Asian Persuasion

I was born and raised in Albany, Ore., but this answer often seems unsatisfactory when strangers ask where I’m from. The city formerly known as the smelly spot on I-5 is apparently not exotic enough for some people who then try to think of a P.C. way to ask, “No…where are you actually from?”

To be fair, it’s been several years since anybody has actually said that to me, but this is still a common interaction. If the person seems nice, I’ll usually follow up quickly with, “but my parents are from Taiwan.”

If not, it’s fun to watch the other person squirm a bit, feigning ignorance about what he or she really wants to know.

Having lived in some pretty ethnically homogenous places kind of clouds up the issue, too. Being of Chinese and Taiwanese descent is certainly a part of my life. I speak Mandarin semi-fluently (just with the vocabulary of a 10-year-old), and most of my extended family lives in Taiwan, where I’ve visited 10 or so times (enough that I can’t really count without some serious vacation forensics that would surely make me miss my deadline this month).

And while I do cherish my heritage, in many ways I’m pretty damn white. I like most of the stuff from this list, and don’t have many Asian friends. Back in college, there always seemed to be a cultural gulf between the Asian international students and me that we could rarely bridge.

I’m sure many people I meet identify as a long-haired Asian guy or possibly “that Oriental fella,” but I’ve never identified myself primarily by my race. And in a high school that was 95% white, I was cognizant about my ethnic differences about as often as I felt like I was pretty similar to my schoolmates.

Now that I’m 30, I’m having more moments where I’m embarrassed about not being well-versed in my heritage. Though I never want my race to define me, sometimes I feel like I’ve been a bad ethnic ambassador in the non-diverse places I’ve lived.

Who knows if this is just my neurosis adding another area to think about or if this is the start of some history and genealogy research, but what I do know is I’ll always enjoy that moment of awkward when somebody asks where I’m from.

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Kai-Huei Yau

Kai-Huei Yau

Kai-Huei Yau was a photojournalist at the Tri-City Herald for six years and recently moved west to be a communications specialist at Vertafore in Bothell. He's thrilled to live next to a great fried chicken joint, a good spot for pho and to put his journalism skills to work in a new way.

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  • Suzy Garza Higley

    That made me laugh. I can total relate to those experiences. When I left my home town people wanted to think I was Italian or Lebanese. Never Mexican. I didn’t fit the profile or something. πŸ™‚ I never think about it until I feel like I should be representing my heritage to my children better (who are only half Mexican and look zero Mexican). But I’m American. Mexican-American. This is just what happens after a generation or two. πŸ™‚ I enjoyed that! Also…you look fabulous in a wedding dress!!!

  • Steve Meddaugh

    If you haven’t seen this video before, you will LOVE this:
    My sister was born in Korea but my parents adopted her as an infant so she grew up 100% American. She sent me this video and said that sadly she gets this once in a while and wishes she had the guts to respond like the gal in the video…

  • Mai Hoang

    I definite can relate to being Americanized. My brother once told my husband. “My sister is Americanized….no she’s just American.”

    I always tell people that I speak Vietnamese like a kindergardener, so you’re way up in the language skills compared to me.

  • Sara Taylor

    Hahaha…the list. Oh my.
    And also… you’re 30?? Bet you get carded until you’re 50 πŸ™‚

  • Lou Galindo

    I so can relate to this. Whenever someone asks me what I am I say “Cuban. Well, I was born here (in the U.S.) but my parents are Cuban.” And even though I grew up in Miami, immersed in Latin culture and customs, I always felt like I was too Americanized. But then here I don’t feel Americanized enough because I’m so accustomed to being surrounded by “ethnicity.” Yikes! πŸ˜‰