Friday, March 19, 2010

2.5 generation ABC?

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.

1 comment:

  1. I've had to wrestle through a whole lot of identity issues too since the conference... and with Census 2010 coming up. I've been thinking about what it really means to be Taiwanese - who defines it, who gets the identity... it's a really complex matter and I'm not quite sure I have fully embraced my own family's history yet!

    I loved how at AASC, I got to meet people with really complex identities - Half Chinese (4th gen) Half Japanese (6th gen) who probably have the same questions (how to identify) and then probably also what to write on the census so that they are represented. I love that my chapter is starting to have half Filipino/Chinese, Korean/Chinese... what will this mean for Asian Am in general? I guess what the seminar is saying is true.. there is no single Asian American experience, but that is kinda of what makes us Asian American. I think we can still create "Asian American culture" too.

    As for definitions, you would be 2nd gen (at least sociologically) because your parents have emigrated from a different country. (i.e. many koreans immigrated first to South America and then to the U.S., but their children are still considered 2nd gen) I think you could call yourself Filipino Chinese too. The Chinese diaspora!