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COLUMN: The problem with bananas


I loathe bananas. Maybe it’s the texture, or maybe it’s the taste.

They’re overpowering with other foods. You never hear of “just a hint of banana.” It’s all or nothing with bananas.

A banana ruined my 2006 summer vacation to Disney World. My dad wouldn’t let us leave for the parks until I finished every bite of my breakfast — which included an awful, gooey banana.

If I didn’t eat the banana, he said, we weren’t going at all. So I took a bite, and sneakily spit it into my napkin. My father caught me and yelled until I started to cry. I tried it one more time and promptly vomited.

We didn’t leave for another five hours. I was mad at my father, but I was more upset with bananas.

Bananas leave a bad taste my mouth, and so does racial prejudice. You see, in the Asian community, calling someone a “banana” is a derogatory term used to describe someone out of touch with their culture. Yellow on the outside, white on the inside; similar to how some African-Americans are called an “Oreo” if they don’t fit into the stereotype.

These underlying connotations, when used among Asians, act as indifference against people of the same heritage. It implies a need for whitewashing, or seeking out benefits of white privilege.

Some people believe that a disconnect between heritage and cultural expression is a harmful and dangerous thing. For second-generation Asian-Americans like myself, we find ourselves at a crossroad on this.

I was born and raised in America. American culture is my culture. Is that assimilation, and is it a bad thing? No, it’s not.

The influence and impact of a new culture on immigrants depends on when you came to the States. I’d feel like an imposter if I claimed to have a stronger connection with Filipino culture, so I don’t.

I can’t speak Tagalog. I don’t enjoy playing basketball. I’ve only watched one Manny Pacquiao fight on Pay-Per-View.

You can call me a banana, but what does that really mean? My parents immigrated with the intention of exposing their kids to American culture. I should be able to claim my Filipino heritage even though I am a product of America.

It’s my decision alone to identify with whatever ethnicity I hold, and the cultures I’m exposed to. Still, the stigma follows me everywhere.

Eddie Huang is an accomplished chef and author. He’s also one of my favorite television personalities. Huang spoke at Central Michigan University in 2014 while promoting his new book, “Fresh Off The Boat.” It details his upbringing as a Chinese-Taiwanese American after his family moved from Washington D.C. to Orlando. The popular TV show with the same name on ABC is based off his book.

For some people of color, assimilation is rejection in order to achieve acceptance — a rejection in favor of a dominant culture that is easier to connect with. Huang fiercely rejected white culture in Orlando during his childhood, which led to feelings of anger and resentment.

The night of his address, I wore my Philippines jacket, newly bought at the Manila Airport the previous summer. I was waiting in line to meet him, and a girl walked up to me. She saw the flag on my jacket and said “Mabuhay!” That means hello in Tagalog, the most prominent dialect in the Philippines. She rattled off two sentences in Tagalog that I didn’t follow. I told her that I’m not fluent at all.

She flashed a pained smile and sauntered away. I’m sure I disappointed her. There aren’t many Filipinos on campus. When you finally run into another one and find out that they don’t know their native tongue, it’s easy to be let down.

As for myself, it seems that I’m the personification of a banana — an odd situation to deal with for a human who loathes bananas.