Sunday, December 21, 2008

Life Update: American, Damnit!

The main reason I chose to backpack around East Asia and then Southeast Asia is that as an Asian American I can blend in as long as I don't speak. Having never traveled before, this whole trip was exciting but also scary. Being alone in foreign countries where language can be a problem and not always having people around to help you can be daunting. I'm pleased to say that the world is not as evil as you think it is. People in general are nice or just want to mind their own business, but that is a tangent.

Let's bring it back to the American issue. I blended in easily in Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, China, Singapore, Malaysia (many Chinese in Malaysia), and oddly enough sometimes Thailand. But when it became apparent I was not a native, the people would ask me "Where are you from?" I would always answer America, or USA, or The United States. Often times, and always in Japan, people would always follow up with "ok... but where are you from?" or "ok but where are your parents from?" In the beginning this didn't bother me and I would tell them. Then they seemed all to happy to label me as that kind of person, not a real America.

In places like China, part of my heritage, the youth would say "You're not American, you're one of us! You are Chinese!" Don't even get me started on the whole my father is from Taiwan to the Chinese.... they'd say "Taiwan is China too!"

In Phuket I ran into a big drunk fat swedish guy who, in addition to saying he loved me (drunk idiot) asked "How can you be an American?"

In Siem Reap a little kid asked me "Where are you from?" I answered "America." He giggled and said "But you're Asian!" I said "Yes, yes I am". Then he ran away.

The only country where the people were satisfied at "I'm American" and didn't ask anymore was Singapore. I think that's because pretty much everyone there is an immigrant or descended from an immigrant to Singapore.

By this point I have to say I'm really annoyed that I can't just say I'm American and have that accepted. Just because I'm not white I'm some how not a real American? That really pisses me off. The next person that asks where my parents are from I'm going to say Jamaica. Look, I'm happy to visit the countries of my parents and grandparents and anywhere else in the world. It's good to see your roots and if you want to take a measure of pride in that, I think that's ok too. However at the end of the day I don't identify with these people... especially not with the people in China. America is where I was born and raised and that is my home. My high school computer science teacher, Mr. Franz, had a sign printed on his wall that I remember to this day: Americans come in all sizes, shapes and colors. Come January 20, my country will have it's first black president. There is no reason why I cannot be an American. So dammit people, I'm American. Ok, I'm glad to get that off my chest.

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