Identity

So I’ve been asked by my program manager, Flora, to lead a diversity session for all the Azerbaijani teachers at the upcoming counterpart conference in Baku. Even though Katie, Michael, and I are only beginning to throw a presentation together, the basic gist of our session is to show that America is a really diverse place and not all Americans are blond haired, white skinned, and blue eyed. I think in some ways that I’m not really “qualified” to lead a discussion on political-correctness and refraining from racist/bigoted comments, because I myself am pretty nonchalant about racism. Yes, I do agree that Asians have small eyes (unless you have double eyelids) and Yes, I have eaten dog (it was greasy and not very good). Yes, when you ask me where I really am from, I do have an answer (I emigrated here from Taiwan). Racist slurs and stereotyping haven’t really bothered me yet. Ironically, the only time I am riled up about this topic is when it’s other Asians hurling slurs…weird, right?

The reason I feel slight reluctance about this session is because how I conceptualize my own identity. In America when somebody asks me about my ethnic/cultural background, I say that I’m Taiwanese or less frequently, Taiwanese-American. I didn’t really see myself as “American” and amongst some of my Asian friends calling me that were fighting words. Here at Azerbaijan, when the same question is asked I say that I’m 100% American. Saying anything otherwise would probably lead to a long discussion and a defense of my heritage/background. I don’t think I’ve ever tried so hard to be American before in my life.

Interestingly enough, I’m beginning to realize, and accept my “Americanness.” I began to realize how much “American” I really am. Maybe distance makes the heart grow fonder, because I find myself jonesing more for a steak than a bowl of white rice. So I’m getting more comfortable accepting a Taiwanese-American identity, except the struggle now is selling my interpretation of American to the Azerbaijanis. Yes, you can still celebrate all the traditions of your homeland and still be American. Because that’s just one of the millions of ways to be American.

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