OPINION: Asian-American: Earning the hyphen


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I am a second-generation Asian-American male of Filipino descent.

That means at least one of my parents was born in a foreign country.

Both of my parents are Filipino. They met during college in the Philippines.

I was born in Michigan. Yet, people find that hard to believe.

Just as the term “Asian-American” is hyphenated in a certain order, my social identity is that of Asian first, and American second.

When I go out in public, it’s not uncommon for people to ask me “Where are you really from?” or “Are you an international student too?”

When I speak to cashiers or hairstylists, I get congratulated on my English. Only once they seem satisfied with my answers do I go from being Asian, to being Asian-American.

Thank you.

I’m sure it’s reassuring to them that yes, I was born in the USA. No, I’m not an international student. English is my first and only language. The only accent I have is best described as Midwestern.

The way these questions are posed to me, as well as how people react to my answers, suggest otherwise.

These background questions are used as coded language to make sure that I’m someone that they can be ‘comfortable’ speaking to.

There’s nothing wrong with being born outside of the USA. There’s nothing wrong with being an international student. There’s nothing wrong with having an accent.

There’s nothing wrong with having English as a second language. The stigma against foreigners needs to go.

I’m not better than any other Asian because I get to add a hyphen at the end of my race. I receive none of the ‘privilege’ of being an American citizen if I have to defend my personal identity in public every time I leave my apartment.

I’m treated like a second-class citizen. I’m constantly reminded that I am an outsider in an environment where to be different is to be inferior.

Last year I went with my friend to a fraternity house to watch the Pacquiao-Mayweather fight. When I walked through the back to get in, someone on the porch called me a chink. I was stunned.

I hadn’t heard that word since high school. He laughed and walked inside. During the Philippine national anthem, this same guy started booing and yelling obscenities at the television, calling Pacquiao a dog-eater and vocalizing other stereotypes about the Philippines.

I was getting upset, and was ready to confront the guy. Luckily for me, some of my friends who were there too came to my defense and started berating the guy for making racist comments. It was only until he realized that someone who was Filipino was present (me) that he apologized for his actions. I didn’t respond. I was still shaking. We both watched in silence for most of the fight. This guy wasn’t sorry for making disparaging comments.

He was sorry for being caught. He was sorry for being labeled a racist. He was sorry that I was offended.

My nationality and citizenship are put into question when I go out in public. My identity becomes a court case where I am Foreign until proven otherwise.

We live in a country where to be any race other than white or black is assumed to be alien.

This needs to stop. At the end of the day, I’m just as American as the next person.

No hyphen can change that.

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