This is so Asian

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    As part of a photo campaign run by  Asian Pacific Americans for Action  at Cornell University called  Through My Eyes  inspired by the  University of Chicago's "Through My Asian American Eyes " photo campaign dedicated to capturing the variety of Asian American experiences.    Photo: Emily Dong

As part of a photo campaign run by Asian Pacific Americans for Action at Cornell University called Through My Eyes inspired by the University of Chicago's "Through My Asian American Eyes" photo campaign dedicated to capturing the variety of Asian American experiences.

Photo: Emily Dong

What does it mean to be Asian American? 

For many, it means growing up in a place where the culture of your household constantly clashes with the outside environment. To cope, you either try to blend in or stand strong in your difference. One creates conflict, where the other submits.

Is it possible to embrace Asian culture while simultaneously living within a society that seems at odds with it? Doesn't some of the responsibility fall on the dominant culture to make us feel included? Or is it the duty of the other to conform to the status quo creating a homogenous society?

Questioning the self; this battle is constant. At a young age, all people want is to fit in and the easiest way to do this is to not make any waves and submit. This is advice all too often given to Asian American children before they head to their first day of school. For someone who is of Asian decent, this can come with a price. Is there a way to hold onto the culturally Asian part of you and be part of a larger American society? 

I wanna share with you my story:

Background: I consider myself a multiracial 1.5 generation Japanese American that is a part of a larger Asian American experience. 

The greatest challenge + obstacle I have outcome started at a young age when my family made the move from Japan to Seattle in 1999. At the time it seemed simple, just moving to another place full of new adventures. As I look back now on the experience, I understand that my struggle to find my place in America started with that move and continued throughout the rest of my upbringing in the suburbs of Seattle.

My baby self

My baby self

In the beginning, I was Japanese; I ate the food, spoke the language, and went to pre-school with all my friends in Japan. This was the life I knew. My father was American but Japan was around me. 

Soon that would all change. At the age of 5, we moved out of our house in Tokyo and settled in the greater Seattle, Washington area. I was suddenly in a foreign place that I could not relate to. I was new, awkward, and unaware of the rules. After struggling I came to the conclusion that I needed to assimilate myself to be accepted. For the next 10 years, I would learn the language and the cultural nuances that I thought would make me a true American.

As I was becoming American, my mother would try to keep me around Japanese culture as much as possible. This took the form of going back to Japan in the summers, taking Saturday Japanese School, and preforming Japanese culture at home. Even with this effort from my mom, I felt the Japanese in me slowly leaving my body like a balloon that had a hole poked in it.

My quest to become American and my mother’s attempt to retain my Japanese connection lead to many years of confusion and hiding my Japanese influences from the world. It was like I tried to clean my room by shoving everything into a corner and forgetting about it. My mother would talk to me about the importance of my grandfather’s experience in World War 2 internment camps, and keeping up my Japanese language skills but I would not listen. I was more comfortable with my Asian side being the butt of the joke. Throughout my middle school and high school career, I fought to suppress this large part of myself. But like anything you try to suppress eventually the pressure building up gets too much to contain.

This day came when I started taking an Introduction to Asian American studies course during my freshmen year of college. Reading the material in class gave me a transformative moment. All the experiences I had growing up fighting between the American way and the Japanese way was conceptualized in valid academic scholarship. The scholarship even spoke to how Asians Americans fit into the very forming of America. A mix of happiness and anger filled me. Part of me was grateful for all the narratives represented in this class but mad at the fact that these experiences were real because of discrimination Asian Americans have/do face(d). Thinking back to how I was cast as a racial ‘other’ in a place I was just trying to make my home became the realization I needed to stop trying to forget Japanese part of myself and embrace it. Being Japanese and part of a large Asian American experience became a central part in my life.

Greek Freak 2015 (Cornell University) 

Greek Freak 2015 (Cornell University) 

This new embrace of myself allowed me to overcome the challenge of finding my own in America. My experiences have taught me that as much as I try to push away my Asianness I will never fit into white America the way my Caucasian friends will. It was time to carve out my place in America. To accomplish this, I came to the conclusion that I needed be part of the movement that looked to insert Asian American narratives into the public conciseness. As much as you feel alone there is strength in creating a community around you that supports and loves you. Embracing my unique Japanese mixed American heritage is critical to my well-being. As I work within the Asian American community, I not only feel like I bring into existence a better alternative for marginalized people, but I am in the process of healing and bringing myself into balance once more.