“And it’s because you’re Asian,” someone suggested.
I had just described the taunts, the teasing, the pain of childhood growing up in a predominantly white suburbia. I blinked. “No,” I said. “It’s because I was too different.”
I meant that I was different because who I was. My quiet personality, my way of thinking that didn’t adhere to the norms, my creativity that seemed to be lacking in other kids, my innate lack of coordination.
To this day, I always wondered why I never heard racist comments until I was in my mid-twenties. Was it because I only wanted to hear things that were only about me…and if it’s a group, my brain completely filtered it out? Or was the pain so directly to my internal me that I never thought that it was part of how I looked? Or that really my school was 10% Asian and located so close to San Francisco, diversity was so ingrained in the culture that I never really felt different from other kids except that I was socially awkward and intense? Or even worse, did I participate in the racism against my own heritage? I am not sure.
Now aware of the subtle racism toward Asian Americans, my sensitivity has risen to great heights. I cringe when someone yells “Gangnam Style” to an Asian style. I don’t like the word “chink” or any movement to squint someone’s eyes.
I know that I hate being asked “where are you from”, especially when it’s intention is to figure out what my ethnicity is.
Two years ago, I was going through a period where I wanted to live anywhere but the Bay Area. I went on an international trip bouncing from New York City to Ireland, the United Kingdom, and Germany. But to my surprise, I found that I was lucky in the Bay Area. My identity as an Asian American is not perceived as strange, weird, or odd. Whether it’s due to the fact that I grew up this way…or because I was truly lucky, I felt comfortable in the Bay Area. I came to the conclusion that there are very few places in the world that I would feel ok with who I am…on the outside.