Asian American X
An Intersection of Twenty-First Century Asian American Voices
Publication Year: 2004
Published by: University of Michigan Press
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This book would have been a passing thought without the generosity of our friends and mentors: Professor Ramsay Liem, Sophia Lai, Jennie Lin, Eric Liu, and Robin Tsai refined and enriched our introduction with their sharp wisdom. Jason Schwartz deserves special mention for his helpful edits and inspirational ideas. We are also grateful to Vickie Nam and Ruben...
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Before all of this—the thousands of emails, countless conversations, and the book contract that have led us here to the opening pages of Asian American X—we were simply old high school friends attending college in Boston, just trying to better understand ourselves. You might have called us constructively confused—groping in a cave of questions about identity and...
1. Label Us Angry
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We both attended elementary, middle, and high school in the quiet, prosperous, seemingly sophisticated college town of Palo Alto. In the third grade, we happily sang “It’s a Small World,” holding hands with the children of professors, graduate students, and professionals of the area, oblivious to our diversity in race, culture, or experience. Our small world grew larger as we...
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I could not have been more than five years old—in fact, I was definitely five because I remember jumping off of my father’s lap when he began yelling and pointing at the television, shocked beyond belief at the horrific images of mass executions of Sikhs following Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s assassination in 1984. Sikhs, a religious group marked visually by their turbans and...
3. Death of a Butterfly
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Mrs. Goncalves had red-orange shoulder-length hair complemented by her matching red-framed eyeglasses. She was considered to be the nicest teacher in the school because she supposedly treated her students more like adults than fifth-graders, rarely raised her voice, and often had us sing aloud to her cassette...
4. A Place Where I Want to Be
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When I was younger, I used to forget that I was Indian. I used to think that being Indian never came up for me. I now realize that I didn’t let it come up for me. I would never search for my Indian-ness. I realize now that what I would do was push it away. I never found my Indian-ness to be of any importance— even my parents didn’t find it to be important. All they would tell me...
5. Comings and Goings
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Breast milk: It’s the reason why I am here today, healthy and alive and able to share my experiences as an Asian American in this country. Aside from its nourishing attributes which encouraged my growth, breast milk is the essential reason why I am here—in the United States—and not in Vietnam, where I would have been, had it not been for that oh-so-tasty and enriching...
6. Seoul Searching
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Usually the metal bars lining the ceilings of a commuter train exhaust me. Whether in San Francisco or in Paris, I always find my arm stretched out like a human Gumby when faced with the uncomfortable reality of a full train. In Korea, however, the subway trains are better suited to fit my compact build. My arm reaches easily above to secure myself against the jarring of the...
7. Chinese Again
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I’m not a writer. I hate writing and frankly, I stink at it. In fact, my computer is telling me right now that this is 6.5-grade material. So much for an expensive private school education. I couldn’t care less about grammar right now because I hope that this will be known more for its honesty than for its writing mechanics. And I know this may not be the most eloquent essay...
8. Being Oil
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In fifth grade, I remember experimenting with the density of different liquids. My teacher had us pour cooking oil, rubbing alcohol, and colored water into a large beaker and observe as the different liquids separated themselves, as if they knew their differences and their place of belonging. The water found its way to the bottom of the beaker, the oil to the middle, and the alcohol to the...
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Certainly many new immigrants coming to America—from the Puritans to those arriving at Ellis Island—believed in this perception. However, while my history book gives me one definition, newspapers and television convey an entirely different meaning. If newspaper stories are an accurate reflection of social conditions, then Americans are a violent, gun-toting, lawsuit-crazed...
10. ABC for Life
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Katie Leung is a girl with long, black, straight hair and slanted eyes. She is short, petite, and has small feet. She loves to play volleyball and enjoys being active, although she has never learned karate like everyone assumes she has. Nor has she eaten dog. She does, however, use chopsticks when she eats dinner, and yes, she always has white rice. She wears T-shirts, jeans, and...
11. How Not to Eat Pho: Me and Asia America
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I was brought up as a kid on a daily helping of good ol’ American hot dogs and beans, so one can imagine how different a bowl of Vietnamese pho would have tasted to a college kid who had been taught all his life that “it was okay to like Asian food, but just not to let other people see you eat it.” As a third-generation Chinese American on my mom’s side and as a fourth-generation...
12. A Little Too Asian and Not Enough White
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I hesitate to even call myself Asian American. No, I am not an ideologue blindly devoted to the oftentimes suffocating sense of political correctness that seems to have found its way into even the darkest conservative corners. As far as I’m concerned I am 100 percent white—that is, if you ignore my eyes and skin tone. I possess no claim to any sort of traditional Asian or Asian...
13. Half and Half
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Sometimes I wonder what this introduction means to the other end. More often, though, I wonder what it means to myself. Just as the generic name reflects, I consider myself half-Taiwanese and half-American—culturally, that is. However, Taiwanese and American cultures are in many ways incompatible with each other, so how does one reconcile these two? I confess that I...
14. China Pearl
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I look at my grandparents across the pink tablecloth and try to think of something to say to these relatives whom I haven’t seen in nearly a decade. My Cantonese is pretty much limited to “I have this,” “I want that,” “I eat this.” I am silent, nervous. I am thankful for the loud chatter from the other tables...
15. Roots and Wings
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For a long time, a period of eighteen years, my soul slept. It remained dormant, giving no thought to one of the most important questions we can ask ourselves: Who am I? From birth to emigration from my homeland, from my entry into America to entry into college, I never seriously asked myself who I was. It never occurred to me to inquire about it. Until age seven, my world...
16. Creating Myself
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This essay about my Asian American identity will not always seem to make sense or present clear ideas. But I myself don’t have a clear sense or idea of what my identity is yet. In terms of age, I’m only twenty-one, which is fairly young. I haven’t had all the experiences or situations other people have had, but I want to share what I have learned and who...
17. Drawing the Boundaries
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When I was student-teaching, a white student told me that several black and Latino students had called him racist names. I wondered if this was a case of “getting a taste of your own medicine”—a white person experiencing the discrimination which has shaped so much of my life. Yet, horrified that I might have taken any satisfaction in my student’s crisis, I questioned strongly my...
18. Lost and Found in Asian America
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Apparently this is not a satisfactory answer, as he repeats his inquiry and I respond, trying to find the right answer. “Japanese and Japanese? Japanese and American? Japanese and what?” Finally he seems to figure it out. I explain to him that both of my parents are of Japanese heritage. This seems plain and simple to me, but it seems to leave him in some state of...
19. Brown in Faded Blue Genes
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My search for an Asian identity in America has been a long process. I have searched through books. I’ve read prehistory chapters on the inhabitants of the islands before they were known as the Philippines. I’ve bought tapes on how to speak Tagalog, the national language. I know how to carry a basic conversation. I have watched movies in Tagalog in order to observe the...
20. Out and About: Coming of Age in a Straight White World
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Author’s note: I have changed the names of places and people—including my own—in this narrative, in a sense to protect the innocent, or those critical people in my life to whom the sensitive details contained within it are not yet known. I struggled somewhat endlessly with this decision, as it alternatively seemed to me a renunciation of that which I had worked so hard to...
21. Understanding Life, Ma, and Me
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The first memory I have is of slapping my mother in front of dozens of shocked adults at a party . . . Granted I was only three at the time, yet still I have never forgotten (or perhaps more appropriately, my mother has never let me forget) the pinnacle incident that marked my rebellious entry into society. There are many memories from my childhood that are my...
22. Another American Mutt
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It’s odd and sweetly ironic to think that the one time in my education when learning about colors seemed such a large part of the curriculum was the small chunk of my life when I did not think to consider my own color. We learned the spectrum in grade school: red, blue, yellow, green, black, white. We learned to mix two shades to get another. We learned that mixing too...
23. Shen ai shi ren
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The pigtails on my seven-year-old head swung like mini-jumpropes as I scurried into the breakfast nook. In between gasps for air, I excitedly announced, “Ma Ma? Ba Ba? Wo jue ding le! Wo bu yao jiang guo yu le. Oops. I mean, Mom? Dad? I’ve decided! I’m not going to speak Chinese anymore. I’m going to speak English only. Well . . . starting...
24. Brown Skin
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Freedom. The closing prayer had just released my classmates and me from the clenches of Sunday school, lessons of Daniel and the lions’ den fleeing far from our minds as we stampeded to the foursquare court in the back church parking lot. Boys untucked their collared shirts, stuffed their clip-on ties in their pockets, and all threw their punch-stained Bibles to bake on the...
25. The Confession: Part Two
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You see, I have always looked a little different ever since I can remember. The comment I hear most often is, “You’re Indian? You can’t be.” Even Desis would ask me this trite question.¹ After I tell people that I am Indian, they still don’t believe me. For the longest time I thought it was a curse from...
26. The Jazzian Singer
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Donned in a sleek, pinstriped suit, the jazz singer assumes her place at the microphone. She faces a waving sea of swing dancers; they rise and fall in perfect synchronization with the music’s smooth beat. Behind her, a thirty-piece band blares out a brass-inflected introduction. The throng turns to her, hesitantly yet expectantly. And she starts to...
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I have three memories of the time before I was six years old. One is of coming back home to our Taipei apartment and finding it ransacked by robbers. The other two memories are of being punished with my older brother. There isn’t much more to say about the first memory except that my present fear of leaving the house and encountering strangers may very well come...
28. There’s No Place like Home
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Squatting in an attic throughout life as a college student, you forget the reasons why you are so mobile in terms of lifestyle. My administrative assistant’s paycheck financed lavish dinners, bar nights, late-night movies, fleamarket finds, groceries from the farmer’s market, a trip...
29. Thin Enough to Be Asian
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Writing down a list of food that I had put into my body for that certain day would calm me down a little bit. It was as if writing each item down on paper allowed me to be in control of what I had eaten. In control of the chyme already churning inside my stomach, already being digested in my intestines, already absorbed into my body. Of course, I had no control at all but needed...
30. Language and Identity
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Gaijin, I thought again, as the whistle blew and echoed among the concrete buildings that surrounded the soccer field. The word would not leave my head even as I joined my teammates in the traditional Japanese game-ending ritual. Both teams lined up at the centerfield, bowed to each other first, and then bowed to the...
31. Who Am I?
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I am a neuroscience graduate student at UC Berkeley. My name is Gordon Wang. I am Chinese in origin and American in national affiliation. Do you know me now? Can you say, “Ah, Gordon. I know him well.” Not likely. We all realize that the identity of a person is much more than anything that can be named, categorized, and abstracted. Yet we all have the intuition that...
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At the start of summer, I got an email from my friend. It was about making this book. “Dope, I got a lotta shit I wanna talk about,” I told him. Now that I’m actually writing this essay, I don’t know where I’m going with this. So I think I’m just gonna let my thoughts run freely, and see where they take...
33. Caught between Cultures: Identity, Choice, and the Hyphenated American
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I cannot understand why some people, especially other Asian Americans, do not see the same importance of Asian American issues as I do. Unfortunately, my egocentricity is a dead giveaway of my immaturity, for I lack the patience for people to have their epiphanies concerning their cultural identities— whether they be friends or strangers. These epiphanies, however, may not...
34. The Paradox of Being Too Chinese and Not Chinese Enough
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I grew up in Monterey Park, California, the first suburban Chinatown. During the influx of Asian immigration in the 1980s, Monterey Park went through a dramatic transformation as large numbers of Asian immigrants, mainly Chinese immigrants, settled in this small suburb of Los Angeles. Many of the white residents attempted to keep the Asian and Latino...
35. I Am Going Home
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Outside, it starts to rain. I pick up my drawing portfolio and stand there motionless, voiceless. Then the word “good-bye” slips from my lips and, in what seems a second later, I am in the sky. I feel a hard object in my pocket and discover a platinum ring. It is my grandmother’s ring. My nose becomes sour and I close my...
Page Count: 264
Illustrations: 1 drawing
Publication Year: 2004