Tuesday, May 26, 2009

My Story as an Asian American Pt. 1

Throughout the month, I've been discussing about the importance, significance and other items that relate to Asian American Heritage Month. For the next few days, I'm going to talk about my own personal experiences about being Asian American.

I get this question all the time "So where are you from?" I reply "Well I live in No. Va now, I grew up in Hampton Roads, but I was born in Roanoke, VA". Their response is "No, I mean where are you REALLY from?" I reply again "um...the US?" The response to that is "No, what is your background, your ancestors?" It's like they're not satisfied until I admit that my family is not from the US. I also have been told I speak really good English. Um...why wouldn't I?


So to satisfy anyone out there who has been asking, my mother is from Malaysia but her family is Chinese. My father is from Burma (Myanmar) and is part of the Chin ethnic group. We call ourselves Burmese-Chinese but I guess technically we are CHIN-ese heh heh. I get asked all the time though if I'm Filipino or Vietnamese. If my picture showed up in one of those "Guess What Asian They Are" quizzes, no one would guess me. I was born in Salem, VA but my parents are both from their respective countries. They immigrated to the US in 1979 and got married in New Mexico before moving to Roanoke, VA. How they met involves a story about pen pals, stamps, and British radio shows, but I have to get permission to tell the story :)


This is a picture of my family and my grandmother in 1991 when we went back to visit Malaysia for the first time. It was the first time my mother had been back to see her mother since she left in 1979. I'm the one on the far left - get a load of those glasses!!!

I have been to Malaysia twice, once when I was 8 again when I was 13. My mother is from East Malaysia: Kuching, Sarawak. ( If you have seen the movie, The Sleeping Dictionary province of China starring Hugh Dancy and Jessica Alba, it is the same location.) My family is originally from the Guangdong and speaks Cantonese. My grandfather went to Malaysia to find work when he was young man, my grandmother followed soon after. My mother grew up with her 2 brothers in a single room atap house. I never got to meet my grandfather, as he died 2 years after my mother left Malaysia. I got to meet my grandmother twice before she died. I have one uncle and aunt who still live there, as well as 3 cousins (+1 goes to school in Sydney, Australia) who work in Malaysia. I would like to go back and visit again, now that I'm older and really go see the city and explore. My mother was a teacher in Malaysia.


A traditional Chin bamboo dance. My father used to do this, and his family used to at reunions all the time. They had the traditional costumes that are shown in the video as well.

I have not had a chance to go back to Burma, and it is unlikely that I will in the near future. Until the government changes, it is unfortunately not a safe place to visit. Even if I went, where my father's village is located, is near impossible to be able to get to. I find this very sad that I cannot see where my ancestors lived. My dad got to go back once about 12 years ago. The area in Chin State where he grew up, a century ago had been visited by British missionaries and converted the area to Christianity. Therefore in that region, everyone was Christians and not Buddhists like most of the country. My father had a big family, about 9 brothers and sisters. Everyone immigrated to US including my grandparents. They are all very successful in the US, with many of them and their children being doctors and engineers. My father got his bachelors degree in engineering in Rangoon, then came to the US and got his masters at Virginia Tech.

Oh and for the record, I don't speak any Asian languages. I could have grown up speaking Cantonese, Chin, Malay, Burmese, etc but since my parents could only communicate to each other in English, that's what we grew up speaking.

9 comments:

  1. Your family's story is so interesting. It must be really annoying to have people commenting on your English just because you don't look like them. There are many Asian Americans out there, I'm not sure why people still assume that a non-white person is an immigrant. Silly.

    If someone was curious about your heritage, what do you think would be the best way to ask about it?

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  2. Thanks for sharing your parent's American dream story with us!

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  3. Wow. I think it's important to know where you come from, but also rude to ask others where they come from, unless it comes up in conversation.

    Thanks for sharing a bit of your heritage with us! I especially enjoyed the video clip of the dancing.

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  4. Thank you for sharing your story! People ask me what my nationality is all the time, too.

    I think One of my main regrets is not being able to speak an Asian language.

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  5. LOVED, LOVED, LOVED this post. I get ticked off when people ask me where I'm from too. I have had a few people ask me what my heritage/cultural background is, and that didn't irritate me. Also the whole "is India in Asia" thing gets to me too.

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  6. Great to learn more about you! Thanks so much for sharing!

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  7. A nice and inspirational story. Thanks for sharing it with us.

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  8. Super post. Thanks so much for sharing. NOw on to read part 2.

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  9. I will typically ask where a person's family is from, as opposed to where that person is from. I find mixed ethnicities to be SO interesting. I'm half Filipino and American white (I guess that's how you describe that), but I have light skin, so people never guess. My sister has darker skin, but people mistake her for latina or native american. It also seems kind of stupid to me to tell a young person that they speak good English, considering how many ethnicities there are living in this country as second and third generation. (Although, I think that in general it is rude to tell anyone they speak good English.)

    My dad's parents communicated in English as well, so we don't speak Tagalog, which makes me sad.

    It really is a shame what's happening over in Burma. Hopefully, that won't be the case for too long.

    Great post. Thanks so much for sharing. Also, I grew up in Hampton Roads too and I live in NoVa. :)

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