Technically, I am Polish. But Polish culture has had no bearing on my upbringing, thus I feel that the Polish ethnicity has nothing to do with who I am.
I am, however, white. In many situations I am taken to be white, thus I receive many white privileges. It would be untruthful for me to deny this, just as it would be repressive and self-hating to deny how very much being Chinese has shaped my life.
I do not like to identify as half-anything. It is too simple, too formulaic, too divisive. It implies that I must keep my identities separate. I experience the world in many ways: as an Asian American woman, as a white woman, and as a Hapa woman. My identity is much more complex than two halves.
I grew up in Austin, Texas and attended an almost entirely white public school. Almost all of my friends were white, and I had no sense of an Asian community or identity.
For much of my life, I would identify as Chinese only when it was convenient or pleasurable for me to do so, and more times than not felt ashamed when others realized I was Chinese. I would distance myself from what I perceived to be “Asianness.”
I refused to learn how to use chopsticks as a child, would beg my mother to cook American foods, and purposefully avoided becoming friends with other Asian students. To this day, I regret that I did not have any Asian friends growing up.
It wasn’t until my junior year of high school when I started to become aware of my cultural experience. In my English class, we read the essay “Mother Tongue” by Amy Tan. For all of my life until that point, I had been asked to identify with the experiences of white male authors. For the first time I was reading about a Chinese American woman whose struggles I could actually relate to; never before had something similar to what I’d experienced been articulated to me so clearly. I almost began to cry in class, and wrote page after page about it in my journal.
Since going to college, I have discovered my great passion: feminism. Feminist scholarship and activism sparked my interest in all things having to do with social justice, and has become a huge part of my identity. I wouldn’t trade my feminism for the world, and a large part of that has to do with how feminism helped me to become proud and reflexive about my Asian American identity. At my college I worked to co-found an Asian American Alliance, which has become one of my most personally rewarding educational endeavors. Owning both my whiteness and my Chinese identity, I am today truer to myself than ever before.
I often tweet about feminism, social justice, anti-racism and Asian American issues. If you are interested, follow me at @micromermaid