So, in fact, there are many different ways in which a person can be 'Asian'.
To acknowledge and notice the nuances of the vast difference between the cultures of the East and the West, sometimes being born of one but thrown to the other can cause you to think, and think for your whole life. As an Australian-born-Chinese, I've seen all the differences in food, attitudes, priorities. I have seen what it is to belong and not belong, to feel unique and proud and frustrated. A lot of my identity has been built around being 'Asian'.
But, you see, calling myself 'Asian' is already a somewhat misleading, broad term. Asia is a continent. Asia consists of India and Korea and the Middle East. I may be from both China and Malaysia, but that's two countries out of 48. And that's where I go wrong. I call myself 'Asian' because in a predominantly white country, I'm of a rather large minority, and we label ourselves as 'Asian'. 'Asian' isn't a culture. Chinese is a culture, but 'Asian' is many.
Two days ago I flew back from Malaysia, a country consisting of three major cultures: Malay, Chinese and Indian. All are Asian. There, my cousins and my uncles and aunties label themselves as Chinese. Chinese people have their own stereotypes, as do the Malays and the Indians. None of them call themselves 'Asians' because being Asian is a given. While people from Vietnam, China, Japan and Korea may 'look the same' to people here, in Asia there is a wide distinction in culture, food and appearance - I say food because food is very important to most Asian cultures, as it should be.
But then, with internet and movies and Netflix taking over the world, pop culture in Malaysia has become quite westernised. While girls my age do enjoy K-dramas and Animes, my Aunty has said that 'nobody tells anyone they watch K-dramas. It's one of those things they want to sweep under the rug.' They all enjoy looking 'tumblr' and eating at 'hipster cafes'. They'd rather eat eggs benedict than roti canai. As my cousin said, 'they're all trying to act white these days,' and as my uncle said, 'P A T H E T I C what does that spell?'
However, this is a huge generalisation. Unlike the way she describes some of her school mates, my cousin dresses a lot more 'kawaii' as her friends put it. With school-girl skirts, stockings, pastel colours, shiny miniature boots and pigtails, she is the picture of one of the Japanese school girls in her Animes, and I think that's cool. Every day she uses a cushion foundation and lip creamer, all bought from Korean makeup shops, going for the dewy look rather than matte everything with wings as sharp as knives.
This seems to be the picture of beauty in Japan, where we visited for a week before the new year. In advertisements all over subway stations and Shibuya Crossing, girls had perfect, moist-looking skin. Their eyeliner was much more discrete than those I see here, and to my surprise, their wings were not turned up but rather finishing with a little straight flick. Sometimes the wings would even be turned downwards. This difference in beauty, which I thought was actually much more attractive, must be the manifestation of a thriving Asian culture, which, for the first time I'd ever seen, was not trying to be white.
In Japan, everyone walked fast and everyone was well dressed, including the boys. Girls would wear pink and white long furry jackets, outrageously sparkly eyeshadow with blue eyeliner, or Moschino-style embroidered jackets or pants, and nobody would blink an eye. It was rare to see a girl in simple jeans and a coat. It was much more exciting. Boys would have hair sitting perfectly, wearing bomber jackets and hipster glasses, somehow making their pristine Adidas sneakers look classy rather than basic. Walk into a 10 story Forever 21 and you'll find that floor 5 upwards is men's clothing. They have their own celebrities, pop culture, technology and language; and they're proud. Now this is an 'Asian' I want to see more of.
But then, in some ways, while factoring in the westernisation, there has been a beautiful modernisation of the Chinese culture in Malaysia as well. Walking into a cheongsam shop, the beautiful Chinese patterns, silks and collars have been fused into beautiful, plainer dresses fit for any Western girl trying to branch out, or printed on batik the same way Indonesians make their clothing. While tossing the Yee Sang we add salmon, because it is both easy to find and tastier, and when eaten it tastes like a salad with balsamic vinegar dressing. Pineapple tarts sit on kitchen counters alongside butter-cream cupcakes. While this culture in itself is Chinese-Malaysian, and while they may not be as acquainted with western culture as people who have immigrated over, they still, in some ways, have the best of both worlds.
And, in my case, how can I truly be Chinese-Malaysian if I do not live in Malaysia and I have no memory of ever having celebrated a true Chinese New Year? Being 'Asian' in a white country is an entirely new 'Asian' in itself. While in Malaysia, my Aunty was telling me about her experiences going to high school in Australia at the age of 15. She said that as a new immigrant, she realised that other Asians, those born in Australia, didn't want to be associated with her. They were ashamed of their culture. Back in that time, there weren't as many immigrants, and being non-white was an actual rarity, 1 in 100.
Watching Fresh off the Boat, set in a similar scenario in a slightly later time period, while the eldest son isn't ashamed of his culture, he is aware of the stereotypes and fights against them, saying to his younger brother on his first day of middle school,
'So you want to be what everyone thought I was when I walked in on the first day. You want to undo all the work I've done over the past two years... I'm keeping them on their toes, blazing trails, breaking chains. Then they see you coming with your violin and your camera, and we're back to where we started.'And then there's second generation Asian immigrants today. Stereotypes still exist and we make fun of them, but I can't tell whether we despise them or love them. I can't tell whether we're fighting them or accepting them as predominantly true. In an overly politically correct world, I think we are beginning to take pride in our culture while everyone else is afraid of being racist. It's a newer, more multicultural world in which girls wear traditional clothing out to dinners and dances, and I'm glad to have been born in this time period where it is easy to be proud of being 'Asian'.