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Not "Asian Enough"

Not "Asian Enough"

Not "Asian Enough": Why Are We Competing Within Our Race?

I have felt that there is an unspoken ‘hierarchy’ of ‘Asian’ in the Asian community at my school:

  1. born and raised in Asia, can speak language of origin

  2. born in Asia, raised in America, can speak language of origin

  3. born in Asia, raised in America, can’t speak language of origin

  4. born and raised in America, can speak language of origin

  5. born and raised in America, can’t speak language of origin

  6. half-anything-that-isn’t-Asian, can or can’t speak language of origin

People in certain steps of the hierarchy definitely have the potential to exhibit more Asian characteristics and habits than others, in terms of both amount and ‘level of Asian’. For example, I have a friend born and raised in Korea, and consequently speaks Korean fluently. He immigrated to America within the past five years. Of course, he struggles more with finding the right English words to express himself and says such words with a thicker Asian accent than someone like myself. I was born and raised in America and can easily speak the only language I was taught with the corresponding accent: English.

Sometimes I think being in the higher steps gives one a sense of prestige: Yes, I am very in touch with my Asian identity. The prestige manifests itself in the ability to translate between languages for others, or tell everyone about their experiences growing up in their birth country and how it differs from life in America. Though we may all identify as Asian American, the stories of those who were born and raised in a foreign country and are integrated into the language, differs widely from those born and raised in America but are still integrated into the language, which differs even more widely from those of whom were raised with two or more racial/ethnic identities and their corresponding languages.

Again, I’m in the second-to-last step: born and raised in America, can’t speak language of origin. I don’t resent the position I’m in, but I do wish I could have been in a higher category by now at 20 years old, meaning I wish I had learned my parents’ language, Tagalog. I grew up around it and I can understand the gist of a conversation. I was surrounded by Tagalog and some words crept into my English vocabulary, such as ipit for hair tie and kumot for blanket. But my parents didn’t deem it necessary or important for me or my siblings to be able to speak fluently, I suppose.

It makes me feel sick when I hear others comment on members of the last step: half-anything. It’s not even just half, it’s anything less than “full-blooded” Asian. Most of the time, it’s just a bad interpretation of how one chooses to express the Asian portion of their identity. For example, I have a friend who is half-Asian, half-White. Our Asian community usually doesn’t see her outside of her involvement in our tinikling (traditional Filipino dance) events. I personally don’t mind that fact. She’s a pleasure to dance with and she’s chosen to dedicate hours out of her week to dance with our group.

But there has been brought up the idea that she only spends this time with us, being involved in the Asian community, because this is the fun part: dancing and performing for an audience. It’s referenced maliciously, the idea that she’s picking and choosing which part of Asian culture to become involved in, when she wants to. There’s an air of, Either you’re with us for the whole ride, or you’re not.

That’s simply unfair. People are allowed to be involved with different aspects of their identities as much or as little as they want to, or are able to. I will most likely never be fluent in Tagalog if I tried to learn at this point in my life. I am no more or less “Asian” than another person who has not a single word of an Asian language in their vocabulary, or another that fervently studies multiple Asian languages.

The idea that there’s an ‘honor’ in displaying more Asian characteristics and a sense of disdain towards those who don’t fully embrace certain other characteristics, has interested and troubled me. Why is there a feeling of competition? Why do we compare ourselves to each other when it comes to aspects of our identities, and base our worth on those comparisons? Why can’t we respect how much or how little an individual identifies with their Asian identity?


I want us, instead, to encourage each other to recognize and consider appreciating more aspects of our Asian identities, with mutual respect. I want us to ask about each others’ languages, reflect on the differences and similarities between our upbringings, and laugh about finding dried grains of rice stuck to our shirts when, Did we even eat rice today? It’s unfortunate and simply a loss towards the Asian community when we choose to compete, rather than communicate. When we learn to stop competing, I believe, instead of a hierarchy, we can become an accepting family.


Alicia is a 20 year old senior at The College of New Jersey, with a major in Psychology and minor in Women's and Gender Studies. In addition to writing for Her Culture, she is a writer and editor at The Prospect and Vice President Internal of TCNJ Barkada (Filipino culture club). 


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