“Where are you from?”
“No,” he said as he shook his head. “You can’t be. Where are you actually from?”
He specifically slowed down when he said “actually,” making sure that I understood what he meant. The thing is, I already knew what he meant; I just did not want to feed into his ignorance. “China?” he asked aggressively seeing that I hesitated to answer his question. “Japan? Korea? Vietnam?” “Taiwan,” I said softly but firmly. “Ah, Taiwan,” he said as he sat back into his seat with a smile on his face like he had won the battle. As a matter of fact, he did; in this battle of ignorance and stereotypes, he won against me.
My name is Bryan Chou, and I was born and raised in Taiwan. I sometimes tell people I’m from Chicago because, well I went to high school in the suburbs of Chicago, so it’s not a complete lie, but also because I try to avoid the following statement: “wow, your English is very good.” I say thank you despite the fact that I don’t take that as a compliment, at all. The implied meaning of the statement is “you surprised me with your English,” which can also be translated to “I expected your English to be poor when you said you were from Taiwan.”
The first week of high school, when I was 14, I knew that I had to get rid of my accent completely. It wasn’t because I knew my accent could be used against me but because I wanted to be social. I wanted to sit at the cool kids’ table, talk about Gossip Girl in the student lounge, and order my food smoothly at the Cheesecake Factory. Like everyone else, I wanted to fit in, but I soon realized that I needed to do way more than perfecting my accent. Fitting in meant from catching up with the past 14 years of pop culture, shopping at Abercrombie & Fitch to changing my name to something easier to pronounce for teachers and peers or even owning a US passport so when you make travel plans with your friends for spring break, you wouldn’t need to take the extra step to apply for visas or getting in another line to get back into the US.
Maybe I could have fit in completely, but I am glad that I didn’t. I love sitting on my bed and listen to K-Pop instead of the Beatles. I love eating tons of dumplings for dinner, not a filet mignon. I absolutely love my green jacket from a small boutique in Tokyo, not H&M. These are all a part of my life, and I wouldn’t change them for anything. They make me interesting; they make me happy; they make me Bryan Chou.
I am a graduating senior from college. My favorite color is blue. My phone case is a giant teddy bear, and I also have the exact same stuffed animal named Frankie (if you search the hashtag #FrankieDiaries on Instagram, you’ll see him traveling everywhere with me).
My name is Bryan Chou, and I am so much more than just an Asian student.