As a kid, I never really noticed my race. In elementary school, all my friends were of different cultures and backgrounds and that never got in the way of genuine friendships. But when I entered into high school, that’s when my “Asianness” was pointed out to me on a daily basis.
In high school, I was probably one of the handful of Asians in my graduating class of 115 students. All of my best friends at the time were White, my teachers were White, and the community I grew up in was predominantly White. For a time, it didn’t bother me much and quite frankly I didn’t see how being Asian made me so different.
But everyone around me took it upon themselves to point out to me that I was Asian–that I was different…
No, I know you were born here but what are you really?
Is English your first language?
Elise, you’re Asian. Can you help me with my math homework?
First of all, I know that my peers didn’t mean any harm in these statements and as I look back I chalk it all up to ignorance. But after hearing these things over and over again you start to realize that you’ve suddenly become the “other”. You’re no longer just Elise, but instead the token Asian friend Elise – I absolutely hated it. In high school, everyone just wants to fit-in but how could I when I was reminded daily that I didn’t?
I got to a point where I thought, if being Asian meant that I didn’t fit in then I didn’t want to be Asian. I decided to disassociate myself from my culture completely. I considered myself a Banana (an Asian person living in a Western country, who is "yellow on the outside, white on the inside"). Every aspect of my normal upbringing I developed a subtle hatred for:
Grocery shopping at the Asian markets because it was filled with “too many Asians”.
Eating certain dishes because I was worried my friends would think it’s weird.
I even got to the point where I was embarrassed of my grandma’s thick Vietnamese accent because I was worried people couldn’t understand her.
It wasn’t until I got to college did I realize that there’s so many cool things about being Asian. When I finally accepted the reality of my ethnicity, I began to learn about different aspects of my cultures and how they’ve played a big role in who I am today. I’m so proud to be an Asian American woman and I love that it’s one of the many characteristics that makes me, me.