What does it really mean to be Asian American? In this episode, we try to answer that question through our own stories and upbringing. From language barriers to meme pages, Hannah, Sophia and David take a closer look at what makes the Asian American experience unique.
[Second GenerAsian Theme — Tenny Tsang]
Sophia Lo: Hi everyone, welcome to...
All: Second GenerAsian!
Sophia: I'm Sophia.
Hannah Julie Yoon: I'm Hannah.
David Deloso: And I'm David.
Hannah: And today's topic of the day is...
David: Defining Asian American. So, all three of us were born in the U.S. and we've lived here for pretty much our entire lives. We just wanted to explore how our experience and the experience of all Asian Americans is unique and distinct.
Sophia: So we'll all be talking a little bit about where we grew up and what it was like growing up and coming to Northwestern. David, what are your thoughts on that?
David: So, I was born in the Midwest in a really small town. So I think my experience with rural America was definitely impacted by my race and just how the predominately white people of that town treated me. And then when I was in middle school I moved to St. Louis, which is still a fairly white city. But it was a whole new world for me in terms of just the acceptance I found there. And I felt much more of a strong connection to the American culture because that's what everyone else connected with. And so now that I'm here at Northwestern, it's been really eye-opening. Just the opportunities that I've had to connect with other people who are Filipino specifically, but also just generally Asian, there's a lot of diversity which is something that I've never really experienced. How about you, Hannah?
Hannah: Just so everyone is clear, David is Filipino, I'm Korean and Sophia is Chinese. You can't see our faces so I thought I would clarify that. Yeah, so growing up, my parents were actually really good at speaking English. So I never had to struggle only speaking to them in Korean, but they also did try to teach me Korean. So I can speak Korean. But growing up, I was born in Pennsylvania and when I was very young, it was me and two other families, maybe three, who were Korean in the entire town. So obviously most of my classmates were white. And I never really liked the fact that I was different. And then everything changed when I moved to the magical land of California. Specifically I moved to the Bay Area which is a huge culture shock for me. For me, the little third grade Hannah. The elementary school I moved to is, I think 60 or 70 percent Asian. And I think not being a minority anymore made me, just really appreciative of the culture that I was born into. And now as a second generAsian American I struggle with maybe, "Oh, am I not Korean enough? What if I have kids and then they won't be Korean enough?" Because they'll be less Korean than me if we decide to live in America and I'll be responsible for the death of a culture. And yeah, that's, the things that keep me up at night. Do you wanna go, Sophia, on that note?
Sophia: Sure. On that note. So I grew up in Pennington, New Jersey. So, like David, I grew up in a mostly white town, but there were still a decent sized Asian community. It was mostly Chinese, so I had plenty of Chinese friends, but I think the real disconnect for me there was language, because both of my parents are from Hong Kong, so they both spoke English really well, and then predominantly the language in Hong Kong is Cantonese, and most of my friends spoke Mandarin. So I think in that sense, having all my friends speaking Mandarin and I was speaking Cantonese, I couldn't communicate with them in the same ways, or culturally it's a little bit different. So I think for me, the struggle growing up Asian American was that sense of feeling like I wasn't Asian enough. Because I also don't speak Cantonese fluently. I didn't see any point in it because again, most of my friends didn't speak Cantonese, my parents spoke English. And it's something that I've thought a lot about after coming to Northwestern and seeing so many more Asians. Kind of, "Where do I fit in culturally?" Just because of that disconnect with language and who I grew up around.
David: I think the language barrier is definitely a huge factor for a lot of Asian Americans. And I mean I have a lot of Asian friends that do speak their mother tongue, but as someone who never really grew up speaking Tagalog, which is the language that's predominantly spoken in the Philippines, I think there's a lot of disconnect from your home country there. Like, it makes me feel less Filipino because I don't know how to speak Tagalog fluently. It's just never something that I had to do, because everyone speaks English of course. And I think Asian parents kind of expect their children to be sort of assimilated. Because just like, for a lot of Asian countries, and I think particularly the Philippines, there's sort of an idealization of America, which is what a lot of immigrant families aspire to. It's just like the American Dream. They want the kids to be a part of that.
Hannah: Yeah. It's not just Asian people, it's like...
Sophia: Immigrants. It's what attracts immigrants here.
David: But I don't think it should come at the loss of the culture that you came from.
Hannah: Yeah. I think immigration in terms of how the children of immigrants fit into that picture, there's also like this huge pressure for children of immigrants to pay back their parents with all the sacrifices they've made. Because I know, specifically for my parents, we're pretty well to do off now, we can afford to send me here, but growing up, they definitely made a lot of sacrifices to be able to get college degrees to come here and then to find work, and to raise me and my brother. So there is a pressure to find a job that pays well so, like, not be a failure so that all you parents' sacrifices are not in vain. But also I'm not really sure if, is that a good thing?
Sophia: I think putting that pressure onto children isn't a good thing. But I think just having that sort of pressure on anyone is what causes people to crack, and especially if you're raised like that from a young age, and it just kind of piles on and on and then coming to college is a really big step. And I think making that decision and having to think about your parents is a lot.
David: Although I will say, one thing that we haven't mentioned yet are our majors here at Northwestern. So I'm majoring in journalism and so is Sophia. And Hannah is majoring in...
Sophia: Well just kind of going off of that, I wanna emphasize that it's a stereotypical thing for Asians to major in STEM fields, but not all Asian parents are like that. I thought I was gonna major in Biology and when I made the change my parents were still really supportive. So I think that's really good, I don't think I had to live with any sort of pressure, like, "Oh, you have to be an engineer, you have to be a doctor," something like that. So I don't think that is encompassing of all Asian cultures because all of us are here.
David: Alright, so shifting things back to the main topic, what would you say are the distinguishing features and elements of Asian-American culture? Because, so for those of you who don't know, there's a Facebook page called Subtle Asian Traits.
Hannah: Subtle Asian Traits!
Sophia: Join it!
David: And it's really popular with Asian-Americans. It just sort of indicates to me that there are some very real features of living as an Asian outside of Asia that are very distinct. They're different from the experience that you'd get in Asia.
Hannah: And they're subtle, but they're very, very distinct. Like that one post that was like, "Every Asian family dog," and it was like, small fluffy dog that every Asian family seems to have. There are a lot of Kumon memes.
David: Yes. Kumon.
Hannah: Kumon. Kumon, for those of you who don't know, it's an after-school math and reading place for young children, like elementary school, where they teach you basic addition, subtraction, and it's like the very Asian way of teaching, which is just like, "Do it over and over and over again until you are the master at it." If your target audience is young people, why would you have a sad face in your logo?
David: Fun fact, my mom was actually the one who worked to get the Kumon center opened in my town when I was in kindergarten.
Hannah: Oh my god!
David: Which, I mean, I appreciate what Kumon did to me to an extent.
Hannah: To an extent, yes.
David: Because I think it did keep me, I guess, ahead of the game in terms of math and reading but also it... I was very miserable for quite a long time because I had to do homework every single day and it was all awful. It's just all repetition.
Sophia: I actually have never done Kumon. I have friends. I just got workbooks over the summer. I did that, so.
Hannah: Oh yeah, that's also an Asian thing. I had to learn to read before I got to kindergarten. My parents made me learn how to read before I got into kindergarten. Well, once I was in kindergarten, all my classmates were learning how to read sentences like "The cat ran away. John likes cats. Dog like cat." And then I was already reading Magic Tree House Books.
Sophia: That's what I was reading in kindergarten.
Hannah: And I was reading those in kindergarten, and the teacher was so surprised. Pushing you to do your absolute best, it's a really good quality to instill in kids. And I'm really thankful, at least for my parents for pushing me to do things like Kumon and extra math problems. I didn't enjoy it, it sucked, but I feel like if they hadn't pushed me so hard I don't think I could've gotten into a school like Northwestern.
David: Yeah, I definitely agree.
Hannah: Thank you mom and dad! We love you!
David: I don't know what kind of person I would be if my parents hadn't pushed me a bit more. And my parents were definitely more supportive than the stereotypical "tiger parents." But if they hadn't pushed me, I don't know where I would be now, but it probably wouldn't be here. And yes, I did have to work a lot when I was younger, but I mean, now we all have to work a lot here.
Hannah: Yeah, but then like, I can do that by myself. I don't have to have someone tell me to do my homework. I can just do my homework by myself and do it on time. I think a really undervalued quality in Asian parenting is that it forces kids to do their best. All my hardest-working friends were children of immigrants, because our parents just forced us to work so hard. And we're doing great things!
David: But I'd say despite the disconnect that a lot of Asian immigrant children have, there are still elements of connect to the culture that you were raised in. Say for example, food.
Hannah: Oh, food. Yes!
David: How non-adventurous a lot of American people are compared to us. I'll try anything, I feel like both of you will too.
Hannah: Yeah, I'll try anything.
Sophia: Anything. Yeah!
David: Yeah. But then I have a lot of American friends that are just, they see something that looks unfamiliar, and they're like "It's gross, I don't want it." But if they just tried it, there's so much delicious food.
Hannah: Oh my god, hot pot is amazing.
Hannah: But a lot of White people don't want to try it because they say it looks like dishwater.
David: Well on that note...
Hannah: Alright, so this is where we're gonna wrap it up. This was a more introductory episode into what kinds of topics we want to talk about in this podcast, and just how our views of growing up Asian have affected our views of the world and how we see everything. So if you want the Asian lens on all things Asian diaspora, tune in for our next episode.
David: We hope you enjoyed our rambling about our lives and our stories. There's gonna be many more episodes to come, we have a lot in store.
Hannah: We have a lot in store for you guys, yes.
Sophia: And if you want to contact us, if you have any topics, ideas for us, we're also gonna eventually be bringing people on the show to interview. If you're interested, we have an email. David, what is it again?
David: [email protected] If you think you have any perspective that's unique...
Hannah: This podcast is for you, yes.
Sophia: If you really just have any connection to Asian culture, even.
David: There's a lot to talk about there that we think has not been talked about enough, and we're looking to change that.
Hannah: Every episode, we're gonna have a snack of the week. So today's snack of the episode is Jin Ramen. You all have probably heard of Shin Instant Ramen, Jin Ramen is less spicy, but even more flavorful. Because there's less spice, you can actually appreciate the taste, the flavor, the broth is just less spicy, so it's more palatable if you can't handle spice. I'm a big fan of Jin Ramen. If they want to sponsor us, please reach out.
Sophia: If any Asian food place wants to sponsor us...
Hannah: Yes, if anyone would like to sponsor us.
David: [email protected]
[Second GenerAsian Theme — Tenny Tsang]
Hannah: Alright, again, this is Hannah Julie Yoon.
David: I'm David Deloso.
Sophia: And I'm Sophia Lo.
Hannah: And we are signing out!
David: Our intro music was composed by Tenny Tsang. This is NBN Audio.