I feel like a fraud, and I have all my life. Being an Asian-American adoptee, I don’t have Asian roots to speak of. I don’t have any family medical history, and every time I go to a new healthcare provider, I have to say this out loud. It makes me feel like I’m missing out on normalcy. I don’t have family recipes to pass down to my kids and grandkids. Well, I do, but from my adoptive family. So they are Lithuanian dishes. My kids have some of my physical appearance, but they also have fair skin and not-black hair.
It’s just me, definitely not looking white but feeling completely white on the inside. My family is white, almost all of my friends are white. Except for a couple phrases from a college semester’s worth of Beginner’s Korean that I only managed to get a B in, I don’t speak Korean.
I’ve had total strangers accost me with “What are you?” “Where were you born?” “Where are you really from?” I remember someone at a state fair asking my aunt and cousins, “Is she a foreign-exchange student?” The most recent conversation of this nature was with an acquaintance and went like this:
“What nationality are you?”
“No, you know what I mean.”
People ask these kinds of questions for their own curiosity, not even considering that it is rude and unwelcome. And believe me, it is rude and it is unwelcome. They don’t necessarily care about my name or favorite color, but they feel it’s their right to ask about my place of birth because I just look so OTHER and I don’t belong, let’s never let me forget, I am not white and will never truly belong here.
A middle-school bully took to calling me “Rice.” A friend of a friend asked why I don’t have bottom eyelashes. (I DO, THEY’RE JUST SPARSE.) Kids in grade school would pull their eyelids down to make their eyes squinty because of the way my eyes look. Aren’t these standard childhood experiences? Doesn’t everyone go through this? Besides being teased for my body shape and Eastern-European last name, lest you think I only suffered racist taunts.
There are the stereotypes that are perceived as positive but are actually not. I’m lucky to have such “tan” skin. I don’t look as old as my peers. Some men fetishize me. I’m actually not great at math, so ha ha, I am able to skirt that one at least.
The recent (not unexpected) rise in hate crimes against the Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) community includes me and affects me, but it also makes me feel like a fraud. I don’t feel part of that community, and the white community overall has made it clear I am not fully integrated into theirs. So I am a community of one. I know a few others who are in similar limited communities, but we don’t share stories. We don’t commune. I am a first-generation immigrant, but I did not migrate here of my own choosing. I don’t remember becoming a citizen. I don’t remember learning English.
But I do feel the hate and the after-effects of it. I worry about being targeted when I leave the house in my small, Midwestern town. I do fear for my safety and the safety of my children. I hope you fear for them too. I don’t want your pity; I want you to have some understanding of what it is to be a minority, even one who feels like a fraud. To feel inferior, to feel less than the status quo. To feel undeserving of attention, love, representation, decency, equal treatment, and basic human rights. And I hope we are working toward a better tomorrow.