Once Upon a Time: I Wanted to be White

After watching the number one box office film, “Crazy Rich Asians,” featuring an all-Asian cast, as well as watching the Netflix original film, “To All the Boys I Loved Before,” starring an Asian woman lead; I’m feeling a bit inspired to write. And no these films are not about martial arts. They are both romantic comedies! Where the hell were these movies when I was growing up. I NEEDED THIS.

In my eyes, my parents are the strongest people in the world. They both escaped Vietnam during the war to find a better life in America, where they became US citizens. My dad escaped on a boat with others and became stranded out at sea, until a rescue boat days later found them. He came to America with only $20 in his pocket! My parents have done so much more than I could ever ask for to take care of my brother and me. Although life in the US is better than Vietnam, at least in Vietnam I would be the majority, not the minority.

Growing up, there have been multiple times in my life where I wished to myself that I could have been born white.

“Do your parents speak English?”

“What are you?” “Where are you from? (Not the state)” “What kind of Asian are you?”

“Hey Asian.” Okay, guess I don’t have a name.

“Can you see as well as the rest of us? Or is it like looking through blinds.”

“You’re a woman and an Asian driver? My god, you must be a terrible driver.”

“Is your vagina slanted like your eyes?”

“Do you and your mom do nails?”

“You must be good at math.”

“Mulan.”

“Open your eyes.”

“Go back to China.”

“Ching chang chong.”

“Why do Asians always travel in packs?”

“I want the Asian to be my partner. All Asians are smart.”

After a while the jokes get tiring, holding back tears get tiring, coughing up laughs gets tiring. Being the token Asian gets tiring. Growing up, I tried so hard to become white. I never brought Vietnamese food to school because I was afraid someone would make fun of me again and say it smelled or looked gross. I refused to teach anyone at school Vietnamese words if they asked. I tried to avoid all the FOBs (better known as Fresh off the Boat- asian immigrants) at school. I avoided all fashion statements that made people say I looked “super Asian,” like wearing glasses, Hello Kitty, or silk fabric that had floral patterns (similar to Chinese fabric).

As I’ve grown up, I’ve come to realize that there is nothing to be embarrassed about. What is wrong with speaking a different language? What is wrong with eating “different” food? Nothing. Everyone is different and everyone’s culture is different and beautiful.

With these two movies, I feel as if the world is moving forward in a sense. It has given me hope for the future and for my future children. I am so excited to be able to show them these movies and say that they are being represented in movies. I can’t believe I’m living in a time where I am watching big time movies with Asians acting in lead roles not supporting roles. To those who are raising children or plan to have children, please teach them kindness and to not pick on peoples’ differences. Life is hard enough, we don’t need people making fun of others for things they can’t fix.  Here’s to more narratives with diversity. Be kind and celebrate diversity.

I’m a Vietnamese-American, and I am proud of who I am.

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