Let's Talk Asian Identity

Image by Angelica Alzona

My name is Maya Davé. I’m seventeen and I’m Asian. Both of my parents are Indian. One of my biggest struggles is that I frequently have to explain to people that just because I’m Indian doesn’t mean that I’m “not Asian.” Being an Asian girl in America is interesting, because you’re never really sure where you fit or belong—especially due to the lack of Asians in America. Even though there are lot of good things about being Asian there’s something that can be frustrating.

In the media, there aren’t many variations in Asian representation. Asians always play doctors or lawyers in shows and movies. Which isn’t a bad thing, but I just wished they changed it up. The Asian kid doesn’t always have to be boring and nerdy. I think I’ve only seen Asian girls on magazine covers a couple of times. A couple years ago, there were two Indian models on the cover of Teen Vogue and I was shocked; it was the first time I had ever seen an Indian girl on a popular American magazine. But I was so disappointed that I didn’t buy it. Majority of shows and magazine that targeted toward a teen audience doesn’t show enough diversity, especially when it comes to Asians.

Since there aren’t a lot of shows with a majority Asian cast or even an Asian family, I watch a lot of ‘90s black sitcoms. I watch shows like In Living Color, Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, and The Wayans Bros. I feel like I can relate to these shows because their casts are composed of minorities. Another show that I used to watch as a child was Maya and Miguel. After a couple of days of thinking about why those were my favorite shows, I realized that it was because when I saw the main characters, Penny and Maya, I thought that they were both like me. Even though neither character is Asian, I could relate to them. Both of the girls were minorities, like me. I loved watching Hannah Montana, but it was different; I never thought, “she’s like me.”
In Asian families, education is prioritized above everything else. All Asian parents place an immense emphasis on their children’s education. It can be very stressful for the children, as they are always the object of comparison. Whether you’re being compared to your cousins, friends, family friends, or relatives, you’re always being compared. One of my cousins who I didn’t know existed met Obama because of a science project; when one of my uncles was in high school, he was the first in his class and now he’s in college and recently got a medal because he had the highest grades in the state; on Facebook, my parents’ friends’ children always are winning science and math competitions. Most Asians are embarrassed if they haven’t won at least one academic competition.

All Asian children and teens are expected to be straight-A students, take almost all AP classes, know how to play an instrument (preferably piano), be the best at whatever sport they play, be the president of a few clubs, ace the SATs, be valedictorian, and attend an Ivy League college. Falling short of any of these expectations will make you feel embarrassed, especially around another Asian.  Being Asian isn’t a bad thing at all. It’s something of which I’m proud, especially when I think about the contributions that Asians have made towards math, science, and medicine throughout our history.

There are so many Asians who I look up to, including Michio Kaku, one of my favorite physicists, Yoko Ono, an anti-war activist, comedians Mindy Kaling and Hasan Minhaj, Rupi Kaur, a Sikh poet famous for her books Milk and Honey and The Sun and Her Flowers, and Ingrid Nilsen, a queer Asian YouTuber. Last but not least, the person I look up to the most is Freddie Mercury, the lead singer of Queen who was gay and born in India. I look up to these different people for different reasons. I didn’t know that there were Asians comedians until I discovered Mindy Kaling and Hasan Minhaj. I had heard of Milk and Honey, but I didn’t read it until I saw Rupi’s name and realized she’s Asian. When I read her poems, I feel like they really related to me. Ingrid Nilsen is a queer Asian woman like me. All of these people have inspired me in their own ways. They make me proud to be Asian. I’ve always been proud to be Asian, and I will always be proud to be Asian.

By Maya Davé

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