We Are America

Voices of the Nation's Future

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As a twelve-year-old in a brand-new school, my first thought was to try to make as many friends as possible. I wanted to be accepted. I branched out to meet people from other elementary schools. At the beginning of middle school, I primarily befriended those that were not Asian. Conversing with those friends, I would realize how contrasting their lifestyles were compared to mine. Those friends would eat out often. I rarely ever ate out and only did during family gatherings. In addition, I also remember being confused when my friends asked me, “What language do you speak at home? You speak mandarin, right?” I was so puzzled at the idea that just because I’m Asian and Chinese, they assumed I spoke Mandarin.

As sixth grade flew by, I drifted from my previous friends and started hanging out with Asian friends. For the most part, our lifestyles were similar. However, one time a friend pointed out the clothes I was wearing. I saw no issue with my clothes as they were bought from the mall. I was then called the term often used by these Asian friend groups, “whitewashed.” Another time a friend was asking if I knew a certain social networking app and when I answered that I did, I was once again attacked by the cruel term and was told, “She’s not Asian enough.” The term was thrown around so often, it started to take a toll on me. I struggled with my cultural identity where I was stuck between being too Asian and not Asian enough. Over time, I changed my lifestyle numerous times to try to fit in.

I never spoke up about this struggle as other peers did not seem to share them. One day, my teacher presented a Ted Talk that forever shifted my perspective on my identity. The video “I Am Not Your Asian Stereotype” jumped out as it was the first time I have ever heard another Asian American speak out about having similar conflicts. In the video, Canwen Xu claims, “But as I became more Americanized, I also began to lose bits and pieces of myself, parts of me that I can never get back, and no matter how much I tried to pretend that I was the same as my American classmates, I wasn’t” (Xu 5:31). Xu was right, her words were how I felt. I lost parts of myself just as she had. At the end of the talk, Xu claims, “But most of all, I am proud of who I am. A little bit American, a little bit Chinese, and a whole lot of both” (Xu 9:20). The final words opened my eyes, I no longer had to fight these battles and live in these two worlds that society and I have positioned myself in. I did not need to conform to whatever norm society had put into my head. Indeed, my lifestyle was never the same as either friend group. However, what I do know is that being American doesn’t mean living in a particular way but rather to be proud of my unique identity.

© Stella Wong. All rights reserved. If you are interested in quoting this story, contact the national team through this website and we can put you in touch with the young person's teacher.