For the celebration of Asian Pacific Islander American (APIA) Month, I thought I would share a story that strengthened my identity as an Asian American and helped me understand that being identified as an Asian American is not always easily recognized.
Last week I was at the airport coming home from a college visit. I was sitting at the airport patiently waiting to board. A senior couple behind my friend and I attempted to grab my passport as a joke. After telling me to put away my passport in case of a real theft, we had a light conversation that lasted for about twenty minutes. They were very nice people and I was glad to have someone talk to for the remaining hour.
However our conversation reached a point where I said to myself, “Really?” Whenever I answer this question, it never pleases the interrogator and so he or she would repeatedly ask again until the desired answer was obtained. The question that the senior couple asked was, “Where are you from?”
Instinctively I quickly replied with, “Oh I’m from Boston, MA” seeing as we were at an airport, I was sure they wanted to know which city I was from. They shook their heads and laughed once again asking, “No, where are you from?” This time around I looked at them questionably. “Oh,” I said finally, “I’m from the United States.” No, that did not satisfy the two. But this time they asked, “Where are your parents from?” “China,” I said. Suddenly, I felt a wave of confusion and frustration because they nodded their heads and smiled. Were they trying to understand my ethnicity? But why did they ask such a question in order to obtain it? Did they not think I was American based on how I look? Questions raced through my head as I turned around to face the people again.
Our conversation did not end just yet. Laughingly they asked me yet another question. “Where do you think we’re from?” Before I could even reply, they said, bursting with laughter, “Yeah, we’re going home to Providence, Rhode Island!” I didn’t understand the joke as they continued to laugh, but I felt that they were insinuating something through their grins. I was sure that it wasn’t an intentional, hostile, racist remark, but nevertheless it felt blatant and subtle. How come they were able to say they were from Provide, Rhode Island, and I could not be from Boston, MA?
While I dove deeper into this question I began to think about all the times I was asked, “Do you speak English,” and “Where are you from?” I’ve only been asked twice for each of these questions. Because I live in a very diverse, accepting neighborhood, I was never exposed to such. But now reflecting back, I feel that Asians, among other ethnicities are always labeled as being the “perpetual immigrant.”
When I learned about the term, “perpetual immigrant” from one of the A-VOYCE workshops, I never fully grasped the concept behind it until I experienced it first hand. How I view myself is not how others view me. Are we labeled as perpetual immigrants because there is always an influx of Asian immigrants? Is it because some of us refuse to be identified as American? Or is it possibly because we have not been in the United States long enough to be recognized as Americans? But we have lived on American soil for over 100 years, making a great impact in American history. Then, why? Why are we neglected in history text books? Why is it that there is only a paragraph or less in the World War II chapter that talk about Japanese Internment Camps?
Perhaps it still takes some more time for people to recognize us. However, meanwhile we will simply not be sitting on our chairs, twiddling our thumbs, and waiting for change to occur. No, we will be advocating, bringing awareness, and sharing our stories. Our voices will be heard.
-Tai Tung Village Youth