Becoming Asian

by doorhalfopen

Not too long ago I caught up with my old friend at lunch. We attended Chinese class before, and I always remembered him as someone who was much more attuned to American culture than his Asian side. He could speak Chinese pretty well, but his interests and inclinations were pretty mainstream American.

A couple of years back he started a new job that involved a lot of traveling. He ended up having to go to Washington DC pretty often. I thought that was pretty neat and a great opportunity to gain experience for his career. Outside of the work, however, it turned out that he felt pretty isolated in DC. Not overtly racist; he didn’t suffer any hate crimes or anything like that. But wherever he went he got unwelcome looks, and it just happened that there were very few Asians in the area. He rarely felt like this in California. In a lot of ways, he got the feeling that he wasn’t American. And this was in our nation’s capital.

At lunch he started telling me that these experience have made him feel more Chinese. He started to listen to more Chinese music and paid more attention to Chinese media. It was almost as though the unwelcome feeling led him to be more conscious of his Asian side. Even though my friend likely fit into the DC environment in every way other than appearance and skin color, he gravitated toward being more “Asian” because of the expectations he felt from his surroundings. As a result, the people who originally gave my friend the looks might find him even more foreign, and discriminate a little more. It’s sort of a chicken-or-the-egg issue, but we end up with the same unwanted result no matter what.

I feel like there must be studies about how people who are discriminated against will isolate themselves further from the mainstream. Are there any that are specific to Asian Americans?

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