The Overlooked Asian-American
“The model-minority myth entails a particular demographic to be perceived to achieve a higher degree of socioeconomic success than the population average.”
This theory has hindered the asian-american community from being involved from progressive conversations due to the false assumption that the asian community is not in need of it.
Being a gay asian-american, my identity often feels forgotten and swept aside. Conversations about asian portrayal in the media, adversity with asian men within the gay community and lack of representation seem to remain watered-down.
The Overlooked Asian-American is a collective series that includes experiences and thoughts by other asian-americans in a diary entry style.
-Isiah S Magsino
Ellie Kim: Korean-American
I am a Korean-Caucasian-American woman. I am also Jewish, and was raised in the southern city of Richmond.
Around Christmastime five years ago, I went to a Korean church with my cousins in New Jersey. I was mostly just excited to spend time with my family and to learn more about their experience as asian catholics. But, my experience was quite different from what I expected.
I felt at home when we walked into the church, but as soon as my cousins introduced me to their friends, I suddenly felt out of place. They immediately pinpointed the fact that I am half Caucasian and told me how lucky I was to be a “halfie.” My look so evidently “different” from theirs was apparently something to be envied. From my double eyelids to my tanned skin, I appeared so different to them. And although they only meant well, I felt like a zoo animal. I had never before been ogled at so much based on my racial appearance and was, quite frankly, shocked. Although I have always been proud of my mixed-race identity, I always just thought of me as, well, me. And considering my best friend since birth had the epiphany in 9th grade that I was half Korean, and not just Ellie, my friends growing up have tended to think of me in that way as well. But, when I was surrounded by people with whom I identified greatly with, only to have them label me as “other,” I felt so heart-wrenchingly out of place. I was suddenly being considered more for my whiteness than my asianness than ever before, and felt completely like an outsider. I felt caught in between - not fully Korean, but not fully white either. But, I suppose, that is what I am.
Ever since that moment, my racial identity has come to the forefront of how I view myself as a human within the world. My personality, and how I treat others will, to me, always ultimately be the things that define me the most. However I now value my race more than ever. Although I am neither fully Korean nor fully Caucasian, my identity and racial heritage are as strong and defining as any other. I take who I am in full stride, and use my race as a tool for self-discovery and personal growth.
Milou Haskin: Japanese American
My racial identity has been continually informed by others’ reactions to me. In America, I am “the Asian girl.” In Japan, I am “a half,” perpetually a foreigner. “Halfs,” as they are labelled in Japan, refer to any mixed-race individual who is half Japanese. In Japanese culture, we are idolized and seen as exotic, but this affirmation does not lead to acceptance. Straying from the physical norms of Japanese appearances, the traces of European influence molded into my features are admired. But the same features that invite compliments and differentiate me from a Japanese girl keep me from ever being able to be simply Japanese. I am praised for being bi-racial, but they frowned at my body—I was too tall and had curves in ways that I was not supposed to. So in America, the melting pot of racial identities, I should be able to find refuge, right? But I was disillusioned far too young to ever believe a thought so naïve.
“You’re so pretty for an Asian!” other kids would say to me. A compliment that I would receive, neither of us knowing how loaded it was with racial undertones. This compliment was always handed to me from a place of surprise. How could it be that someone who did not fit European beauty standards could be considered attractive? This compliment was always presented with a limitation. You are pretty, but within your racial group—only in comparison to the standard set by the Asian stereotype. You could say that I’m reading too far into it, that it was just a harmless compliment. I should smile and accept it graciously. They were calling you pretty for god’s sake! I had many friends say this to me when I would reflect on these instances. What pained me the most is that half of the time these friends were themselves Asian American. Half of the people giving me this compliment were Asian American. But this was not a surprise. These hidden meanings run far and deep into the minds of young Asian American girls.
Growing up, I did not know a single Asian girl who had not, at one point or another, dreamed of being blonde-haired and blue-eyed. “Whitewashed” is a term that is all too familiar to my childhood self. I would ask for sandwiches instead of traditional Japanese bentos to avoid ridicule. I would feel ashamed when my Asian mother would stumble through English words. I would look to see my fully Asian friends do anything they could to shed the label of “Asian”.
As I grew older, peoples’ reactions to me evolved. Now, I was told I was exotic, lucky to be more than “plain white.” Now, I was a part of the top tier of the sexual hierarchy, dominated by white and Asian women, and black men. Now, I should feel lucky that my identity is fetishized, coveted by others. In the end, my identity was something that was never mine to be created. It was reflected to me based on the approval and admiration I received from others. It was given to me, but I had never asked for it.
A monk who I explained the Japanese terminology of being “half” to, once looked back at me with warm eyes and said, “You are not half. You are whole.” This is something every young person, not just the biracial ones and not just the Asian American ones, needs to hear. You are whole. Not because someone finally told you that you could be, but because you inherently are. No matter where you fall in the eyes of others, in the collective eyes of society, you as a human being are completely and utterly whole. I would tell my younger self to remember this and to ignore any of the people who make you feel differently. You cannot allow your sense of self to be shaped by others, they will always mold you in the way that serves them. I would tell my younger self, “You are Asian American and you are, in every sense of the word, whole.”