Standing Up As an Asian American

As an Asian American it’s impossible to be just myself. Having been conditioned to a minority life since my days in diapers, a part of me always feels like I’m representing the race.

It’s a heavy burden, and many is the time it has gotten me down. Strangely enough, the burden has lifted me up as well.

When someone does something not nice to the average Jane, it is taken personally. After all, it happened to Jane and not to Jackie, Jill or Jo-Jo. It’s only natural to take it personally. And taking something personally Jane can overreact as a slap against who she is.

Say Jane is waiting in line at the CVS to pay for a bottle of nail color. Just as she’s about to step to a register that just opened up, some jerk rushes up out of the blue, cutting Jane off. Jane has the option to write it off as a reflection of the offender’s poor upbringing or some momentary lapse brought on by extenuating circumstances. At worst, Jane can swallow her pride and decide that the offense isn’t worth getting herself worked up over.

But if Jane happens to be an Asian American, the offense puts a much heavier burden on Jane. She can’t help wondering if the offender took cutsies because she assumed that Jane, being Asian, would be too meek and quiet to call her out. So Jane feels more than just a personal offense — she feels that her entire race has been slighted. If Jane is anything like me, that’s a throw-down that must be picked up. How can any self-respecting person ignore an offense to her entire race — her parents, friends, pop stars, favorite actors and the counter-boy at her favorite boba shop?

Many are the explosions experienced by waiters, sales clerks, supermarket checkers and random rude strangers because they had made the mistake of crossing Tammy, er Jane, the Asian American. The bewildered offenders almost always apologize, offer explanations or excuses, and just generally duck for cover. Few people want to be the target of a surprise display of racial rage, or even nasty PMS.

Unfortunately, those outbursts also take their toll on Tammy, er, Jane because, like most people, she has a life that doesn’t recognize a boundary between personal and racial. During the incident Jane may have been accompanied by a friend, a mother, a colleague who may have been discomfited by Jane’s display of what might have seemed like irrational anger. The scene could even make them question Jane’s stability or emotional state.

So eventually Jane learns to tone down her reactions, especially if she is in the company of people and doesn’t want the entire outing marred by an unpleasant scene. At times she may even decide to swallow her racial pride in favor of saving herself for worthier battles.

But expressions of racial indignation aren’t always negative. On more than a few occasions Jane called out offenders at the risk of some unpleasantness only to find that, far from being discomfited, her companions and even random strangers shared her indignation at the small injustice that triggered her outburst. Those are affirming moments when being an Asian American and being just plain old Jane Doe converge beautifully into a stand for simple human respect and dignity.