Literacy Narrative

Like many Asian Americans, I do not feel like a “real” Asian or American. If I had to make an analogy, I would be like fusion cuisine. Unlike many Asian Americans, I grew up in the Bronx around Parkchester which has a very small East Asian population. The area I live in consists mostly of Indians, next door is populated by Hispanics, Mexicans, and blacks. The schools I’ve attended also had a small percentage of Asians so the environment made me feel like an outlier. I always felt like a minority but thankfully I’ve never really felt left out. Whenever I entered a new school during middle or high school, I would always feel awkward. I don’t know whether it was because I was the only Asian in my class or because I had no friends in the new environment or maybe it was both. That didn’t matter because I quickly found friends that still to this day are some of my best friends. What’s cool is that my school is predominantly black and my best friends I’ve made in high school were also the “minority”. My friends and I like to jokingly boast that our lunch table was the most diverse in the whole school with a Chinese person (me), someone of Indian descent, the Dominican Republic, and someone who says he is white but he’s actually mixed. He doesn’t like being called mixed for some reason but I like to tease him by calling him Mr. Worldwide. 

One incident I found funny was that although my high school had a really small number of Asian students, we didn’t really talk to each other that much. At that time, my knowledge was that there were only four Asian students including me. One day, one of them talked to me and I decided to hang out with him after school. We had a nice conversation but the next question he asked threw me for a loop, “Are you from China or did you grow up here?”. Here I thought that my American accent was a dead giveaway so I lied to his face and told him in perfect English, “Yeah man, I have only been in America since the start of high school.” He replied, “Wow! Seriously? How did you learn English that fast?”. To this day, I don’t know if he was messing with me with that question but boy was it a unique experience being asked that question by another Asian peer. 

Although I never felt ostracized for being Asian, I did feel like people had set some stereotypical expectations out of me. For example, when our PSAT exams came back to give us our scores, everyone wanted to look at mine. It was like everyone was expecting me to have a high SAT score but there were plenty of smart honors kids sitting beside me. There was also this one time I was buying a shirt from the bookstore in high school. At the cash register was my gym teacher, he asked a math question out of the blue. Thankfully, I answered it correctly because it was in the morning and I was running with two hours of sleep. Strangely, I somewhat take pride in these stereotypes. Is it because I like to be the “smart” kid in the class? Yes, but I am actually pretty dumb and lazy compared to people I know. Maybe it’s because I am afraid to disappoint peers, teachers, my Asian brethren, and my Asian ancestors back in 1250 AD. I also like to joke a lot about these stereotypes. Yes, sometimes stereotypes can create unnecessary pressure on people. Yes, I learned calculus on the back of a milk carton but I don’t think my grades in college translate. However, I learned to not be afraid of these stereotypes because these stereotypes are actually part of me. I don’t want to disappoint people so I work harder and I don’t necessarily think it is an inherently bad thing. 

Even though I don’t feel completely like an American, I feel even more distant from my Asian side. I am not fluent in Chinese by any means and horrible at speaking and writing it but I do know some basics. My parents gave me language classes when I was younger around the elementary school age. Despite that, I didn’t take the lessons too seriously because I’ve always felt it was forced considering it was during the weekends, my kid brain didn’t register it as an important class, and despised Saturday school. It was the only time I learned Chinese and at some point, I stopped having the classes because it became apparent to my parents I did not progress a single lick of Chinese proficiency even after several years. Speaking Chinese was something that kept on fading away and it sort of gave me an identity crisis. One day I was hanging out with some of my friends, and we got dumplings from a place my friend recommended. Then the lady running the shop asked me in Mandarin, “Are these dumplings tasty?” I didn’t know whether to answer in Chinese or English and during that moment I had a tiny panic going on inside of my head. It was like deciding what Pokemon move I should make. It would be natural to respond in Chinese but what if the lady asks some more questions? My broken Chinese might make her think I’m some guy with some intellect deficiency. Speaking English would just be unnatural and so the conclusion was that I just nodded my head. Part of me was ashamed that I couldn’t properly speak a full-on conversation with strangers, relatives, grandparents, or anyone who is fluent in Chinese. It feels like my other half isn’t complete and the only thing I could truly call Asian is my looks. 

Growing up as an Asian American wasn’t too bad. I learned that my identity isn’t either Asian or American but an Asian American. I am grateful for my heritage, but I also recognize that I am a product of my environment. I am a fusion cuisine, and I am proud of that.