Every Asian person has heard that magical question before.
“What kind of Asian are you?”
This question is often followed by a series of random guesses. “No no, I got it! You are, uhhh… KOREAN! No! Wait, Cambodian?” I can see them studying my face trying to measure the angle of my slanted eyes. Or the bridge of my nose, the shape of my jaw, and the shade of yellow on my skin. It’s interesting: they have absolutely no clue what to look for and yet, they truly believe that the hours they’ve spent watching Asian porn and dining at the local Chinese takeout restaurant have bestowed upon them the ability to guess my ethnicity. And when I tell em’ their wager is wrong they think I’m lying.
“Filipino? NO YOU ARE NOT! Are you sure? I think you’re Chinese.”
I sometimes wonder how these idiots change their behavior once they figure out which Asian I am. Do they change their approach or speak to me differently now that I’ve been exposed as one Asian over another? Most importantly, what Asian do I myself identify with? Well, here’s my answer:
Some days I wake up with a quiet calm inside my chest. I move around the house methodically, moving each of my limbs one by one like an animatronic robot in Disneyland. Here, I feel Japanese.
Other days I might be cruising through East Side San Jose with my shades on. The smell of sweat and gasoline, the screeching of tires and the sound of clanking utensils reverberating throughout a run-down pho shop. Now, I’m Vietnamese.
Then, in a split second, I’ll switch on some K-Pop and BAM! I’m no longer Ranier Maningding, I’m Ryung Minjun. My eyes gaze harder and my shirt starts to unbutton itself.
As an Asian-American, all of us are asked to check one box. Korean? You’re Asian. Japanese? Asian. Filipino, Taiwanese, Cambodian, Laotion, Vietnamese, or Hmong? Asian. Sometimes this can give you the sensation that your identity doesn’t matter. But to me, it does. Being Asian-American means I can blur the lines between which Asian I want to be today, and the one I choose tomorrow.
Care for some Chinese?