I Believed I Had To Erase My Ethnic Identity To Achieve My Dreams
It wasn’t until recently that I realized how twisted my younger self was.
Well, I was a teenager living in a world where white dominance is prevalent and whiteness entails success; so my young and naïve outlook of the world was manipulated to think that whiteness is where power and success lie.
A very tragic thought crossed my mind.
In order to achieve my dreams, I have to erase my ethnic identity completely.
To conform to whiteness. To be like them even though I know I don’t look like them. But perhaps if I can understand them, talk like them, and look like them on paper, then I too can be pseudo-white.
Growing up in Asia I saw a strange trend where Asian people have an affinity for Westerners and white people. I never really questioned why people in Taiwan always gravitated towards someone when they’re from America, or why many of them dreamed of studying in America.
It just was.
American products were always deemed superior; the white American was something to adore and envy.
My parents were some of the lucky ones to have made it to America, and then decided that they wanted an American life for their children. Though my brother and I were raised in Taiwan, we were looked on as foreigners; but not in an ostracizing manner, it was more like we were put on a shiny pedestal. Like we were automatically better and more fortunate because we speak English and have American citizenship.
They always pointed out how I dressed differently and some even thought we looked more white.
Me? White? Not even close.
But in Asia, they really thought I was at least part white because I was so different. I was deemed an “alien” by the government. My grandmother loved the spotlight that my pseudo-whiteness gave her; she was so proud that she would emphasize my Americanness to her friends and neighbors.
It was a thing of praise.
I always knew I was Asian, no question about it; and I always sensed the pride that came with being American. A sort of pride that was fed to me from others who thought I was different.
In truth, my cultural identity was split in two because of the dual culture that influenced me; and when it came a time I had to “pick a side,” I always abandoned my Asian-ness.
Because that’s what I was taught to do, subliminally.
I was taught that whiteness is superior. That whiteness means success.
When I realized I wanted to be in the entertainment industry, I dreamt of seeing my name on the silver screen. But the name I dreamed of seeing was not my own. I thought my Asian last name would never be on the screen, because it was never on screen in the history of American Cinema. I thought I had to adopt a white last name to be accepted into the industry; that the only way to ultimately succeed in the entertainment industry is if I become white.
Recently, I kept thinking back on that thought and scoff at how ridiculous it was for me to think that way. But really, for a large portion of my life that was a belief that was inked in my mind by society; by my family, by the industry, and eventually by me.
In the years working in the film industry, I’ve met so many peers of Asian descent who also have had thoughts of erasing their culture in an effort to cater to the taste of a predominantly white industry. But if our efforts of erasing our very identity still causes roadblocks because we don’t “look the part” or “have enough credibility” or are “unsellable,” then all of our efforts abandoning our heritage would be a waste.
So, we might as well hold on to it, because it is what our parents gave us, and it’s all we’ve got. Our culture and heritage is our backbone. The very idea of white-washing my name now feels like a huge kick to my stomach. I am not proud to have had a thought like erasing my ethnicity; it would be comparable to never existing at all.
I refuse to be shoved aside; we want to be seen and be heard.
Perhaps this speaks to a larger issue of subliminal racism and inequality that is so prevalent in a country that is now made up of many cultures. Thankfully there have been many efforts recently to shine on the voices of minorities who wouldn’t have had a voice ten years prior.
In light of all the progress and activism for racial equality, it goes to show how important education is for future generations. What children are taught at school, at home, and shown on the media are all important in teaching children that their identity, their cultures, and their individual values are something to be worn proudly.
The American dream is no longer just a plain white canvas of conformity; it has evolved into something more complex. It is now folds and layers of different generations, different cultures; all paving their own paths for acceptance, success, and happiness.
So, dare to speak up and share the pride of your heritage.