I’m not just a “model minority.”

The perception of universal success among Asian-Americans is being wielded to downplay racism’s role in the persistent struggles of other minority groups, especially black Americans. Taken from NPR.

I’ve spent some time lately examining further the “model minority myth” and especially how it wedges itself between Asian Americans and Black Americans, propagating the idea that Asian American “success” somehow illustrates that racism can be overcome by hard work, discipline and cultural values, or that the “success” of Asian Americans means that antiblackness, whiteness and racism isn’t an issue. Specifically here, too, I want to talk about the complexity of the “model minority myth” for a Chinese adoptee’s experience.

There are so many problems with adopting this myth as reality, a couple primary ones being that 1) the Black experience of slavery, Jim Crow, lynchings, mass incarceration and structural racism is very different than a certain Asian American experience — which also includes racism and discrimination — in forms such as internment camps or restriction of citizenship — but that you cannot compare/contrast the experiences to in any way defend or explain a history of racism in the US and 2) “Asian American” means SO many different things and is a broad term for dozens of ethnic, racial and cultural groups in America, many of whom have experienced tremendously unequal access to opportunity, privilege and wealth. Japanese Americans and Sri Lankan Americans probably have as much, if not more, of a different experience in the United States than Americans of different racial groups. Or, perhaps two different Japanese American families living in different areas of LA have even more of a varied experience compared to each other than a specific Sri Lankan American and Japanese American family. Who knows. The biracial or mixed race experience means something completely different for someone who is half-Black, half-Chinese than it does for someone who is half-Chinese, half-white, for example. One may be seen as “black,” one may be seen as “white” — yet both are Asian American. There are LAYERS to the Asian American experience.

So many people have written on the “model minority myth” already, so I’d encourage you to do some research or look for books on the topic if you’re interested. I want to focus more specifically here, however, on the complexity of the Asian adoptee experience — and even there, I can’t broadly generalize, I have to be specific. The Vietnamese adoptee experience is different than my experience, as a Chinese adoptee. Our histories and stories are different, individually and as part of an ethnic group with a certain history.

I was talking to my mom this weekend because I’ve been working on a memoir about my adoptive journey to date and I need to include some pieces on my parents and their journey to adopt me. It would be nice to say that international adoption is the pinnacle of the “model minority myth” — we were “saved” or “rescued” by white, Caucasian families from fates that we couldn’t imagine, given resources and opportunities that we didn’t deserve and couldn’t have received in our native countries, given the chance to grow up in wealthy neighborhoods with more access to educational, travel, extracurricular, etc. experiences than we ever could’ve imagined elsewhere.

In many ways, this is TRUE of my story, and I am beyond grateful for it.

I fully accept that I was given a new chance at a bright, well-resourced, well-educated, privileged future because of my adoption. However, there are layers to this as well, and I’m trying to wrap my head around it all the time.

For example, the truth also is that I was born in a country that completely rejected me and tried to get rid of and abandon me — this is also true of the Chinese adoptee story. China had an infamous One-Child Policy for decades, where likely my birthparents felt economic, social and political pressure to have a baby boy instead of a girl because they were only allowed to have one child and the son would be able to carry on the family name and take care of them financially when they were older. As a result, China has faced, still faces and will continue to face a highly sex-skewed population and uneven population demographics, with many more elderly than are able to be provided for well by their families or communities. THIS is a part of my history and it’s sad to me.

I’ve also felt disconnected from my cultural heritage and the nation of my birth. I don’t have family who share that heritage; I don’t have a grandma to tell me stories from the Cultural Revolution or aunties to make dumplings and noodles with. I have always felt drawn to people who look like me, but I always feel a bit disconnected because our family histories are different even though we look the same.

That sort of disconnect is unique to my Asian American adoptee experience; definitely uncharacteristic of a “model minority myth” that draws upon Asian ideals like filial piety or tight-knit family structure as one cause of “success” — I do have a tight-knit family but it has absolutely nothing to do with Asian cultural values.

I don’t have a clear way to move forward from the “model minority myth” entrapment, for either Asian Americans in general or Asian American adoptees; those books may be more helpful in doing so. I do have encouragement though, as I’ve continued to think through my own story.

I am trying to understand more of the Asian American experience in the US, because another truth is that it is not any less my story than another Chinese American girl’s who grew up in the US to Chinese parents. Whether or not I have a grandma to tell me stories of her childhood in China or the US, I come from a certain group of people with a certain history, both in China and in the US. I can learn both about a Chinese American history and a European American history — because technically I have pieces in both — no one is to say my dad’s family’s German background isn’t also “mine.” My first steps are to recognize and dismantle aspects of a myth that labels and boxes me into “belonging” in a certain way. Asian Americans have many times throughout US history stood on the side of racial justice instead of accepting that for whatever reason, some of them could reap benefits of white privilege. The dark side to that is that I also need to recognize that my Caucasian family has reaped enormous benefits of whiteness and I’m right in the middle of that as well.

There are layers upon layers of things to consider here, but that’s part of the point. Asian Americans can and never should allow ourselves to be “boxed into” a certain way of either conceptualizing ourselves or allowing others to conceptualize us. We have always, individually and collectively, been much more complex than that. The “model minority myth” is way too simplistic, if it intends to categorize and lump us into a subgroup of success, discipline, quietness and wealth — all seemingly great things, that we worked really hard to achieve. Why would we ever let those things pit us against racial justice and against the ongoing fight for racial equality and against systemic injustice?

I was granted privileges that I never deserved, to grow up in a nation and a family where I can say what I want, worship who I want, believe whatever I want, talk about it, choose whatever career I want, etc. With those resources and opportunities, I think, and the gift of growing up in the US, comes further responsibility as well. As Asian Americans, we are Americans, so we too inherit a responsibility, not only to ourselves but to the well-being of others. MLK Jr. once said that “one cannot be free until we all are free,” and that comes with being an American too.

Why, as an Asian American, I need to dismantle my “whiteness.”

There has been so much going on in the world, our nation and likely our own hearts and minds lately, to say the least. I understand that the overwhelming feeling that many of us are experiencing is nothing compared to the institutional violence and structural racism that our nation’s systems have imposed on Black lives – and I am glad that these issues are coming once again to the forefront of our attention – the weariness and “overwhelmed-ness” is essential in understanding the true weight, breadth and depth of the issue.

That being said, it’s necessary to continue to take care of ourselves and step away when needed from media. Spend time outside, have conversations, cook something from scratch, get some exercise – a rejuvenated and rested mind and spirit is also important in being able to best think through and address these issues.

Let me clarify “whiteness” too, because sometimes it’s hard to understand that we can be POC and still be very complicit in whiteness. Willie James Jennings, a Black theologian and scholar out of Yale who I really admire defines whiteness here as, “Whiteness is not a given, it is a choice. Whiteness is not the equal and opposite of blackness. It is a way of imagining oneself as the organizing reality of the world. It is an interpretative principle that narrates, sustains, and makes sense of the world. The fear that dogs whiteness circles around loss – a looming loss of possession, loss of control, and loss of the power to narrate the future of others. The focus of that fear has most often been nonwhite bodies.” Any one of us who has benefitted from a higher educational, economic, political, or social status from our placement within a society that discriminates against Black lives has been embedded in a structure of whiteness (which is probably everyone reading this).

I have constantly been thinking, over the past week or so, about my social location within the structural racism that persists in our nation. As an Asian American as well as an adoptee, I fully accept and admit that I have benefitted immensely from white privilege and “whiteness,” in the sense that my entire adoptive family (excluding my sister, who was also adopted from China) is Caucasian, highly educated, upper-middle class and with lots of access to resources, travel opportunities, good healthcare, etc. I went to really good public schools growing up and never had to worry about not getting enough food, not having insurance, not having my parents around because they both had to work full-time, violence in my neighborhood, or being killed or targeted because of my skin color. In addition, my status as an Asian American (unbeknownst to me as a child growing up) contributed to a sense of privilege and security – I was likely placed with many other Asian Americans in a “model minority” lens – seen by my peers or passersby as intelligent, docile, quiet and respectful, among other things. The intersectionality of my Caucasian family and my Asian features in the United States places me right in the middle of white privilege and the benefits of whiteness, whether I have liked to admit that or not as I’ve grown up.

This all being said, certainly I’ve experienced discrimination and both overt and covert microaggression for being Asian American. And it hurts. It hurt when a young girl once pulled at her eyes and made unintelligible noises when she saw me sitting behind her at a church in rural Maine. Or when people ask, “where are you REALLY from,” because “New Jersey” just doesn’t make sense to them. During my travels in Asia, as I’ve written about in previous posts, I experienced all sorts of different kinds of miscommunication and disconnect because of my features – I could not be accepted fully as Chinese OR American. In Thailand, I felt myself caught between a historical Thai-Chinese power struggle that I didn’t even realize was a thing, while also not being accepted as American. It made me question myself; “well maybe I’m not fully Chinese or American; what am I? If others don’t think I fit in anywhere, how am I to understand myself?”

However, these are slight microaggressions in the larger scheme of our nation’s and our entire globe’s deep, dark, savage history of anti-black racism and white supremacy. During this time, I have been thinking back on a cultural anthropology course, Caribbean Cultures, that I took in college. One of my favorite courses. We were challenged through reading Afro-Caribbean, Latin-Caribbean and Caribbean voices, to consider the wide-reaching effects of the slave trade, exploitation of black bodies and native bodies, rise of capitalism and supply and demand for cheap labor, in light of rising Western power and influence. We learned from authors like Jamaica Kincaid and Edwidge Danticat about the dark side of tourism and trade on Caribbean lifestyle and culture and the ways in which the “white man” has taken advantage – and continues to take advantage – in our capitalist world – of black bodies. My eyes were forever opened and I was really disillusioned by the violence and embedded racism and white supremacy inherent in our capitalist economic systems, systems that we accept as “normal” and necessary to a world order that’s familiar to us. After that class, I wondered if I could ever buy bananas or sugarcane innocently again, after learning how those multinational corporations take advantage of cheap labor and have been destructive to Caribbean life and economy for generations.

But I continued about my life.

As the #blacklivesmatter movement and protests have ignited across the nation in response to recent events of police brutality, I am reminded of this global hierarchy of power and race – as well as a dark national history of white supremacy and institutionalized racism, that rears its ugly head in present times in forms like mass incarceration, segregation of cities and communities, structural denial or restriction of economic or political opportunities based on race, desensitization to Black pain, defensiveness or lack of willingness to engage, the list goes ON and ON.

After having confronted, and continuing to confront my own complicit whiteness and reflecting on what I’ve both learned and am learning about the magnitude and historical size of whiteness, I have to try and divest myself from this. It’s difficult, and maybe not fully possible. I recognize that every opportunity I’ve been granted, and will be granted in America will be tainted by structures of whiteness, and I have to learn how to resist that as much as I can – resist and recognize it. This post is going to end without answers, because I still am trying to educate myself about the size of the issue; the answers have always seemed elusive. However, I would encourage you: before you start searching for answers, understand the problem and your place within it.

If you are Caucasian, learn about your family history and your nation’s history through Black eyes and Black experience, because that is as much a part of your history as what you did learn about; it has just often been silenced or disregarded. Now is past time that you come to understand it. If you’re Latino/a, I’d encourage you to learn more about the intersectionality of your heritage and the Black experience in Latin America and the US. There are probably many more things you share than you may realize – and if you discover these things, please enlighten me because I’d love to hear more from Latino/a voices, scholars and thinkers on whiteness and Black history. If you’re of mixed race, think about the ways in which you’ve benefitted from whiteness and what you can do to learn more about the history of the issue – how can you recognize your place in the problem and divest from it in certain ways?

Asian Americans – I realize that is a broad umbrella term for lots of people of different ethnic backgrounds and histories, or that you can be of mixed race and Asian American – but some questions for you to consider – what has the “model minority” stereotype afforded you? Or has it not? What are intersectionalities between your Asian American history in the US and Black history? How can you reach outside of your comfortable circles, learn and engage more on these topics?

This is a lot, but still not enough.

I covered some things on my mind, but I’m sure more on this issue will come. My family (parents and sister) and I are starting a little bookclub this summer, and the first one we’re reading is, So You Want to Talk about Race by Ijeoma Oluo; it might be challenging, but I’m looking forward to learning more and talking with my family about it. I also watched the documentary, 13th, by Ava DuVernay, and it was incredibly eye-opening. I’d highly encourage it to everyone. I was going to say, “to people interested in learning more about mass incarceration and the history of racism in the US – from slavery to reconstruction to Jim Crow to an era of mass incarceration and police brutality” – but I say “everyone” because if you are living in the United States, this is your history – your past, present and future as much as is the “white-centric” history that we learned about growing up. I’m feeling pretty frustrated that I only learned about one side of US history in school. I took up to AP US History in high school and I don’t believe ever learned about the dark side, the real effects, of policy like the War on Drugs. I took global history courses in college that simply did not address to an appropriate and realistic degree the realities of the global slave trade and exploitation of Black peoples.

Anyway, I’ll get off my soapbox now because this is a very long post.

But please, I urge you to learn and educate yourself, as well as continue to support Black businesses in your communities, movements and organizations citywide and nationwide that are doing great work for racial justice.

As always, reach out if you have suggestions or want to talk with me more! I’d love to talk and learn more about these things from your perspective.

Peace and love, Joy

Black Lives Matter.

As a Christian, Asian-American, and Chinese adoptee, I’ve often found myself “in-between” cultures and places.

This is a moment in the history of our nation and in my own life where I need to make it clear that I don’t stand “in-between;” I stand against white supremacy and systemic, state-sanctioned injustice and violence against Black people. I stand against the officers that killed George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and others; I stand against Trump and a prideful, selfish, arrogant, propagandized “Christianity” that seeks to assert its own image and righteous personal status over mourning, grieving voices crying out for justice.

I stand against being labeled as a “model minority” who is just docile, easy-going, smart, respectful and complacent.

I challenge myself and my Asian-American, White, and white-passing Christian friends to listen, lament and take action. But first, please listen and lament.

As Christians, we need to acknowledge, question and challenge the fact that our own Christian identity is intertwined in centuries of colonialism, slavery, anti-blackness and the wielding of power over native bodies. Willie James Jennings, in his book The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race, that opened my eyes to the deep, dark history of Christianity – extending back to European explorers and conquistadors such as Cortes who came to the Americas and enslaved native peoples in the name of the cross – says that in order to achieve reconciliation, “we must first articulate the profound deformities of Christian intimacy and identity in modernity. Until we do, all theological discussions of reconciliation will be exactly what they tend to be: ideological tools for facilitating negotiations of power; or socially exhausted idealist claims masquerading as serious theological accounts.” He goes on to say, “it is not at all clear that most Christians are ready to imagine reconciliation.”

We need to lament, repent and ask for forgiveness. This will require reading books, acknowledging that we are wrong, both in our own biases and our position within a system, an institution that has been wrong. It will require listening, paying attention, unlearning and learning again how to be well-informed, humble and resistant to institutions of power and oppression. I’m still working on how to understand my Christian faith in light of its dark roots. How to untangle and understand the true way of the cross and the way of Jesus in light of ways it has been misinterpreted and wielded as a weapon of oppression and violence instead of a lifestyle of love and grace. The truth, as my Pastor, Scott, reminded me of in his sermon this past Sunday, is that Jesus and the Gospel resisted Rome and institutions of power and oppression. Jesus stood with those who were sick, poor, outcast and hurting over and over again – lepers, paralytics, demon-possessed people, a woman who was to be killed for what she had done wrong (Luke 5:12-16, 5:17-26, 7:36-50). Jesus once went into the temple and overturned tables of those buying and selling, those who had turned his “house” into a “den of robbers,” those who were disrespecting a sacred space and taking advantage of others, using it for selfish and profitable means (Mt. 21:12-13). So as Christians, we need to actively resist and reject an institutionalized, propagandized narrative of power or self-righteousness and examine who Jesus is and where he would be in the midst of our modern struggles, because he was never on the side of institutional power or oppression. He was always with those who were outcast, mistreated and hurting. He himself was put to death by Rome. He is with those who have knees on their necks, those who got hit with rubber bullets and tear gas, those who are having tough conversations with friends and family or those lamenting and asking for forgiveness and understanding.

As an Asian American and an adoptee, and for my fellow Asian American and adopted friends, it’s past time for us to have conversations about race with our families. For many of us, most of our family members are Caucasian and may not be active in racial justice conversations or movements. Some may even be openly or more covertly racist. We are all embedded in a society of institutionalized racism, and it’s time that we positioned ourselves in a way that calls attention to that. There are lots of lists out there of things to do; I encourage you to find them and start reading, watching documentaries, listening to podcasts, writing out your thoughts and talking about them with friends and family. The New Jim Crow, So You Want to Talk about Race, White Fragility, The Fire Next Time, Invisible Man, Race Matters, countless other books – are a good place to start. And if anyone has suggestions of books that discuss race from an adoptee perspective, please let me know! We have an intersectionality to our story that others don’t have, where our families likely don’t share the same racial experience as us. Yes, we may be the “model minority,” stereotyped as cooperative, intelligent, driven and quiet, among other things – but we also have likely experienced racist or unjust assumptions in this current time of COVID-19 surrounding the inception of the virus in Wuhan. I’ve heard things specifically told to me in a joking way because I am Asian, “oh, you know it’s being called the Kung flu” or people eyeing me skeptically and avoiding me in grocery stores (more so in the beginning of the pandemic) because of my Asian features. It hasn’t been extreme, but still, it’s noticeable. Now is more a time than ever to start having conversations about race – examining our own racial and ethnic identities as Asian Americans adopted into white families, who share a culture that is different than our racial identity. What does this mean? Where does this position us in regard to a larger racial conversation?

Again, I’d implore you to take a stance. We can’t stay “in-between” forever, or give in to our “model minority” stereotype. We understand, on a level, what it looks like to feel out of place or in-between places. We can use our platforms to seek understanding, engage in conversation, listen to both sides – our Black friends, and Black voices in our communities – and then take that back to our White circles – our family members or friends. I think that our “in-betweenness” can be used to our advantage in that sense. Sign the petitions, make the calls, go vote when it is time, donate money to reputable organizations like Black Lives Matter, this great list by Reclaim the Block, Bail Project, Black Visions Collective, George Floyd Memorial Fund, Equal Justice Initiative, or countless others.

Thank you for reading all this, and please reach out if you have suggestions of resources for Asian Americans, specifically adoptees, in navigating racial topics. Or, if you have suggestions of informed theologians writing on race, lament or reconciliation – I am especially interested in Asian-American or Black theologians (at this time).  

Blessings to you all,

Joy

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.” – MLK Jr., Strength to Love

Shanghai.

The old woman’s wrinkles cradled secrets and stories
tucked within the folds of her worn linen shirt and dumpling basket
 
Her ebony, beady eyes hold years of pride and mystery
her small, dainty feet have pedaled all the crevices of the city
 
The noodle soup man stands at his stall every morning through evening
he makes the best Muslim noodles in my neighborhood
 
Is that even right to call them Muslim noodles? 
His food welcomes natives and foreigners while he himself was displaced
 
Sometimes we need to take a pause, the sounds are overwhelming
but our lungs are gripped by heavy smog, we cannot find pure oxygen
 
Picturesque, vintage scenes like from a postcard
where does the value in things lie? Is it all being commodified?
 
It’s early morning and everyone is moving,
why don’t people pause to rest, to sip their morning coffee?
 
To continue quietly in the comfort of their own image,
to take peace and satisfaction in all they have truly accomplished
 
Do they take moments for themselves like I do?
do they take pride in who they are?
 
How I wish I could know their hopes, loves and dreams
what was their dream job, their favorite memory as a child?
 
What gives them energy, what do they love the most?
How do they have strength to continue moving at this pace?
 
When whiteness is the highest standard, 
blonde hair and blue eyes worshipped,
than who tells the stories of the old, wrinkled woman,
the noodle man,
the ones who hold so much in their faces,
and in their grasps?
 
The ones whose stories I long to know, 
I cannot be the one to tell them, I am the foreigner.

Self-Concept: How I Found Freedom in Understanding my Identity.

My name is Beth, and this is my story about finding my identity.

I was adopted from China and brought to America when I was seven months old, so most people would say I am Chinese American. But I didn’t always see myself that way. My loving parents made their best effort to educate me on Chinese culture so that I knew where I came from. I vividly remember my mom coming into my second grade class to celebrate Chinese New Year with my classmates by getting little envelopes with money in them and making paper lanterns. So even my friends understood that I was born somewhere else. As much as I enjoyed all the festivities, I still never felt like it was truly a part of who I was.

As I continued to mature, I don’t remember even trying to make sense of this disconnect. Throughout grade school, I didn’t know many other kids who were “like me”, as my school district had an extremely low diversity rate. And, as is typical of most teenagers, I wanted to fit in with the latest trends in fashion, hair, and music, which were mainly flaunted by my White American peers. I thought nothing of it. I watched my sister go off to college and start studying Chinese, and she even studied in China for a year and came back with all kinds of insight on what it meant to be a Chinese American in China. We had visited China as a family when I was 12, but I never got a strong desire to return. My sister’s stories made me wonder if I should be more curious, since we had similar stories and the same upbringing. Nevertheless, after a while, I let it go again.

My slap-in-the-face moment didn’t present itself until I was a senior in high school. One of my best friends at the time was Korean, and she invited me to her Korean church. I was excited to go, since at the church I had been attending, I was one of maybe five Asians, including my sister. That Sunday morning, I walked into church with my friend, and I shouldn’t have been surprised at the number of Asians in a Korean church, but I had never seen such a strong minority presence. My attention shifted quickly to the one White, red-headed boy standing in one of the first few rows of seats. As soon as I saw him, I turned to my friend and said, “Hey! I’m not the only White one here!” Big oops. She burst out laughing. It was at that moment that I realized I had no idea what race meant to me.

Fast forward to present day, and I am nearing the end of my college career. I decided to take a course titled “The Psychology of Power, Oppression, and Privilege”. We discussed the idea of racial identity, and more specifically, centrality of the identity. This is the idea that for some, race is an important part of how they see themselves. Even within a particular racial category, membership of that racial group can mean different things to different people. Those who consider race to be more essential to their own self-concept are more likely to be triggered by subtle microaggressions. I was not one of those people. But that’s okay because everyone’s experiences are different.

As I reflect upon the things I have learned through this class and through life experience, I think about how I do identify myself, if not first and foremost with race. If someone were to ask me in this very moment, I would probably say something along the lines of “I am female, a Christian, and a student.” And all of these things are true. Now it is also true that I am Asian American, cisgender, heterosexual, and non-disabled. Just because the latter are not included in my major identifying factors does not mean that they are not true. My experiences as a member of all of these categories listed above have made me who I am. I have just finally come to terms with what is most important to me when I consider my identity and how this drives my behaviors.

Growing up, I thought identity was a checklist for everyone and that people expected me to identify strongly with everything on that list. I have learned that this is not the case. And for anyone wrestling with self-concept, I would encourage you to think more about who you are and less about who people expect you to be. What it means to be you is not what it means to be anybody else. So be proud of who you are because you matter!

Thank you for reading 🙂

Beth

Image Credits: COFFEEANDMILK / IAMBADA / GETTY / NAJEEBAH AL-GHADBAN

Crazy Rich Asians from a different Chinese-American perspective.

Who didn’t go see Crazy Rich Asians this weekend?! is the real question … as theaters in and around Pasadena were selling out as my friend and I were trying to book tickets on Sunday afternoon, and even after finding one we spent half an hour parking and barely got seats (as they were unassigned).

Obviously I didn’t come here to complain about the reality that is LA on a pretty consistent basis, but despite our temporary troubles, am happy and highly impressed that this movie has had such an incredible turnout.

Almost everyone I’ve talked to and most things I’ve read and heard have been extremely positive — it’s funny, the characters both have depth and are well-rounded, the main cast is entirely Asian and Asian-American, it’s creative, it broaches the theme of Asian-American identity in the midst of rigid and traditional Singaporean-Chinese wealth, and it raises questions of cultural, ethnic, generational, socioeconomic, etc. identity that challenges even those of different contexts.

Despite the backlash about the lack of diverse Asian representation, it does well at its limited goals. As a Chinese-American woman, it was empowering to see so many beautiful Asian faces on screen in a popular and desirable American context, and to see the way in which a version of the Chinese-American “rags to riches” story was portrayed. A girl (Rachel Chu) basically defends and reclaims her unique mixed identity and history as her very value and worth because of her poor, immigrant background is challenged by her boyfriend’s real estate tycoon mom and family.

All I could do in the theater was laugh and thoroughly enjoy this movie. At first thought, seeing Asian people on screen and hearing an adaptation of a very different story than mine was purely entertaining and barely personal. However, reflecting on it a little bit, and what the Asian representation questions and cultural identity questions it poses mean in a personal context, I realize that it hits me in an interesting way. As a Chinese-American adoptee, I can come into this story at various angles — on one hand, I identify with the backlash that complains about the lack of representation of other ethnic, cultural and/or economic histories of Singapore or Asia, because the story of adopted Chinese girls is almost never told. We are certainly Chinese-American too, but our story and history is completely different than 2nd-generation Chinese-American kids’ stories whose parents immigrated to America (like Rachel’s mom). I have yet to see our story told on the big screen in any way, shape or form.

The other truth and point of identification is that I can wholeheartedly identify with Rachel’s feelings of isolation and rejection by this Singaporean family because I experienced similar feelings (in different contexts) during my time studying in China. China is of course completely different than Singapore, and I was not trying to gain the favor of a wealthy family, but everywhere I went I constantly felt at the very least, out of place, uncomfortable, a too-tan, slightly overweight, wavy-haired, abnormal, non-conforming, maybe-Chinese person in the eyes of locals and natives (they really weren’t sure where I was from, and they didn’t hesitate to say it). On bad days I really let it get to me and I genuinely felt lesser than, completely rejected, disconnected, bitter and ready to give up. It was one of the hardest years of my life trying to learn the language and the culture of a people and a nation that I expected to connect with and be welcomed into — I saw more faces that “looked like mine” than I had at any other juncture of my life — but I had never felt more alone or isolated among them. So, if we’re tapping back into those feelings, I can empathize with Rachel’s frustration, questioning, and anger when coming face to face with cultural values that opposed her identity at its very core. I’m fairly confident, Asian-American or not, whether they were connected to our culture or ethnicity or not, that we have all felt similar feelings before.

I don’t want to give the end of the movie away, so I’ll just say again that the resolution of my story of cultural rejection will never look the same, but my own journey to a place of pride, reconciliation, courage and acceptance in my unique mixed cultural and ethnic identity is taking shape in its own way. I think that if we want to interpret the movie this deeply, despite its particularity, Rachel’s version of her story can serve as a symbol of empowerment and reclamation for people of mixed backgrounds confronting opposing forces, however those may take shape. This movie shows us that there are always two sides to the story and that both can show empathy and pride.

Go see the movie and let me know your thoughts!