“Our Voices: Embracing Our Asian Heritage"

Katie S. & Elise W. | Wyomissing Jr./Sr. High School | Grade 11

Dismantling My "Inner Racist" as an Asian American by Katie S.

When I was asked to write about my Asian heritage, I thought the task sounded pretty simple. But the more I tried to write this piece, the harder the task became. How could the simple act of writing about my pride as an adopted Asian American, my pride as a woman of color in America seem so complex? Maybe because for most of my life, I was not proud to be Asian.

At first, this epiphany seemed ridiculous and insulting and quite racist, but denying my feelings would not dilute the truth of the matter that I had spent my entire life wishing I was white. Every morning, I would wake up and forget I was Asian. But after I would apply eyeliner or scroll through my white friend’s Instagram, I would remember and feel overwhelmed with envy and hatred for the way I looked and the stereotypes that came with it. While embracing western culture, I had been simultaneously rejecting my Asian heritage, not because my family did not give me the opportunity to explore those roots but because I had made the active decision to ignore them.

Constantly educating myself on the systemic inequities ingrained within black communities in America, I would consider myself a progressive individual who remains well-versed in proper terminology and tries to dismantle any mentally-preconceived stereotypes. Yet until recently, I failed to realize that I had been racist towards my own race for the majority of my life. Not purposely or maliciously or evenly directly pointed at my Asian peers, but to myself. Whether it was making references toward the smallness of my eyes or downplaying my intelligence compared to “the rest of my people,” I was a complete and total hypocrite. At a predominantly white high school, I unconsciously equated whiteness with more friends, more male attention, and somehow this extra invisible layer of coolness. And for a while, I am ashamed to admit that I equated whiteness with beauty—not that I did not find my non-white peers beautiful and strong and intelligent, but my disparaging comments towards myself were, in turn, insulting every other young woman who looked like me. Even worse, my self-effacing humor gave my peers the notion that Asian jokes were okay—that racism was okay. Unknowingly, my actions were communicating to my friends and to myself the opposite of everything I stood for.

At STAR meetings, I was preaching the beauty of all races and the rejection of internal biases while internally hating the way I looked. And I wondered how this could be the case, for I had found other Asian women beautiful before and had never deliberately rejected the friendship of an Asian peer, right? But to truly be antiracist, it was not enough to just believe those things. I had to acknowledge that those biases did not reflect a universal truth but my own insecurities and my own challenges with self- love that I continue to work through.

Evidently, self acceptance does not happen over night and neither does transforming racist ideals into antiracist magic, but acknowledging our “inner racist” is definitely the first step. An innocently-rendered joke that was intended to make people laugh had become a toxic habit. So while I am not necessarily proud to admit all of this, I wanted to shed light on the accidental nature of racism, the ease of being racist, and especially, the idea that good people can still say racist things. I think we run from the word’s devilish connotation as we deny former racist comments or fail to acknowledge the presence of internal racial biases. This is our first mistake. We associate the term with ill intentions and inherent evilness when in reality, we don’t have to be a white supremacist to be racist. I came into this organization not because I was this philanthropic and educated saint instilled with all of these pure and antiracist ideals but because I was far from it, because I was trying to rewire an entire mental set, because I not only wanted to do what I believed in but believe in what I did.

Acquiring an antiracist mentality takes consistent practice and is certainly not a direct route, especially for a person who has been unknowingly racially-disrespectful towards her own race for most of her very existence. The road to awareness means phrasing our questions with love and sensitivity and being willing to ask and learn at the risk of being wrong. Yet the most attainable way to be an antiracist does not mean having naturally-pure and perfect thoughts, but identifying those imperfect thoughts immediately as unacceptable and inculcating a new outlook within our minds. To truly embody what it means to be stars, we must look towards progress not perfection. And this is when we will shine the brightest.

What are You? I'm Just Me. An Expression on Being Mixed Race by Elise W.

What are you? As a person of mixed race, white on my mother’s side and Asian on my father’s side, I face a challenging identity crisis when approaching the topic of race. The mix of my parents’ genes created a unique mix of facial features, which often invites debate over which race is more visible in my face. To my Asian paternal relatives, I have always looked more white; to my white maternal relatives, the opposite. Being asked my ethnicity in that way is not particularly offensive to me, however, I can’t help but to feel uncomfortable at the fact that dozens of people have looked at me and tried to decipher my ethnicity before asking that exact question.

I am not Asian enough in the eyes of my immigrant paternal grandparents, my Ahma and my Ahkung. I feel lesser than my fully Asian cousins, who can hold a conversation in Mandarin and receive proud looks and remarks from my grandparents as they devour any food prepared for them. I never learned more than a few words of Cantonese and Mandarin, and I do not eat all of the food my grandparents offer me, but, despite my white-washed way of living, I still wholly embrace my Taiwanese and Chinese roots. I know my grandparents love me for who I am, and I am not actually lesser to them, but it still breaks my heart when they can fail to look past the white half of me and assume I will not enjoy their side’s traditional Asian customs.

To my white family members, the differences in the lives of my cousins and I are more subtle, as they forget the names I call my paternal grandparents, or when they unconsciously tease, like some names and symbols in the movie Mulan. Still, I do not feel alienated from them as I do with my Asian cousins. Perhaps, through my sixteen years of living in a predominantly white town that has its fair share of people with discriminatory views, I have morphed into a person that is simply not so different from my maternal cousins.

I believe I am white-passing, though I do not necessarily look fully white, which has always made me feel invalidated as a person of color. For most of my life, I felt like I could not publicly express my culture or voice my experiences with race because I did not think I looked Asian enough for my experiences to be respected. At nine years old, when I wore a traditional Chinese qipao dress for a piano performance, I felt uneasy. Whether that was because I did not feel Chinese enough to wear the dress, or if I felt as though I would be judged for expressing my Asian heritage in front of my peers, I do not remember; however, I know that I was uncomfortable expressing myself in something that makes up half of my identity.

I have never wished that I was not Asian, but I have found myself, time and time again, wishing I was just one or the other, fully white or fully Asian. I see how my white friends upturn their noses at my favorite foods, and I feel the shame as I stare down at the floor while my cousins converse in Mandarin with my grandparents. If I was just fully Asian, I might know the languages of my Asian ancestors. I might eat more adventurously. I could simply be better in my grandparents’ eyes. If I was fully white, I would not have to muster up the courage to correct others on the pronunciation of my last name. I could stop caring about the rights of people of color and know that it would not affect me or my family in any way.

What am I? Despite being pushed and pulled in different directions, by my head and by my environment, and through my complex relationships with both sides of my family, I know that my race does not determine who I am. My identity is not dependent on knowing which side of my family I connect deeper with. Though race plays a role in my identity, that role is not the entirety of who I am; I am just me.