Asian-American Identity Denied

I am starting to understand why I’ve always had such a hard time processing my identity as an Asian-American.

A large part of my difficulty stems from the fact that in order to have an identity as an Asian-American, I require the permission of others. Experience has taught me that my identity as an Asian-American is not my own to claim.

I’ve learned this over and over, especially throughout college, when one of the first questions asked was, “Where are you from?”

I got into the habit of saying, “Iowa,” as that was where I felt most attached to and also a part of my identity that was not apparent through my physical appearance.

In surprisingly many cases, I was refuted with the question, “No. Where are you really from?”

And whether or not these people realized it, with this question, my Asian-American identity was denied.

About a month ago, I was in New York visiting friends. After a pleasant weekend, I got in a cab to take me to the bus station. The cab driver began to make conversation:

Cabbie: Where are you from?

E: I’m from Boston (A/N: which I said because I was taking the bus to Boston).

C: You don’t look like you’re from Boston.

E: What do you mean? I live in Boston.

C: No, no. Where are you actually from?

E: Um, you mean where I grew up? I grew up in Iowa.

C: No, no. Uh…where are your parents from? China? Japan?

E: Oh. My parents are from Korea.

C: Right. Korea. Yes. That’s why your face looks like that.

Again, my identity as an Asian American, unequivocally denied.

Subtly or, in this cabbie’s case, not so subtly, I am told over and over that I do not look like an American, and therefore I am not American.

It’s a constant battle I have to fight in order to claim my identity as an Asian-American.  I have to defend my “title” of sorts, which makes me feel exhausted every time I have a conversation about where I’m from or how I identify.

Many people give me a hard time with this, saying “But you are Korean. Why aren’t you proud of that?” or “Well you’re just not as American as other people.” or “Why is it such a big deal? People just want to get to know you so they ask you where you’re from. Stop being so sensitive.”

The thing is, my fight isn’t about how I feel about my identities. I am proud to be Korean, and there are many facets of the Korean culture I absolutely love. Just like I am proud to be American, and there are many facets of the American culture I absolutely love. My fight is about others constantly questioning my cultural identity. I identify as a Korean-American, or Asian-American, which encompasses both my cultural backgrounds.

Asking me where I’m from is about where I feel attached to or where I grew up. Why would it matter if my parents are Korean, Chinese, Indian, Thai, Italian, or Russian. I don’t ask these questions unless someone wants to talk about their families. I don’t ask White people if their parents are from Italy or France. I don’t ask Black people if their parents are from Cameroon or Nigeria. Telling me that where I feel attached to isn’t actually where I’m from is not about getting to know me. It’s about wanting to put labels on me that makes sense to you.

I wish people would stop fighting me on my own identity. Perhaps the label I put on myself challenges what you expect Americans to look like, but take me for who I am.

I’m Asian-American, and I’m here to stay.



Leave a comment


  1. Mike

     /  June 18, 2014

    You’re my homie, f what they say.

  2. mfarra00

     /  June 23, 2014

    Reblogged this on mgfarrar1 and commented:
    A touching example of the struggles faced by Asian-Americans in modern America. It is not an issue of the past, but one of the present.


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