To be young and Asian in America is a special brand of torture. There is an unspoken dictum of silence that grips Asian youth, a denial of our place in popular culture. Asian youth walk in America not quite sure where we fit in-black children have a particular brotherhood, Hispanic children have a particular brotherhood, white children own everything else. We cannot lay claim to jazz or salsa or swing; we cannot say our ancestors fought for equality against an oppressive government or roamed the great hallways of power across the globe. We do not have a music, a common hero, a lexicon of slang. Asian youth experience personal diasporas every day.
I went through a long period of time not knowing who I was. I strove to emulate my cousins in Manila and Hong Kong, the true Asian scions of my family. I would drape myself with the accoutrements of an Asian life-except I had no idea what being Asian meant to someone of my generation. I took my cue from popular culture and what I imagined my cousins overseas were like, which meant I did math homework quietly and assiduously, enrolled in Chinese school to learn the lilting cadences of my father's tongue, went to Mass on high holy days with my mother. I set out a glass of water for wandering spirits with my great-aunt, a lingering vestige of a native Filipino belief system that is difficult to eradicate even in the face of Catholicism's omnipresence in the Philippine islands. Anne Lamott would have shaken her head at me, at the savage, uncompassionate way I ripped myself apart. "You don't drop-kick a puppy into the neighbor's yard," she says in Bird by Bird (99), waxing philosophical about the way a writer should not look at the world, but indeed...
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...emotional and approachable than they. They listen to J-Pop and MTV-Asia, while I cock my ear for John Coltrane and the Stereophonics. They speak Chinese and Tagalog and English, while I speak Spanish and English and a little French. They worry about continuing the family firm, while I go to poetry slams. They celebrate JosÃ© Rizal Day, while I wave a multi-hued American flag on the Fourth of July.
Does that make me any less Asian, though? My grandmother and her umbrella certainly pose an eloquent argument to the contrary.
Ako ang bagay na ito at ang kabuuan ng lahat.
I am the thing and the whole of the thing.
Lamott, Anne. Bird by Bird. New York: Random House, 1995.
Orwell, George. "Shooting an Elephant." Encounters: Essays for Exploration and Inquiry. 2nd ed. Ed. Pat C. Hoy II and Robert DiYanni. New York: McGraw-Hill, 2000. 458-463.
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