Identity

Everyone is racist. And if you reject that statement, then perhaps you can acknowledge everyone has prejudices, whether conscious or not. It’s easy to adopt stereotypes as a shorthand  without having to establish your own opinions. Sometimes, those stereotypes become ingrained and it’s perhaps not really “racist” but just a “fact.”

I would like to live in a world where we are just people. Humans. Not a particular “race” or “ethnicity” but I know no such utopia.

I have always felt “other.” Perhaps not “weird” but definitely “different.”

So yesterday when I saw I was pegged as “Asian” on this post, I felt a bit off.* Boxed in, personality obliterated by one word. I don’t live my life saying I’m Asian. It’s obvious when you look at my features. And ironically, I do mention I’m that “tall Asian girl” to people who’ve never met me but are looking for me during one of my food crawls or other events.

But I don’t feel Asian. Not in that sense. And even if I describe myself as ethnically Chinese, I don’t feel Chinese. It’s only a part of me. It does not encompass all of me. It is not who I am. It’s not what I’m about.

I’m me. Only me.

I remember when I was 10-years-old and visiting family in Hong Kong. I had a discussion with my grandmother about what is Chinese. She felt being Chinese was in your blood, your heritage and wherever you are, you are Chinese. I felt that it’s cultural and if you didn’t grow up Chinese, you are certainly not Chinese. My example was a Chinese baby growing up in Africa or South America. I probably should used myself as an example.

Did I not grow up Chinese? Although I was born in Los Angeles’ Chinatown and grew up in an ethnic enclave of mostly Asian (and Latino) people, it’s not the same as growing up in Hong Kong like my parents. When it comes down to it, I’m American. Asian American if you wish.

But even the people I think should feel more than “just being Chinese” are exactly that- Chinese. My cousin who is Swedish (his parents moved from Hong Kong to Sweden) didn’t feel Swedish growing up. He was marked as “other” long before he felt that way. Being Chinese in Sweden was tough. I imagine it would be much like growing up Chinese in a small town in America. When rejected as not “one of us,” you cling to what you do have. And for my cousin, that was being Chinese.

But for me, I feel constrained when I’m described as Asian, Chinese, whatever. My motto is “do something more, be something more.” I am more than a collection of people’s stereotypes. I am annoyed then when people ask me what am I.

I know exactly what they want to know. Sometimes they mistakenly ask “what is your nationality.” And I’m very gleeful when I answer American. They get frustrated because I already am not conforming to their notion Asians, especially women, are docile and meek.

Oh, that’s not why you want to know? Then why do you want to know? What answer would satisfy you? Because I find the question offensive, I choose invariably to play a passive-aggressive game of 20 questions until I give the answer they’re happy with. “My parents are from Hong Kong.”

I use these experiences to teach people the question is very racist. I remember being 12-years-old and yelling at a guy on the street who just called me a Nip because I refused to answer his attempt at fake Japanese. Obviously, I’ve had more than one racist comment before and after that.

When I got to college, I attempted to learn why were Asian Americans so hated  in America. I joined an Asian American leadership group. The AsAm kids I met, mostly 3rd or 4th generation take Asian American literature or leadership classes in an attempt to reconnect with a lost culture. They were completely different from me. I was the “other” again. I know who I am.

The answer, by the way, is found in the first paragraph of this blog. People are racist. People distrust anyone who are different from themselves. I would like to say we have evolved and while not hippy dippy, then more tolerant (look, we have a Black president!). But sadly, this is still a very racist nation.

After college, I began my life as simply me. Yes, I am influenced by where I came from. And I’m proud of that. I would not be me without those experiences. I have not disavowed connections to my ethnicity but I don’t feel it’s relevant to disclose it when asked by strangers who seem to have some sort of agenda or gain pleasure from singling out the “Asians.”

And now, I find the question “why are there so many Asian food bloggers” very racist.  People say it’s just a simple curiousity. The fact that it’s even noticed that they are “a lot of Asian food bloggers” means to me people still sort and categorize others.

But I can’t worry about that anymore. It depresses me. All I can do is live my life and be happy. I am more than a “tall Asian woman.” I say I’m a writer, artist and foodie. I hope others see I’m funny, intelligent, sweet, thoughtful, ambitious and other nice adjectives. But with the good there is bad. I am sarcastic, headstrong, independent and a non-conformist.  Or perhaps that’s not so bad.

To hell with it. I’m the Minty.

* I am flattered to be considered part of the LA Food Blogging scene with a month-old blog that doesn’t just cover food.

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