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  • Writer's pictureIsabella Tan

Reconciling Cultural Identity

Updated: Sep 12, 2022

Accepting what makes you, you.

I am Chinese and Filipino, a child of immigrants, a first-generation U.S. citizen, and a teenage girl. Throughout my life I’ve struggled with my identity. Of what it means to be Asian and how that alters others perceptions of me - or really my perception of myself.

Recently I attended an Asian American Pacific Islander Showcase. It was a beautifully done show that highlighted Asian talent, music, and culture. And those feelings that were once deeply buried came crawling back to the center of my mind.

Growing up Asian was harder than I’d like to admit. I’ve struggled with stereotypes, hearing everything and anything about my eyes or eating dogs and even being called a banana (yellow on the outside and white on the inside). As an Asian-American who doesn’t speak any language other than English, I’ve continuously been trapped in a between. Unable to understand the native tongues of my parents and sitting mindlessly at conversations that I lacked the ability to understand. Although, that didn’t bother me as much as fitting into the wider, whiter, American culture.

Growing up Asian I wanted to be white. I wanted blue eyes. I wanted blonde hair. I wanted to have the faces of my favorite dolls.

Growing up Asian I tried to laugh at the stereotypes. Repeated, unprovoked comments that hurt me twice as much when I pretended not to care about them.

Growing up Asian I shunned my identity, choosing to ignore that part of me rather than acknowledge it.

But now I think it’s time for me to reconcile my identity. It’s been hard to acknowledge that for a long time, part of me, hated me. I don’t think that it was directly intentional; factors of representation and inclusivity lacked in points of my life when I needed them the most. The larger, broader American culture has always created the “outsider” and I felt that I was apart of that category.

Reconciling with my identity has been forgiving myself for the contempt I felt towards my Asian-ness and realizing that I was just a child trying to assimilate in seemingly impossible ways. There was no way that I could have changed my hair color or my eyes and it still hurts me to remember that I thought I needed to. The odds of growing up white were never an option for me and I think the hardest part of forgiving myself has been realizing the time wasted.

But it's better late than never. It's been profoundly enlightening to forgive myself for the hatred I felt and realize that it wasn't my fault. It's given me a chance to move forward into accepting that part of me that's been lost for so many years.

Dealing with your identity is hard. It takes time, an open mind, and for me… a lot of forgiveness. But it reaps great rewards, it allows for closure and reflection can help heal a part of you that you may have forgotten was slightly broken. Just remember that you are not alone in your struggles and it's high time to accept yourself and whatever identities may come along with you.

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