…growing up as I did and all these generations on, my racial identity is a box I check on forms more than anything else. Instead, I feel far more affinity to my cultural heritage as an American…
Growing up in Hawaii, I didn’t consider my race. Yes, I am Chinese American; but so many people around me were Asian American too. Coupled with being fourth-generation Chinese American, being Chinese meant sometimes making dumplings and getting red envelopes from my grandma for my birthday.
I left Hawaii’s multicultural paradise 10 years ago; what do I make of my racial heritage now? It’s certainly more top of mind. Asian friends - typically first or second generation - are puzzled by my lack of racial affinity. Strangers, too, are curious. “But where are you from?” they ask, confused by my Anglicized last name, a quirk of Seattle’s immigration authorities in the 1880s. “Are you Chinese?”
These conversations can be vexing. Yes, I am Chinese - but I don’t speak Chinese and don’t feel like it’s a big part of who I am. Hearing this, a cab driver once said, “That’s so sad. You’re not connected to your roots at all.” He was Ethiopian and hoped his children would continue observing traditional customs. What about his grandchildren and great-grandchildren, I wondered. Decades later, would they maybe feel more American than Ethiopian?
Yes, he conceded. There would probably be a tipping point, and it would be understandable - at some point, you would be so generationally far away from your home culture that the connection would fade. This is what I think about my identity - of course I look Chinese, but growing up as I did and all these generations on, my racial identity is a box I check on forms more than anything else. Instead, I feel far more affinity to my cultural heritage as an American - from Hawaii’s multiculturalism to surviving East Coast winters, from my fiance’s deep family ties in the American South to now living here in California. These cultural experiences have shaped my identity, far more than just my race. They have made me, me.