Across Asian Middle America

Posted Aug 15 2008

The current issue of "Hyphen" magazine has a feature called "Across Asian Middle America," which includes a short piece about ya' boy's time in Montgomery, Alabama. (for those Detroiters reading this, that would not be Kwame)

I was raised as an American abroad, and my conceptions of the United States were a weird combination of The Brady Bunch, C.H.I.P.S. and John Wayne. When I was in fourth grade, my family moved to Montgomery, AL, and I soon learned the error of my views.

My new school was 90 percent African American. Until then, I had only a handful of black friends, but from seventh to 10th grade I could count the number of other Asian Americans at my school on three fingers.

People didn't really know what to make of me. You were either white or black. At first, I was white, like all the other non-black kids; a Filipina had recently been voted homecoming queen for the white students. Yes, for homecoming we voted for a white court and a black court—and this was in the late 1980s.

I joined my junior high football team, and besides one white guy and myself, the entire team was African American. After spending so much time with my team, my worldview began to change. I remember the first time I turned to one of the black radio stations, feeling like I was entering a whole new world. Some of the white kids began to give me grief, and by the time I left the school, I was considered by many to be a black kid. But I don't think anyone, including myself, thought that I was actually black; we just didn’t have the language to discuss race and political identification.

Once in class I kept arguing that I was from Taiwan, and one of my friends shut me down by saying that may be true, but while my mother was Taiwanese, I was now an American and just like them, so I was black. Looking back, I know my friends were often just messing with me, and some of the girls were just flirting, yet part of me felt good, felt accepted.

Back in seventh grade when I was still considered white, I remember a litmus test some of us white kids were given, and that was the question of whether we would ever date a black girl. I jokingly said “yes,” but in my mind, I was like "nope."

Later, in college, I was asked if I'd ever date a white girl. I had never really thought about it, but as I did, my response was, “Probably not.” I had switched teams.

High school and college dating preferences aside, this is really about cultural and political identification. Basically, I didn't blindly just go with mainstream American views and such. I'm not quite a bleeding-heart liberal, but I definitely began to view the world through a different lens.


1. El Chinito said at October 31, 2011 2:32 am:

When I go up nawth (or "north" for you proper English speakers), some people find it interesting to see an Asian guy with a Southern accent. But the Chinese tradition is not always about establishing your own identity, but how you fit in and adapt to your surroundings. That is why you see ethnic Chinese in every country in the world and a Chinatown in every major city in the world with the exception of maybe Tehran or Baghdad.

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