Though my mother tried to keep me in touch with my Asian side, I rebelled. I rejected things Asian and clung to things Puerto Rican and southern. In grade school, high school and college, I was often paired with the Asian boys, though I was never attracted to them. However, they did become some of my most treasured friends.
In second grade, my mother helped my brownie troop dress in traditional Korean dress and learn a Korean dance for a community international day. I still have the dress she so painstakingly made for me. I also kept a scrapbook with the Korean flag on it that she had bought on one of her trips to Korea. But in everyday life, I, too, forgot my own biological past.
However, I was often reminded. In grade school, I was teased about my eyes, and chants about the Chinese would be used to me to intimidate me. Once in college, I was at a frat party and wearing sunglasses. A brother came up to me and said, “Wow, you actually look normal with those sunglasses on.” Normal. My life was never normal, but I love it that way.
In one large college class, I sat. The professor started calling roll. He said my name, and looked around the room. He was scanning for a Mexican, a Puerto Rican, someone who wasn’t me. I raised my hand. His gaze passed over me, as if to say, “Oh, she doesn’t understand English well.” He then repeated my name again. And I had to clear my throat and say, “Um, that’s me.”
Another classmate’s mother was doing research on the make-up of our freshman college class. Her daughter was in my Spanish class and told me her mother had mentioned a Latino student who had ticked the incorrect Asian American box. She told her daughter that she would have to change the data for that student. The classmate revealed to her mother that such a young woman existed … me.
I still struggle with the race question. What box should I tick? Should I answer “yes” to the question of Latino descent? I usually tick “other” unless there is the wonderful option, “prefer not to answer.”
I, too, am frustrated by "checkboxes" of cultural and ethnic identity. I self-identify as southern (Tennessean, to be precise) and Puerto Rican. This frustration came to a head when I began collecting demographics data about the people in my dissertation research.
Determined not to force people to check boxes that limited their own defintions of who they are, I simply included an open answer on my surveys and decided to leave the specifics for those who wanted to participate further as case studies. What surprised me was how many folks listed two or more racial, ethnic, or cultural categories or identities. (Perhaps it shouldn't have surprised me, of all people, but it did.)
Thank you for sharing your stories. I'm so proud of who I am, of who we are.
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