture. I was so focused on perfecting my English (in order to not be ridiculed by the white students at my school), that I never really learned Vietnamese. Nothing makes me more upset than not being able to fully communicate with members of my family, specifically my father, who enjoys speaking his native tongue. Can you imagine going 20 years without being able to really talk to someone you love?
Being 20 years old now, I feel a sense of regret, as I wish I focused more on learning about Vietnamese customs and traditions. I wish I never let myself feel ashamed for being Asian.
While the struggle of racial/cultural identity differs from person to person, I, myself, feel as though I am living within two worlds, but never really belonging to either. The sad thing many Asian Americans come to realize is that neither your Asian family nor white America will ever fully accept you, and that single feeling can make a person feel very lonely. You may enjoy using chopsticks, eating traditional food, and taking your shoes off after entering a house, but you will never really feel comfortable with who you are.
The life as a child of immigrants can be very confusing, and very lonely. You may never feel as though you have a sense of belonging anywhere. Random strangers tell you to “go back to your own country,” as though you were not born on American soil. Your family may call you “white-washed,” and you’ll feel ashamed. If this feeling hasn’t set in yet, you may still have time to enrich yourself within your parents’ culture, and I hope you do so. If you’re a younger Asian American and you’re reading this, I want you to know that trying to be a part of something that you are not—no matter how badly you want it—will not work. While you may want to be more white, you never will be, but your Asian family will always love you, as long as you embrace your roots. Respect where you came from, and it will make your life infinitely better.