My experience as a racially mixed woman has made my life easier. I don’t get discriminated against when I go anywhere. I don’t get called names or told to go back to China on a regular basis. I don’t get lumped in with the rich Chinese kids who come here for an education but have mom and dad pay for pretty much everything. To be perfectly honest, unless I’m with my dad, who is very clearly Asian, I often get mistaken for a plain old white person.
If that’s true, then why write about this? Why should I care if I can pass so easily? I should enjoy that privilege and be done with it right? Not exactly. See being white and Taiwanese has its own challenges. I don’t face the same discrimination as my full-blooded peers but I don’t quite feel like I belong in mainstream society either. I felt most out of place in middle school, where I’m pretty sure I was one of two, maybe three Asian kids in the entire place, and it wasn’t a small school either.
By high school I learned to brush off the where are you from question? Instead I took particular glee in letting people guess all the Asian countries until they either got to Taiwan or I had to tell them. I didn’t really mind, I didn’t even care that I had to constantly tell people where Taiwan was geographically. It also helped that there was a lot more Asian kids in my high school and while I was only friends with a handful of them, it was nice to feel included, not isolated, like I had in middle school.
I got decent grades in high school and was involved in a few extra curricular activities but I wasn’t super busy. Let’s just say I had enough to deal with outside of school that I’m still kind of amazed I graduated on time. I applied to four schools, Iowa State University, University of Iowa, Cornell College, and Simpson. I got into all of them, and I visited all the campuses. I was most impressed by Simpson (so much so I visited their campus four separate times.) I liked the professors there and the small class sizes. It didn’t have an impressive writing program like Iowa did, but I knew that I could always go there after I graduated if I still felt it was something I wanted to do. The only thing about Simpson was that it was located in Indianola, a small town about half and hour away from Des Moines where my parents live.
Being only half and hour away from home didn’t bother me. In fact it was kind of nice once I went to Simpson because there’s not a whole lot to do there on the weekends. What did bug me at first was the lack of diversity. By this point in my life I was okay with being the minority and I had a lot of white friends who didn’t treat me any differently because my dad was Asian and my mom (and later my step mom) wasn’t. Before I visited Simpson the first time I wasn’t so keen on going to anyplace that looked like small town Iowa because it meant it would be ninety-nine (maybe ninety if we’re being generous) percent white. I didn’t want to stick out like a sore thumb. Then I thought about what diversity means. It’s a term people love to use to describe ethnicity and to point out how proud they are to have their one black friend, their one Asian friend etc. It’s also used to describe people who have different beliefs, different cultures, different upbringings etc. I thought about it and realized being diverse didn’t have to mean being racially diverse.
My dad wasn’t so sure about that. All of my parents were fine with my choice but my dad seemed to worry about the lack of racial diversity at Simpson. I can’t say I blame him, but after gong through the above thought process, I wasn’t too worried about it. My dad couldn’t fathom why I’d want to go to a college where I would be the minority, where I wouldn’t be able to relate to anyone because I didn’t look like them. It’s a legitimate concern and one I still struggle with on occasion. I told my dad that there are lots of way to be diverse and race was just one them. He seemed to accept my answer, but I think he would have chosen differently. He had his great college experience at Iowa State University and I’m glad he did. But I was the one going to college, not him.
After college I went out into the working world and so far my life has been pretty good. Being half Taiwanese and half white doesn’t worry me much, but there are moments when I realize I’m different, or at least think of myself as such. One of those time was when I got a ticket from an animal control officer for letting my parents dogs run loose on vacation and the word under race said white, nothing else. This bugged me because I think of myself as Asian and white not one or the other. But my parents were gone so my dad wasn’t there for comparison. I was offended, I’m not just white I’m Asian too darn it! The other recent time I realized how much it affected me was when my friend Robin posted an article to my Facebook feed. It was about a woman who had lived in a predominately Asian country for about four years and had recently moved back to the U.S. with her husband. She recounted how she was out of practice being a minority here and how she felt a low-level of panic all the time trying to fit into white society again.
While I do have low levels of anxiety and occasional panic they aren’t related to race. That will be for another post, trust me, it will be a long one. But I understood her feelings on being able to blend in vs. sticking out like a sore thumb. Because I’m mixed I can pass while others can’t, as illustrated by my earlier example. This doesn’t mean I don’t get offended when I see someone being called out for not being American enough. Trump recently asked a reporter where she was from and when she said Manhattan, that wasn’t good enough. Eventually she answered that her parents were from Korea and that satisfied him. I’ll leave how I feel about our current president out of this (hint it’s not good.) It’s very uncomfortable to have someone say, no, I don’t like your answer give me the one I want to hear. It calls into question a lot of things but when it’s applied to race it makes things worse.
You may be asking, what’s the point of this post? I love my life, my friends, my boyfriend and living in America. I don’t know anything else and I wouldn’t trade any of it. My point is that even someone like me can feel out of place and alien. That doesn’t mean I want people to be color blind either. Race and how we deal with it is an important issue and it will continue to be.
I will always be an advocate for more representation in various media. I cheer every time I see someone getting a role on a TV show that isn’t a young white guy. I love watching people like Ming-Na Wen and Chloe Bennett kick butt week after week on Agents of Shield. I still miss seeing Osric Chau on Supernatural but I follow all his other projects and shows (see Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency.) I’m thrilled to see that the TV side of things is improving, I can only hope the movies will follow suit. In case you’re wondering yes, I’ve seen Doctor Strange and I love that Stephen Strange’s assistant is an actual character and not just a man-servant.
My point is I will always be happy to see more Asian people in the world regardless of where it is. If it’s in real life, great. On TV and in movies even better. I want a world where we can all be represented equally, I can only hope that world will be a reality someday.
*Note there are a lot of things I didn’t cover in this post because I wanted to make it personal to me. If you want to discuss stuff like Asian fetishes or how Taiwan and China should be separate countries then please, feel free to do in the comments section below. I’d be happy to talk about either of them. If you want to ask about my anxiety or depression (which I touched on ever so briefly) feel free. I did write about those two subjects in other posts and would be happy to point you in that direction if you wish.