I am American, or, at least, I am until someone asks me, “Where are you from?” Naturally, I turn my head to a slight angle, tilt my eyebrows downward, and answer, “New Orleans.” Then, the person re-words the question: “No, where are your ancestors from?” Immediately, both of our colorless skins turn into two different hues on the color spectrum–– white and yellow. A White interacts with a Minority.
As an eighteen-year-old living in America and an Asian adoptee surrounded mostly by white people my entire life, I never think of myself as a minority. Despite having the same eyes, nose, and mouth of human race, the distinction between the other person and me only exists upon the realization that my face looks different. In most cases, this distinction occurs almost immediately upon our first meeting but intensifies once they meet my white adoptive parents. Confused, they demand to hear “my story” and ask, “How did this happen?” To these people, I say, “I was adopted from China as a one-year-old.” A series of questions follow:
“Do you know your real parents or remember anything?”
“Well, my ‘real’ parents live in America, and they adopted me as a one-year-old. Though I have been told my birth mother abandoned me in a hospital to be placed in an orphanage, I couldn't have remembered anything,” I reply.
“Aw, I’m sorry. Are you sad she didn’t want you?”
“I wouldn’t be here talking with you if she kept me,” I bluntly express.
I never knew I had to remember my life as a one-year-old, unlike other people, who barely remember what they ate for breakfast that morning. I also never knew I had to intrinsically speak Chinese and eat Chinese food despite living in America for nearly my entire life. I shake my head, laugh, and accept.
Since I grew up in a mostly white society, I rarely think of myself as Asian. The part of my brain that knows I am Chinese flicks off and on like a lightswitch. I become assimilated into the White, All-American culture, oblivious to my ethnicity until someone says, “Where are you from?” Flick. The switch turns on. The other person’s snow white skin prevails over my dull yellow skin. The same yellow that reminds me of my “Made in China” reality instead of the “Made in U.S.A.” I pretend to be. Adoption papers, passports, temporary green cards, and a picture of myself as an orphaned baby that I have only heard stories about from my parents seep into my mind.
When I was younger, I used to never sit out in the sun out of fear that my skin would turn yellow and strip the White I saw in myself. I used to cover my face with makeup three shades lighter than my natural skin tone hoping to hide my “imperfect” heritage. I wanted to look “American” and believed in what I made myself out to be––“Made in U.S.A.”–– regardless of my nationality. However, when reality sets in, people still marginalize me for what they see when they first look at me: a small Chinese woman. I request for people to go beyond my bright, golden skin, look into my beautiful slanted eyes, and explore my individuality rather than my appearance and my origin. I am Chinese. I am American.