“Both sides made it hard to be myself”Posted: March 14, 2013
I’m an adoptee and was raised by white parents, Polish and Irish American, with their Western view of masculinity. I could also feel the way people wanted me to fit into an idea of the type of Asian male they were comfortable with. Both sides made it hard to be myself. I was often described as quiet, studious, easygoing, book-smart but not street-smart, and some of these descriptions stuck in a self-fulfilling way. It took me much of my life to realize that I was molding myself to a stereotype. I wanted to be accepted, so I valued those characteristics that made me acceptable. Yet I was never accepted. I was either picked on and called “flatface” or would hear people whisper that they shouldn’t mess with me because of course I knew karate. When I was able to start processing how I fit or didn’t fit an acceptable representation of Asians, I held those same stereotypes against the people I met who looked like me. In college, I refused to join the Asian American group because I felt they were too studious, too earnest, too cliquish. Instead, I valued white friendships, white girlfriends, white literature and art and film. I tried to be more assertive but was paralyzed with fear. Whichever role I tried to fit, I didn’t value myself. I didn’t see how I had internalized the same descriptions that the majority culture employs to keep “us” separate from “them.”
Goddamnit. I relate too much to this.
I remember wanting, acutely, both to be white and to be the kind of minority [my friends] so easily were, to be comfortable with myself. I wasn’t comfortable. I wanted to be Asian as a fallback for when I wasn’t able (of course) to be white.
Well, that’s also a bit familiar.