Authenticity in Asian Americans

We admire authenticity. But true authenticity is hard to come by, being costly in terms of time, effort, suffering. That’s why so many buy their jeans pre-distressed. It would take three decades of panning for gold in the high Sierras to attain the level of distress sported by kids half that age.

I buy jeans that look brand spanking new so I can take satisfaction in every faded and frayed patch. It’s not because I’m too cheap to pay to have my jeans tumbled with stones. It’s because I am allergic to inauthenticity, and you couldn’t pay me enough to wear jeans that have been made to look more experienced than they really are.

I like authenticity in Asian Americans too. What does it mean for an Asian American to be authentic? It means being 100% secure in your identity, no matter how much they poke and prod and scratch at your skin.

1) Own Your Ethnicity. Step up to your national or ancestral origin. Interposing the “I’m just an American like you” gambit is asking others to pretend that we don’t look any different than the caucasians who typically make up the majority. We look different and we are proud of the way we look! “I’m Korean!” is how I say it when some yokel asks “So what are you?”. I’ve come to the conclusion that “I’m Korean American” sounds too defensive. The more sophisticated know what I mean. If they can’t figure out that I am also American by the way I speak and act, too bad for them. I don’t care enough to waste energy trying to educate them. At least they won’t go away thinking that I’m the least bit sheepish about my ethnicity.

2) Never Try to Prove How American You Are. Don’t tell them you were born here unless they ask. The proof is in the pudding. To the extent that you happen also to be American, it will be obvious from the way you talk and act. If it isn’t, it’s either because you are not entirely mono-cultural and/or the other person refuses to look beyond your face to recognize your cultural background. Either way, you only lose your self-respect by saying, “I was born in L.A.” unless faced point-blank with the question, “Where were you born?” There are far worse things than to have some stranger think that you’re a foreigner with the uncanny ability to speak colloquial English or that the Asian continent produces many linguistic geniuses!

3) Never Apologize for Anything Asian. Why assume personal responsibility for the behavior of an entire continent? Some Asian Americans are way too eager to distance themselves from perceived Asian oddities. “I would never eat dogs (sea urchins, sea squirts, steamed silkworm larvae) like they do in Korea (China, Japan, Vietnam)!” No! “I hear dogmeat is healthier than beef,” is the tone you want. Or, “Looking at your dog, I’m tempted to try it one of these days.” “If I can eat blue cheese (hot dogs), I can sure as heck eat dogs!”