Thursday, October 20, 2011

Asian Sensation

I am an upper-middle-class Asian American born in America, and many of my friends and family fit this description as well. You can find large concentrations of us in places like Southern California, Boston, and Manhattan, and especially a lot of them in Silicon Valley, where I used to live. You don't find many of us where I now live, which is inner city West Philadelphia.

And this poses a challenge for my kids and me. (My wife, who is Caucasian, faces her own challenges, namely that people can't get their heads wrapped around the fact that she is a white girl with an Asian last name. But that's a story for another time.) Namely, that because the vast majority of Asian looking people around here are much more connected to their countries of origin, and almost certainly likely to speak a non-English language at home, perhaps exclusively. My kids and I, in contrast, have a much weaker connection to our respective countries of origin, and English is by far our dominant language, the few words Jada knows in Mandarin barely outstripped by my own limited vocabulary. (Give me a couple of weeks using my rusty Taiwanese and it can be resurrected, but how many Taiwanese speakers are around here to get me there?)

So we find ourselves a little bit in the middle in terms of our identity. It's a strange sensation. Many Asians I have encountered around here wonder aloud why my kids can't and don't speak anything but English, and sometimes they're not very nice about this. Meanwhile, many non-Asians I have encountered are unable to make any distinction between us and other Asians whose lives couldn't be more different than ours. It's a far cry from places like California and Texas and Hawaii, where second and third and fourth generation Asians are prevalent and so there is a lot of latitude to be lots of different levels of separation from the Asian continent and culture and language.

I'm not necessarily complaining, although I likely get a higher share of racist and ignorant comments than my Silicon Valley counterparts from people who just have no category for an Asian looking person than a few prominent stereotypes from pop culture. It just makes things a little different for us. For two kids who will have to deal with the fact that they were adopted, this is just another flavor to swallow. The fact that I'm also Asian probably helps. And the fact that where we live is such a melting pot also probably helps. But the fact that there aren't a whole lot of Asians like us, and that there are a whole lot of Asians not like us, probably complicates things.
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