What Trump Taught Me About Being Asian-American

Chinatown, in New York City. CreditChristopher Gregory for The New York Times



Tonight, my Chinese family and I will be at a restaurant in Brooklyn’s Chinatown eating fried tofu and Peking duck while Donald J. Trump attends Inaugural Balls. If you told me a year ago that we would be commiserating banquet-style while an internet troll was sworn in as president, I would have snorted derisively into my illegal shark fin soup.

Growing up in Manhattan, the American-born child of immigrants from Hong Kong, I was embarrassed by my family’s strange holidays. I never learned to speak the language, or even use chopsticks. Disney’s “Mulan” felt like a caricature of every stereotype I was teased about in school. When “Fresh Off the Boat” aired on television, it seemed that people like me were the butt of a nationally understood joke — especially when Chinese people were portrayed by Korean actors.

I dreaded answering “Where are you from?” When I told an elementary schoolteacher “New York,” she shook her head and asked, “But where are you really from?” As an adult, I cringed when a classmate asked, “What kind of Asian are you?” — or worse, presumed to guess. On a date two years ago, the blond lacrosse player I met from OkCupid said between bites of sushi: “You’re Korean, right? I’m really good at telling Orientals apart.” I was horrified at being fetishized for my race — especially one I didn’t identify with. I just wanted to be American.

It took a trip to Asia — and Donald Trump — to help me embrace my identity.

After resigning from my Wall Street analyst job because of a chronic wrist injury, I took a solo trip to Asia and went everywhere but China. I didn’t want to be around people who looked like me. And indeed, people often treated me like an outsider. In Penang, Malaysia, a smiling woman brought me a bowl of hokkien mee with hot sauce on the side instead of mixed in — a practice reserved for Caucasians. While surfing in Indonesia, a dark-skinned aboriginal laughed at my thin “city people” arms. “You paddle like chicken,” he said, before showing me a better way to propel.

In America, I was viewed as Asian. In Asia, I was viewed as American. I had feared being boxed in by what others thought I was. But belonging is personal, fluid and multicultural. I had clung to being an American as my one immutable identity, not realizing that who I was could not be diluted. Being Asian did not make me less American.

Which brings me to Mr. Trump. Sitting on a stool at my mother’s house in Brooklyn during one of the presidential debates, I watched him accuse China of using the United States as a piggy bank and of inventing climate change. Though I had spent my life distancing myself from Asia, his xenophobia made me feel personally rejected.

Before I knew it, my brother and I were both shouting at the television. I knew who I was. I am Chinese-American, and he was talking about me.

Stephanie Siu is studying journalism at the New School.



About Uy Do

Banking System Analyst, former NTT data Global Marketing Dept Senior Analyst, Banking System Risk Specialist, HR Specialist
This entry was posted in Uncategorized, US economic, US economy, US President. Bookmark the permalink.

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