Cultural Identity

26 Jun

I read the article, Paper Tigers, featured on the cover of New York Magazine two months ago containing some keen observations on the Asian American life. When I first saw it I was skeptical since it sounded a lot like another article by the now infamous Amy Chua aka Tiger Mother in the Wall Street Journal. I didn’t want to read another person go off about Asian stereotypes and blast their higher than thou attitude believing they could win people over.  Instead, Paper Tigers started a thoughtful discussion about the Asian American identity profiling different Asians in America. It was difficult to read at times when the author would go so far as to denigrate his own race, but on the one hand, I could relate to his feeling of being lost and pigeon holed by society.  His article along with Chua’s article on strict Chinese parenting brought new attention on Asian Americans in good ways and bad.

Among the minorities, Asians appear the most mysterious and misunderstood. Unlike the rest they don’t protest about their stereotypes. In fact they are the model minority – many Asians are seen as hardworking and diligent. What is frustrating however, is how many Asians are indifferent to being cast in a certain role. If anything, they make up for their so-called shortcomings by working harder. Asians make up almost half the population in the world with more immigrants flooding into the US and Canada each year. Asian countries such as China and Korea have become in the last decade economic powerhouses in business and technology. And it seems we are only seeing the beginning. But why at home in the U.S. do Asians seem no more than just wallflowers? There may be a handful of notable Asian Americans. In my generation the ones I admired were Connie Chung, Michelle Kwan and Yo-Yo Ma. Now there are some popping on the political field like superstars Nikki Haley and Bobby Jindal. You would think that an Asian influence would be a dominant force  now by population alone. I wonder why it’s taking so long for Asians to get more attention in America?  Do Asian Americans care?

“Paper Tigers” discusses not about the Asian American influence but the lack of it. How can you say you’re Asian when the only things identifying you as an Asian are your physical features? I speak for myself when I say it’s ironic that a lack of Asian identity is something that many Asian Americans have in common.  Do we blame it on our parents? I think otherwise. First generation immigrants, Asian or not, had the worst kind of struggles. Placing them with blame seems outright harsh. Is it merely an option to learn about my Asian culture or a responsibility? With America and the cultural makeup evolving, what becomes of the Asian American minority? Without a strong voice now, what kind of influence will there be in the future? My generation seems to be facing a different kind of struggle.

I like to think that the novel ‘Joy Luck Club’ by Amy Tan described the Asian American life in the 21st century quite accurately. It explored the complexity of relationships in a Chinese immigrant family. It didn’t just discuss the widening gap between two generations but explored the characters and their relationships, becoming vulnerable to each other as they shared their most intimate feelings. For once you forget they’re Asian, and see they’re like anybody else, reconciling their feelings and moving on from their past. It makes me wish that the Asian community would come out of their shell, explore their voice and make sure their voices are heard. Perhaps then others will begin to see that Asians have as much a say as they do and see them like themselves with needs for reciprocity and respect. For now, let’s hope that more people especially the Asian community start talking about these issues and start supporting each other.

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