1. You visit your parents’ home country for the first time and realize how American you really are.
If you are American born, the first time you visit the country of your parents’ origin can be a shocker. It’s nothing at all like the homeland that your parents talked about from their childhood. The food is unique, the people dress differently, and you realize for the first time that you speak your parents’ language with an American accent. When a local actually calls you a foreigner, you realize that while in America, you may be perceived as Asian, but in Asia, you are perceived as American.
2. You discover the pros and cons of being known as a “model minority.”
Asian-Americans are typically known for being hard working, law-abiding citizens who value education and traditional family values. As you grow older, you learn that this perception has its advantages and disadvantages. Teachers, employers and even total strangers often give you the benefit of the doubt, assuming you are a well-behaved Asian boy or girl. But on the other hand, this image often leads people to assume that Asian-Americans don’t suffer from discrimination, familial dysfunction, physical abuse, mental illnesses or crime. You come to realize that the whole idea of being a model minority is a myth that is unhealthy to perpetuate.
3. You learn to speak up or get left behind.
In general, Asian cultures stress group harmony over individualism. You grow up learning to be quiet, practice modesty, listen to authority figures, and not rock the boat. However, as you enter college and the work world, you realize that the rest of society doesn’t necessarily value these traits. Thus, you learn the hard way that the promotion, raise, or high marks in your MBA class depend on you speaking up and drawing attention to yourself, however uncomfortable it makes you feel.
4. If you’re a woman, you learn how to recognize when a man has Yellow Fever.
Asian women are sometimes perceived by non-Asian men as exotic, and either subservient like a geisha or vampy like a dragon lady. This doesn’t mean that we don’t have wonderful, successful inter-racial relationships. But Asian-American women are particularly wary of those men who practice kung-fu, take Japanese language lessons, or live in Hong Kong for the sole purpose of dating Asian women. We call it Yellow Fever. It’s never a turn on, no matter how good looking the guy might be.
5. If you’re a man, you learn to overcome the stereotype that you’re not as masculine as other American men.
Asian-American men have been portrayed as sexless or feminized figures in Western media. While it’s common to see white men pair up with “exotic” Asian women on TV and in the movies, it’s rare to see an Asian-American in a leading role, and even rarer to see him romantically involved with a white or African-American woman. Thankfully, with more hunky yet intelligent Asian actors like John Cho and Daniel Dae Kim defying these stereotypes, there is much more for women of all ethnicities to swoon for.
6. You get used to hearing “konnichiwa” when you travel abroad, even if you’re not Japanese.
This happens to me almost everywhere I go in Europe or Latin America. Someone — either a shop keeper or a group of boys hanging out on the street — yells konnichiwa (hello), even though I’m not Japanese. People don’t necessarily mean anything negative — they are often just trying to communicate across cultures. But hearing this again and again makes you realize that to a lot of the world, we’re all just one big group of undifferentiated Asians. While we can tell the difference between Chinese, Japanese, Koreans and Vietnamese among ourselves, most non-Asians have no clue. When I feel frustrated, I just remind myself that I often can’t immediately tell the difference between a German and a Swiss, or a Kenyan and a Nigerian. So I usually just smile and say konnichiwa right back.
7. You learn how to deal with the question, “but where are you REALLY from?” with grace and patience.
Every now and then, you come across someone who can’t understand that while you are of Chinese or Vietnamese ancestry, you are in fact American born, and San Francisco/Boston/Houston is your real hometown. While occasionally this reflects a kind of racist outlook, more often than not, this question comes from people who are genuinely curious and may have grown up in a homogeneous environment. I try to use these opportunities to gently remind people that, unless they are Native American, all of our ancestors are ultimately from somewhere else.
8. You realize how important it is to be connected to and support the Latino and black communities around you.
Asian-Americans are often portrayed — fairly or not — as the quiet minority. We work hard and keep our heads down. This is, in large part, due to the anxieties our immigrant parents or grandparents had around being in a new country and fitting in. But at some point, we realize that discrimination isn’t something we are immune to. When somebody gets racially profiled or harassed because of their ethnic background, it is our problem too. And the civil rights we enjoy today are because of the sacrifice and vision of people like Martin Luther King, Jr, and the brave people who fought for dignity and equality for all. We owe it to them to be engaged.
9. You realize you really do have a “rice stomach.”
At some point in your life, you find yourself in a situation where rice is not the primary starch in meals. Sure, you will feast on wonderful pastas in Italy or tortillas in Mexico or bread in Germany. But at some point in your world travels, you will really, really crave a simple bowl of hot, steaming white rice. As your mother once told you, we Asians have “rice stomachs.”
10. You consider getting your eyelids done to look more Caucasian. Then you realize how ridiculous it is to try and conform to one standard of beauty.
If you are an Asian-American who has gotten your eyelids surgically changed to look more Caucasian, peace and love to you. But for the rest of us – yes, it is common to grow up, surrounded by images of tall, thin, blond haired, blue eyed models, and to wish we could conform more to these standards. But at some point, we realize that instead of changing ourselves to look more like that standard, we can work towards a more ethnically diverse palette of what is considered attractive in the U.S. Hey, even JLo initially had to struggle to get her Latina booty accepted in a world of rail thin celebrities. We can and should celebrate our almond shaped eyes.
11. You come to the conclusion that George Takei is a national treasure.
You may have been too young or not even born yet to have appreciated the original Star Trek. But whether or not you were a Sulu fan, you follow George Takei on Facebook and Twitter and can’t think of any other celebrity you’d rather have over for a barbecue. He was the first and still the best Asian-American male stud, who has talked candidly about his youth in a Japanese internment camp and is now a spokesperson for LGBT rights. He is The One.