Asian American.1

26 11 2008

It’s raining outside and I‘m sitting in a crisp-smelling Borders flipping though a book titled Asian American X. Getting over the badly designed cover, I open it to see if the words inside can better captivate me. Contained in the volume are several short pieces of writing composed by Asian-Americans. Their views are varied and encompass a myriad of different feelings and ideas, but there is one similarity that connects each author–the fact that they themselves feel so unfamiliar with whom they really are.

I’ve never really questioned why the decimation of three-million Cambodians only receives a simple blurb in high school textbooks, or why when I try to talk about these three-million people, it is almost always new news to others. I never really questioned. I never really questioned why I accept the label ‘Asian’ when the cultures that comprise who I am are so radically and richly different. I guess it’s easy to fall into a sense of complacency and comfort as long as you tell yourself there are more important things to worry about.

As I continued to read, I could feel a growing unease scratching the pit of my stomach. I was uncomfortably aware that I could relate to these authors.

My close friend and I hold two differing beliefs when it comes down to Asian-American identity. My friend believes that it is inevitable that Asian-Americans will mix and embrace American culture, so one should just embrace it–embrace everything America stands for–you know, equality, freedom, hope, bootstraps–all that and other words with the same connotations. Don’t get me wrong, I believe this is a valid argument, but as I’ve already stated, I don’t agree with it.

Of course, with future generations–the third, the fourth, the fifth, things will change, but I believe the question is not when, but how these generations will change. The period we live in marks a crucial point in shaping the Asian-American identity. By 2070, it is estimated that 1/3 of Asian-Americans will be mixed. What I am trying to say is that as first or second generation Asian-Americans, we are the only link that connects future generations of Asian Americans with the past generations who lived in Asia–that is to say, we are the gap that bridges the old and the new—what we make of this responsibility is entirely upon ourselves.

My grandfather passed away two weeks ago and until then I did not realize that throughout my life, I’ve been learning things at school: math, science, History, English–but what was really missing in my studies was an education of who I am. It never occurred to me to ask my grandfather how to cook his (delicious) egg cake or make noodles (from scratch). It never occurred to me to ask him about his past life in China or interesting stories or why we preformed certain traditions the way we did; my grandpa seemed immortal to me, it never occurred to me that along with his physical passing there also passed with him a rich, cultural legacy.

My friend is true in claiming that as generations progress, Asian-Americans will further latch themselves onto popular American culture—denying this is denying the inevitable. Where I choose to deviate from my friend is the belief that we should merely sit idle and let wave after wave of Hollywood-manufactured American culture shape who we, as Asian Americans are. Undoubtedly if left unchecked, the future of Asian-America will be comprised of the kung-fu-fighting, Harvard educated, sex kittens Asian Americans have been associated with.

What I am ultimately trying to say, is that this is a pivotal point in Asian-American history—for many, this period will serve as the time when traditions and legacies are remembered or forgotten. I am not calling for any type of radical change, but simply that we need to take hold of what traditions and culture we can before the oozing ebb of manufactured American Culture steals it away and transforms it into next year’s new Urban Outfitter scarf or some exotic sixth flavor from Asia.

Note: I understand some gross exaggerations are used in this entry.