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Embracing My Asian American Identity (Part 1)

Story of a single event that transformed my relationship with my identity

For many years, I lived in a matrix of roles and identities society thrust upon me.

As a teenager, I watched one too many Taiwanese and Korean dramas where the lead female actress was portrayed as a “damsel in distress” waiting to be saved by her rich Prince Charming. At the same time, through the lens of mainstream America, I saw Asian American women typecast into promiscuous, exotic, or submissive roles.

At school, I soon learned that my identity as an immigrant made me somehow different from other kids. I still recall the day when I discovered the “Post-It of Shame” taped to my back with “F.O.B” (fresh off the boat) written on it. I felt mortified when I learned what the term meant. It felt as if my identity just got crumpled into a paper ball, like the fate of the Post-It that ended up in the trash can.

These fragments of my identity made me feel incomplete. All I wanted to do was to hide and become invisible. For years, I wrestled with the invisibility cloak of my identity, wanting to be seen for who I am but feeling too shy, too timid, too afraid to speak my truth.

My breakthrough came during freshman year of college.

Almost by accident, I ended up in the Asian American Theme House Program, a dorm residence dedicated for students who have an interest in the history, culture and contemporary issues of Asian American community. From meeting other students who were just like me and grew up with a bicultural upbringing to opening up about our shared experiences, I felt, for the first time, socially accepted for all parts of myself. My eyes widened when I learned that there is a whole world of racial stereotypes seeded in the fabric of our society, from model minority to dragon lady. As I learned about the history of Asian American immigration and read literature actually written by Asian American authors, such as Stranger from a Different Shore by Ronald Takaki and The Accidental Asian by Eric Liu, I found solace in the common thread of experiences and undercurrent of sentiments that connected our lives.

The year culminated in our final showcase, an event that permanently changed the fate of my relationship with my identity.

We were asked to perform a skit that would defy Asian American racial stereotypes. Our group chose to tackle model minority and China doll stereotypes by cleverly crafting a story about the Asian Mario who went to the Mushroom Kingdom to save Princess Peach kidnapped by King Bowser. As you can guess, I was Princess Peach.

Before getting on the stage that day, I felt the tremors in my body. For a moment, I wanted to run away and simply hide again. When I saw the excited faces of my crew, with whom I had practiced for more than 10 hours over the past week, I told myself that I am not going to let them down because of my own fears.

When I stepped onto that stage, with spotlights almost too blinding to my eyes, something shifted. For the next twenty minutes, I became Princess Peach. In the final scene, as Asian Mario came to save the day and fought against King Bowser, I walked up behind King Bowser and fearlessly shanked the evil king with my parasol. My body was buzzing with pride as I stepped into my full power, not only shattering my bamboo ceiling to be in the spotlight but also redefining societal stereotypes of Asian women.

From that moment on, I transformed from a shy, timid girl into a confident young woman who went on to become the president of two student organizations and spoke in front of hundreds of students and faculty.

That was a defining moment when I realized that I have the power to redefine the stories and narratives constructed by society and write the version of narrative that is reflective of my Truth and who I want to become.

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