What Does It Mean to be Asian and American?

I am Asian American. 

More clearly, I am Vietnamese and Chinese American. 

I was born in the States, and I grew up in California, and this is my home. Yet somehow when strangers ask me the question, “Where are you from?” I am aware that they’re not asking whether I’m American, they’re asking for my race, where my family and ancestors came from.

I have been happy to answer this question, but I’ve noticed over the years that who I am, my sense of identity, seems split. I am never an Asian American to these people, I am Asian, I am Vietnamese or Chinese, and I will always be “from” somewhere else, far away.

So what happens when I feel this disconnect? I was born and raised here. This is who I am. I am not just Asian; I am American, too. I am lucky to have grown up knowing the language of my ancestors and lucky to be a native speaker in Vietnamese. However, while I’m connected to my culture, it still seems miles away. 

Photo: Dương Nhân on Pexels

Perhaps it’s the cultural disconnect of growing up with a Western mindset. It’s been a point of contention for me my whole life. I am just an ABC (American Born Chinese) to my elders who scoff at my “radical” and liberal views, too American to understand “tradition.”

Yet here, I am not fully accepted as an American, either. Well-meaning strangers always assume my place. I grow tired of having to prove myself. Why should there be another place where people think I “belong” if this is all I have ever known? 

If my family before me immigrated here and call this country our home, then is this not where I belong? 

I love the homeland of my ancestors, but while I can learn about Vietnam and China from textbooks and recalled family stories, it is not nearly the same as flourishing in that environment. Here, in front of other Americans, I am too quiet, too shy and passive. My peers say I am “nice.” 

At home in front of generations of family who have lived through a different regime, they scowl and deem me too Americanized. I am too stubborn and “talk back.”

Photo: RODNAE Productions on Pexels

I want to believe that every person who asks where I’m from is genuinely curious about my culture. However, when my background becomes written off by individuals as an anecdote for popular foods like phở, bánh mì or boba (which if anyone cares to learn, originated in Taiwan), I get tired of trying to explain my identity.

I’ve struggled to understand my place in this intersection of my culture, upbringing and environment. My conclusion is that my identity is Asian American, and they are not separate and mutually exclusive. 

If the U.S. proclaims itself as a melting pot, then why can’t I blend together my sense of identity? I am always one or the other, too much of this and not enough of that. Yet I am the product of learning in an environment that is so vastly different from what my family has known. 

The paradigm should be that I am Asian American, meaning I am both Asian and American. Maybe I am not “enough” of one or the other, but I am perfectly suspended in the in-between. This is my experience. 

Written by Kaleen Luu
Featured Photo: Tasha Kamrowski on Pexels
Read Next: #VANLIFE: The Nomadic Movement Taking Over American Culture


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