What's your Nationality?

At my old job, I had customers ask me this and I’d always answer, “American.”

“No, no, like, what are you?”

“Oh, you mean my ethnicity.” I replied back. “I’m Chinese and Vietnamese.” It’s silly that some people don’t know the difference between nationality and ethnicity.

Ethnicity is someone’s genetic background - this cannot change - while someone’s nationality can. Nationality is based on where one has her citizenship. I’m an American citizen, of Asian descent, so I’m Asian-American. If I suddenly moved to Australia and lived there long enough to achieve citizenship, I would become Asian-Australian. But, I’d still be Asian.

Being Asian is something about me I cannot change and something I would never want to change. But if you asked my younger high school self, I would have answered that I despised being Asian and I often wished I was White. Growing up, I thought the term ‘American’ meant a white person who lived in a nice house.

Why did I think that? Maybe because there weren’t any Asian families on TV who looked and lived like my family.

I was beyond ignorant and believed the stereotypes. I looked up to the families I saw on TV. They were all White, Middle to Upper-class citizens, lived a lifestyle I wish I had, and most importantly, spoke English year round. The more I talked to my high school friends about how great white people had it, the more I faded away from my own culture.

I knew I was ashamed of being Asian when someone told me they could hear an “accent” when I spoke and I was offended.

I knew I was ashamed of being Asian when I said I would only have kids if they were mixed with white.

I knew I was ashamed of being Asian when someone said, “You’re so Asian,” to me and I felt saddened by that comment.

I knew I was ashamed of being Asian when I took being called “White-washed” as a compliment. I knew I was ashamed of being Asian when I was embarrassed to bring my mom around because she couldn’t speak English and didn’t wear name brands.

I'm disgusted with myself now reflecting on my former mentality. Being American is not about being white, rich, and having an overly decorated house. Now, when I picture an American, I no longer see only a white person. When I picture an American, I see my mother. She’s a woman who came to the United States not knowing English but knew how to work hard. Her English may not be perfect but who says it has to be? Lastly, when I picture an American, I see myself, a young proud woman of color, still learning and eager to know more about anything and everything. With my freedom of speech, I plan to use my diction for improvement, not ignorance.

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Written by Lynn Ly


Lynn is an aspiring writer in her early 20’s. As an Asian-American, she loves Vietnamese iced coffee, hot pot, and hopes there will be a stronger presence of Asians in American media. Check out more of her content here. You might have read some of her previous work here.

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