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Stylized: An American Girl

One of my earliest childhood memories is crying to my mother. For the kindergarten choir concert, we were singing songs about patriotism. One of them was “What’s More American”; we sang:

 

What’s more American than corn flakes?

The Fourth of July and Uncle Sam.

What’s more American than baseball?

I am, I am, I am!

 

I cried very hard and told my mother that I couldn’t sing the song because I wasn’t American. My mother told me I was American and that there was no reason I couldn’t sing the song. I knew that there was a legal document that proved my citizenship, but I couldn’t comprehend that I was an American. I told her I didn’t look like one, that I was an Asian. And this sort of thinking has stayed with me throughout my entire life.

photo courtesy of author

 

And it wasn’t until recently that I had to think of what it meant to be “Asian” here in America. You see, I am from the continent of Asia, and my parents were Asian (Korean, to be more accurate), but I was adopted when I was less that six months old. But before I could speak I had an American citizenship, and the only thing setting me apart from any other American is that I can never run for presidency. I grew up fishing in Nebraska and petting cattle at 4-H shows. I watch fireworks and wear red white and blue every July. I remember putting my hand over my heart every morning at my Catholic school to say the Pledge of Allegiance. So I am an American, but for some reason I’ve always resorted to calling myself Asian.

 

But I won’t say I’m Asian-American either; I think that label has a connotation of immigrant parents who sacrificed everything, of a hybrid culture and second generation children who have each foot in two different worlds. I feel like I have my feet, my whole self, in an American bubble looking out to a place everyone assumes I should be in just because of my physical characteristics.

 

The way we look is so crucial to our identities. If I didn’t have yellow-toned skin, if I didn’t have monolids, if I didn’t have a small frame and “flat face”… I would feel like a tried and true American. But what sets me apart every time I have to distinguish my identity in terms of my nationality, I revert to this idea that I’m just “Asian”, that I can never be an American.

 

So what can I do? It won’t matter if I change my perception; it won’t matter if I forget everything “Asian” about myself because I would still have people do that weird squinty thing where they pull their eyes. I would still have people ask my why I don’t use chopsticks, or if I really am into tentacle porn.

 

But there are very small things I can control.

 

I can change my hair – cut it, dye it, shave it off. I can pierce my nose. I started wearing really weird clothes. And though this doesn’t change any way my race and nationality is perceived, I can feel at least a little more comfortable when I catch a glance of myself in a window. This is the least I can do for myself.

 

No one did it quite like Britney. While her infamous shaving incident was heavily criticized at the time, more light has been shed upon why she did it and how it liberated her from societal expectations. (via: nymag.org)

 

It wasn’t until very recently that I understood the power of clothing, accessories, hair, makeup, styling… I fell in love with clothes because for me, they are more than something for protection or function. For a while, I saw clothing as a costume, but I realized I’ve never been playing dress-up. My outfits aren’t a suit of armor to soften any racist blows against me; It’s not like I’m trying to hide.

 

If anything, I’m trying not to take myself too seriously anymore. I wouldn’t have shaved half of my head if I was so concerned.

 

photo courtesy of author