I am Asian. I am American. I am Chinese. I am a Chinese American. Often times I find myself plagued with these questions; these questions of identity that never really seem to fully resolve itself. Really though, maybe I am both. Maybe I straddle the lines of being Chinese as well as American. However, growing up, my identity was never an issue. If you were to look at Asian American Studies as a discipline, I would be called the “one and a half” generation. I was born in Taiwan,but I moved here when I was very young. I basically grew up in the Los Angeles area and I call it my home. I have grown fond of this city; this city filled with an immigrant diaspora, a plethora of faces, and cultures that truly reflect LA for the ethnic city that it truly is. Growing up here, I took in the culture and loved it.
I became “Americanized” by immersing myself in popular culture and society. This is not to say that I completely lost my roots. My mother, who predominately raised me on her own, still tried to keep me grounded. We spoke Chinese around the house, although I mostly spoke what I like to call, “Chinglish”(trademark pending). I also had my extended family around me. We lived so close to each other that there was always some sort of family gathering, dinner, get together, or celebration. Each of my family members, make up a part of me as a person. Predominately, I would say that my cousins are the basis of most of my support. They understood me and got me, especially since we all came from the same generation. Although we were “Americanized,” we still understood our roots and where we came from, while fitting into the canon of America society.
Growing up in the city of Torrance, I was never completely aware of the fact that I was “Asian.” My exterior clearly says that I am, but I felt that Torrance was diverse enough that race was never really a concept that I had to grasp or differentiate between. I had friends that were of all ethnic backgrounds, but predominately, I would say a majority of my friends were white, Hispanic, or Asian. My best friend, being Colombian, introduced me to her own culture, opening my eyes to seeing something entirely different. Even though I had plenty of diversity around me, I still harbored this idea that “white is right.” Living in this country, we get that perception jammed down our throats. I was no excuse, and I followed that similar ideology. I couldn’t change my skin color or genes, but I could immerse myself so much into American culture that I became “white washed.” Most of my friends to this day still call me “white washed.” The preferred term to describe me would be “twinkie” or “banana” (white on the inside, yellow on the outside). Immersed in these ideologies that our culture industries produce, I fell victim to it, and in a way, I still am. However, my perceptions all changed when I entered college.
I chose to go to UC Santa Barbara, the “whitest” of all the UC schools. I chose to go there over UC Irvine because, and I quote, “I don’t want to be around a bunch of Asians.” Ironically enough, my time spent at UC Santa Barbara, was predominately around a “bunch of Asians.” Going to Santa Barbara was an experience. I have never experienced racial profiling or any form of stereotypes until I went to UCSB. I think that is why I clustered around those that have similar faces as mine. We all hung out together, partied together, and did our homework together. However, the other white people seemed to see us as different and often made rude as well as ignorant remarks towards us. This in itself was a new experience for me. I began to reflect about my own identity and who I was. I became aware of my race more so than ever before. I was different, and there isn’t much I can do about it. Yet, I still struggled to accept me for who I was. Why couldn’t I be that blue eyed, blonde, girl? That’s what society wants us to be right? Throughout my undergraduate experience I quietly stewed these thoughts in my mind. I thought about my race and what it meant to identify as an Asian American. Yet, I didn’t even think about the other issue at hand, my sexual identity.
Post-undergrad was a difficult time for me. I had a hard time finding a job, and I ended up working at a dead end retail job to make money. However, through this, I did have plenty of time to reflect and come to terms with myself. During this period I reflected upon my sexual identity. Throughout my entire life up to that point, I thought I was “straight,” but really what a lie I was living. To this day, I have no idea what spurred the thought, but I began to intensely debate my own sexual livelihood. I dated boys, but I never had a connection with them, nor was I ever truly attracted to guys. I thought about it and realized I’ve always had an intense attraction toward women. I’ve always wanted to act on it too, but I felt it was improper because “society” told me otherwise. I also feared the backlash from my family. Coming out is difficult for anybody, but I felt that with being Asian American, there exists a whole slew of other issues to deal with. With my revelation, I tested the theory out. I went out to gay clubs and bars with my friends. Throughout this period of experimentation, I merely just said I was “bisexual,” since I could neither confirm nor deny what my true orientation was. If you were to fast-forward a bit, I eventually came to the realization that I’m a lesbian. I first came out to my close friends. All of them said that they didn’t care and that they pretty much already knew. I had this mentality in my head that I should tell everyone that mattered to me, and if they were to judge me for it, well they could go fuck themselves. I went down the line, I told my cousins, then my brother, and finally my parents.
The hardest part was of course telling my parents. They are first generation Chinese immigrants. They are still heavily immersed in Chinese culture, but at the same time, they’ve been here long enough to be “Americanized” to a degree as well. I mostly feared the reaction from my mom, because she plays a greater role in my life than my dad ever has. At the same time, I thought my fear was irrational. I joked around in the past with her and asked her what she would do if either my brother or I were gay, and she said she didn’t care. She said that being gay isn’t a choice and she would love us no matter what. With this in mind, I told her. She at first thought it was a joke, but I began to explain to her that it wasn’t. In her mind, she brought up all these stereotypical images of lesbians being butch and said that I didn’t fit the criteria so therefore how could I be gay? I tried to explain to her that the butch dyke point is moot that a lesbian can look like whatever. She still didn’t get it. Long story short, I still feel like she thinks that I’m in a phase; that I’m still trying to explore my sexual identity despite the fact that I have brought girls home with me. I’ve never cried after ending a relationship with a boy, but when I had my first break up with a girl, I cried for days on end. She saw this, and throughout it all was extremely supportive. Ever so often, she’d ask me, “Are you seeing any girls?” To me, I think this is her attempt at trying, even though she does not fully understand it. For me, that’s the best I can ask out of her. I feel like I’m lucky. I’ve met many other Asian Americans that struggle with coming out and have parents that are not so forgiving. Mine however, although I might complain about it, had the best reaction that I could ask for.
Fast forward to the present. I am currently in grad school at the University of Southern California. I realized after two years of boredom in a dead end job that I might as well apply myself in a graduate program. I received my BA in film and anthropology at UCSB, so I entered a program that combined both of them at USC. To be more specific, I am completing my masters in visual anthropology, which is a convoluted way of saying “documentary filmmaking” or “ethnographic filmmaking.” This leads me to the crux of this whole long rant. Rather than doing a master’s thesis, we are told to do a short documentary film; a thesis film, if you will. With all that had been happening in my life, and the recent developments behind it, I decided to choose a topic that was appropriate to me. I decided to do my film on coming out in the Asian American lesbian community. I wanted to look at the cultural clashes that occur between parents and their daughters because I didn’t necessarily have the same experience as most. I wanted to see what it was like for others to come out, from their perspectives rather than myself. To me, this was a project that helps me explore my identity and where I come from. Even though the film isn’t necessarily about me, it offers me a reflective stance on an issue that clearly is an important part of who I am. Additionally, I find that the film I am doing is important as a whole. What do we see in mainstream media? We never see the ethnic minorities represented nor do we really see LGBTQ females represented in mainstream media. To me, this is a step up, this is a step in exploring people of color that need to be represented. Although this film is for my thesis, I want to eventually show it on the festival route and see what happens.
What was the point of this whole long rant? Well, I wanted to tell my story and how it eventually lead up to this project. I wanted to write about my experiences as not only an Asian American woman, but also a member of the LGBTQ community. I want to document my project and what I learned from it and the insights I have gained. This last part is probably the most important, because in doing so, I want to be able to share ideas, stories, and knowledge about a marginalized group. So maybe I should end this with how I started it: I am Chinese American, and I am proud of it.