ASIAN ENOUGH?

“You’re not Asian enough,” bluntly stated my housemate Tony. He was just in the process of explaining the stereotypical differences between Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Vietnamese people. I had stood there in the kitchen with what, I suppose, seemed like a blank expression since I had never heard of the extent of these labels before. This expression resulted in the previously mentioned comment from my Hong-Kong born housemate. My blank look quickly transformed into one of offense and hurt. I looked up the definition of Asian. According to the Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary, “Asian” meant “of, relating to, or characteristic of the continent of Asia or its people.” Both of my parents were from Hong Kong. Doesn’t that make me an Asian?

Tony had moved to Canada a little over a decade ago and remained immersed in Chinese culture by reading Chinese books, listening to Chinese music, and frequently speaking Cantonese. I, on the other hand, was born and raised in an isolated rural town, with a miniscule Chinese population, way up north near Alaska, but still in BC. I can’t read Chinese and can barely speak or understand Cantonese. My spoken language at home is best described as “Chinglish”. My white friends can slaughter me in any competition involving chopsticks skills. I make considerable attempts to avoid rice thanks to the latest low-carb diet fads. My parents refer to me as a “Banana” or a “CBC.” Yellow on the outside, white on the inside. Canadian Born Chinese. I still get confused over what is the proper context to use which form of “thank you” in the Cantonese language. In most cases, I just say both of them and hope the receiver of my gratitude will understand. But my skin is yellow. Doesn’t that make me an Asian?

Throughout my childhood, alienated in a western culture, I have felt the presence of my race. In elementary school I was mocked by fellow students that pulled the corners of their eyelids and spoke in obnoxious “Chinese” voices. I suffered through many racist rhymes about Chinese culture. I still remember one of them. It flowed with the tune of “This old man…” The beginning lines were “Me Chinese, Me so dumb…” When I was twelve I entered high school. Here I learned that Chinese people were apparently brilliant students. In math class, if someone didn’t know the answer, someone else would say, “ask her, she’s Chinese.” This was a high standard to live up to. I started studying all the time. My text books became permanently attached to my hands. I even put study notes in clear waterproof page protectors so I could study during my swimming practices. When I graduated from secondary school I was the valedictorian as a result of my academic record. I have endured stigmatization and stereotypes as a result of the yellow color of my skin. Doesn’t that make me an Asian?

Now I am a student here at UBC, or as some people have nofficially designated it, the University of a Billion Chinese. To some people, I am one of many. To others, like my housemate, I am different. Some people don’t think I am a Canadian; apparently I’m not white enough. Some people don’t think I am Chinese; apparently I don’t act like an Asian. For a while, I wasn’t sure myself what I was. According to my friends, Asian and non-Asian, I was definitely a “white-washed Asian” who looked neither Asian nor Canadian, perhaps a halfie? Nevertheless, no matter how westernized, I was still yellow. Doesn’t that make me an Asian?

Even though I still don’t know when to use “mh goi” or “do jeh”, even though my proficiency of the Chinese language is, at best, laughable, even though I was kicked out of Chinese school several times for disruptive behavior I am proud to be Chinese. I am proud to say that my culture invented gun powder, compasses, the printing press, and the only man-made structure that can be seen from the moon with a naked eye. I am proud to say that my people have historically persevered against immense racism upon arrival in Canada in such forms as “The Chinese Exclusion Act” and the “Chinese Head Tax.” Despite potential problematic representations of my culture from Disney films, I feel a surge of pride whenever I watch Mulan. I am Chinese. I am an Asian. And nobody can take that away from me.

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terryman

April Tam is in her fourth year at UBC doing a double major in women\'s studies and psychology. April grew up in a small northern town in British Columbia with a miniscule Chinese population. During the summer she worked at an aluminum smelter, Alcan, driving machinery in the basement and trying to avoid potential fatalities by exploding, dripping, or gushing molten aluminum. Despite the risks, working at Alcan was a blast as long as she was able to drive the bobcat machine.

4 Responses to “ASIAN ENOUGH?”

  1. Erika

    I’m an Asian-American girl reading this while spending a year teaching in China. I’m not Chinese, and I’m only half- Korean. I find myself constantly frustrated with having to explain my ethnicity to every person I meet, and why I don’t speak Korean. There are million of second generation Polish, German, and Italian Americans who don’t speak Polish, German, and Italian, but for some reason it’s always one of the first three questions that people ask me when they meet me.

    Being in China, I’m never Asian enough and never white enough. Chinese people want their English speakers to be white and they think that I’m really strange. And the other American expats don’t talk to me because they think that I’m Chinese. If they do talk to me, they forget who I am. Even after having hour long conversations with me. I can’t tell you how lonely I feel.

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