Defining What It Means to Be an Asian American: Essay

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I acknowledged the existence of race at a very young age. I can vividly recall several instances in elementary school when other students would call me 'Jackie Chan'. There would even be times when they would squint their eyes and perform movements as if it was kung fu. I was different from my classmates and they made sure I knew that.

I never completely understood how much my ethnicity would impact my life until I got to my late teens. In high school, comments about my appearance transformed into a stereotype. A stereotype that expects me to perform well due to my race. Comments like “You are Asian, tutor me” or “You must be good at math, you’re Asian” were mentioned regularly. Because of who I am, the room for error and mistakes has lessened, which ultimately placed me to be part of the model minority. Myself including every other Asian American are expected to score high, attend an Ivy League, and secure a prestigious career. Except that these expectations were and are still false. Not every Asian American student is an overachiever and can maintain a perfect grade point average. I would be hesitant when asked, “You are Asian, how did you fail that test?”, “Asians are supposed to be smart, are you not Asian?”, or “Since you are Asian, do you like math?”. I felt alone and distanced from my peers who were of other races. I started to question why they didn't have such high standards. This all forced me to feel as if I needed to constantly succeed and score high, and if I did not, I was a disappointment and a humiliation to everyone else and myself.

My parents are both United States citizens who migrated from Vietnam to the States in the late 1900s. Similar to other immigrants, they came to America in hopes of seeking better opportunities for themselves, but primarily for their families. My dad worked at the Marriott Hotel as a bellman and my mom worked at a washateria, all while taking on the full-time job of caring for me and my sister. I was born into a life that my parents had learned from scratch, but I was still having a hard time accepting my heritage. I can distinctly recall a moment when I felt completely singled out. I was at a friend’s birthday party and we were all sitting at a round table. One of my friends at the table began telling us a joke that involved an Asian doing math. Before he could finish, he hesitated and looked right at me. Within seconds, the whole table turned their head in my direction, and it was right then that I realized I was the only non-white person. Prior to this, I never really acknowledged or took notice of who was in the room and if I was the only non-white, but it was at this moment that I truly felt like an outsider.

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As I grew older, I became more prideful of my culture and heritage. I began to accept people’s questions about me and my ethnicity. I came to terms that they are people who don’t know any better due to their lack of exposure to the Asian American culture. I would kindly befriend them and explain that the product of my grades did not come from a certain type of induced parenting or that I was born with highly intellectual genetics. Instead, my grades were all dependent on studying, just like everyone else.

For most of my life as an Asian American, I have struggled with the feeling of judgment and self-doubt. My concerns with what everyone else thought left me with little to no confidence. What I didn’t realize was that this feeling was all an internal battle with myself, an internal battle that if my heritage meant so much to me, then their opinion does not and should not define me.

Against the advice of my family and friends, I ultimately chose to write about the hurdles of growing up as an Asian American, because doing so would give the most pure and authentic version of myself. Without all of the social confusion and struggles, I never would have developed a sense of understanding and appreciation toward people of different backgrounds. I understand that to feel accepted I must be proud of my culture and myself. I must confront the racial remarks or the misinterpretation of an Asian American.

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Defining What It Means to Be an Asian American: Essay. (2023, December 08). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 20, 2024, from
“Defining What It Means to Be an Asian American: Essay.” Edubirdie, 08 Dec. 2023,
Defining What It Means to Be an Asian American: Essay. [online]. Available at: <> [Accessed 20 Apr. 2024].
Defining What It Means to Be an Asian American: Essay [Internet]. Edubirdie. 2023 Dec 08 [cited 2024 Apr 20]. Available from:

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