a letter by Emily Pamment
Dear Asian Youth,
“You’re a fake Asian.”
“You look Asian but you’re actually just white-washed.”
“Oh Emily, you wouldn’t get it. It’s a real Asian thing.”
I have heard variations of these statements countless times, both by peers I hardly know, and by my own friends.
When I was thirteen months old, I was adopted from Wuhan, China. My father is from Michigan and my mother is from Puerto Rico. They try their best to celebrate and foster my Asian heritage by celebrating Chinese New Year and they even enrolled me in Chinese immersion schools for a couple of years. Despite these admirable efforts, I know that I will never be able to relate to my Asian family-born friends.
Comments regarding my “white” lifestyle and “white” family are so common, that I’ve learned to just accept them and laugh, even though they make me uncomfortable. No, I don’t wear slippers at home. Yes, I’m allowed to wear shoes around the house. Yes, I prefer forks over chopsticks and I’ve only been to my local Chinese grocery store once; it was to buy Hi-Chews.
Although I may not act “the part”, I still look “the part”. This means racism is still inherently directed towards me and I still get all the subtle comments regarding the school subjects that I should be excelling in, specifically all STEM related courses. I get comments on the future jobs that I should want for myself, again, all STEM related professions. And, people constantly comment on the behavior that I should be demonstrating: unproblematic, perfect attendance, straight A’s, serious. But the thing is, I do excel in my STEM related courses. I do want to go into a STEM field of work. I would like to think that I am unproblematic, have near perfect attendance, have nearly all A’s, and am driven (not necessarily serious) as well as studious. Inside me, I have this need to appear Asian to my peers.
“I don’t want to let them down”, is a quiet, yet typical thought that I have.
I honestly believe that adopted Asians are overlooked. White people overlook us because we are Asian to their eyes. Asians overlook us because they assume we fit in better with white people. I fight this unnecessary battle between not wanting to disgrace the Asian heritage with myself, an Asian raised by white people, and not wanting to give into the white-washed culture that people have labeled me with. For example, I sometimes get uncomfortable with enjoying anime, Japanese marker brands and all Asian cuisine. I have it inscribed in my brain, from all the subtle comments, that I am a poser. And on the other hand, I feel like I can’t even buy certain clothes: crop tops, short shorts, brands like Brandy Melville or even Patagonia, because I’ll be giving into the demands that western culture has.
When I tell people I’m adopted, most people are surprised, and those who do not act surprised don’t because they don’t want to come off as rude (it’s actually funny because I don’t have an Asian last name so it’s surprising that people can’t figure it out).
They say this as if the fact that I am adopted has changed their view of me completely. They say this as if I’ve had them completely fooled the entire time, like I did such a convincing job of pretending I’m a “real” Asian. And now that they know this fact, they’ll stop asking me for math help or (if they’re Asian) they decide that they can’t talk about anything Asian related with me because I “wouldn’t get it” or I “don’t understand”.
I truly embrace my identity. I have the most supportive parents I could ask for and a friend group I adore. But, adopted Asians are often disregarded and (although I can only speak for myself) feel this implicit confusion over where to fit in. We should minimize the self-caused stress from trying to balance out what you should and shouldn’t like. There’s really no right answer, it’s just important to like things because you like them! I wish for people to stop normalizing the phrase “white-washed Asian”. It’s really just a matter of what lifestyle we grew up with. We haven’t disgraced our native country’s culture with our existence.
Current high school junior, Emily Pamment loves to work with code, write letters, and discuss social issues. After facing these challenges every day, she finally realized that she can't be the only one who feels this way. Her instagram is @emilypamment.