What Does It Mean To Be Asian?

A-Line’s Features Editor gives us her take on this proverbial question. This piece also appeared in the Spring 2010 issue.

By Angela Hu

As much as people like to believe rice cookers and red envelopes make up part of the Asian identity — that is simply not the case.  The stereotypes that have since encumbered the idea of what it is to be Asian will probably never die down.  Being Asian is not only a bubble on a scantron sheet or a way of life, but more critically, it encompasses one part of a culture that thrives on tradition and heritage.

In a country where words such as “melting pot” and “diversity” are thrown ubiquitously around, being “Asian” in America can most definitely be categorized even into smaller fields.  According to EricDigests.org, stereotypical Asians are depicted as “geniuses,” “overachievers,” “nerdy,” “great in math or science,” “competitive,” “uninterested in fun” and “4.0 GPAs.”

Unfortunately for my parents, I never did fall under any of those categories.  Instead of being the math and science genius my parents had hoped for, I delved myself into literature, never opted to be the best student in class and always went out with friends on a Saturday night.

At the time, I don’t think my parents were particularly thrilled at my frivolous way of living.  But one ideal they did cultivate in me during my time of rebellion was my sense of individuality not only in myself, but also as an Asian American.

Having immigrated to the United States from Taiwan when I was 8, I never did know where to place myself in the social bubble.  Was I obligated to befriend other Asian students who, technically, were just like me?  Or did people expect me to branch out of my own insecurities and expand the language and culture barriers that many immigrants often face in the initial stages of acclimating to a new environment?

It’s always been difficult trying to find the right balance between juggling the Taiwanese heritage that I was born into, and the American culture that I have since enveloped myself with.  And yet, after 11 years, I still don’t have a concrete answer to those questions.

I’ve realized that being “Asian” cannot be defined in a few simple words.  It’s a matter of coming to terms with what you’re willing to embrace and also give up.  I find myself learning more about my Taiwanese heritage through my grandmother, my icon and treasure into a side of myself I had been unwilling to explore.  Her stories inspire me to seek deeper into my Asian past and has given me a reason to be more proactive about learning as an Asian American.

The most crucial aspect of being Asian and Asian American is upholding values held by both cultures — without losing one to another.  It’s about embracing the traditions our parents taught us while moving forward and making it our own.


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