with some of the Great Lakes East staff
at AASC in San Francisco, CA
If you're in the InterVarsity world you will hear the term "ethnic journey" used quite often. This is talking about an individual's discovery of their ethnic identity... in essence, a discovery of who God created them to be. Each person's journey starts and develops at different paces. I would say that mine didn't really start until after college. And throughout these past several years I seem to come in and out of actually facing my journey and reflecting on what God is teaching me.
Coming back from the Asian American Staff Conference, I am once again brought back to taking a few steps along my journey. And I think having spent 10 days in California, a place where to be Asian American is to be the majority, also affects how I think about my identity.
As an Asian American in the Midwest, it is hard to ignore the reality that you are not like everyone else. Further, among the few Chinese Americans there are around here, if your story isn't the typical "parents were born in Taiwan and came here for school" kind of story - you also don't seem to fit in. How can I expect non-Asian Americans to understand that I'm ABC (American-born Chinese), and yet my parents grew up in the Philippines, thus identifying much more strongly with Filipino culture than with Chinese culture - when other Asian Americans don't even get it? "Wait, so...what are you?" seems to be even more common than "So, where are you from?" Seeing how my experience further differs from Asian Americans in California was a time for more reflection.
There was a moment in one of the breakout sessions at the conference when we were asked to introduce ourselves and also tell what our ethnic background was. As the other staff went around the room, most were calling themselves "2nd generation Chinese- or Korean-American". I found myself conflicted because I don't actually know if I should call myself 2nd generation. For most of my life I have said "2nd" - but have always felt disconnected from other 2nd gen Asian American friends. What defines what number generation you are - is it the number since immigrating from your country of origin? Or is it the number since immigrating from Asia in general? I don't really know. If I'm 2nd generation that implies my parents are 1st. But neither of them have ever set foot in China. So... what does that mean?
I haven't quite resolved this yet, but I'm considering calling myself 2 1/2 generation ABC. Usually the "1/2" implies that your parents are different generations from each other. So, I'm not quite sure if that's quite right either. Perhaps I should say 2nd gen Asian American and 3rd gen Chinese American?
In any case, I am in the process of embracing the fact that my experience isn't the same as everyone else's, and that's okay. In one of the seminars, a leader in Asian American Christian history and research said that one of the greatest gifts the Asian American Church can give to the Global Church is to show that faith is embedded in culture, and is expressed in a wide diversity of ways. There is no one single Asian American experience, and that is what makes being Asian American so unique and interesting. And I love that I get to be a part of this community where I can learn how each expression of culture impacts how our faith is lived out. The next step for me is to figure out how my culture and background makes me especially gifted to express a part of the body of Christ that no one else can.