Calling Myself Out ‒ I Was A Self-Hating Asian Guy With An Identity Crisis
This will probably be a long text and I usually keep lots of my thoughts to myself but still — I’d like to share some of my experiences and maybe you can relate and feel understood through my story — if not, then I hope it could widen your perspective at least :)
I’m not a professional writer but I’ll try my best to express myself…
To begin with, I was born and raised in Germany — I’m of Asian descent, particularly Vietnamese.
As the title already says and as hard as it sounds — yes, I used to ‘hate’ Asians, including myself.
Through intense research, I could observe that this ‘phenomenon’ is not an isolated case due to several circumstances which may differ a bit from individual to individual — but the result is the same:
But how come this is so common?
For clearer understanding in the following, I will mostly refer the term ‘Asian(s)’ to people who are of East and South East Asian descent but grew up in a Western society.
However, I will also question that term, regarding other Asian ethnicities besides the two mentioned ones.
As I’m writing this and as nothing comes from nothing — I’m firstly going to reflect about the main reasons for my own personal self-hating and identity crisis:
1) Being The Only Asian + Surrounded By Ignorant People
Outside my parents’ home, I have often been the only Asian — i.e. in kindergarden, school and now university or in my near surroundings in general. Although I live in a quite large and very multicultural city, Asians are clearly a minority here and generally in Europe.
Additionally, my parents don’t have any Asian friends or acquaintances either so that there has been no possibility to make potential Asian friends with their hypothetical children. Being an only child with cousins I don’t get to see very often in a year, them being either much older or younger than me or living too far away, made me feel further alone.
Because of all that, I learned to deal with much more non-Asians in the long run.
Probably you can also relate to this: As a kid, I was often the only one being asked “Where are you from?” and simply answered with “I’m from here.” — they would keep asking “No, I mean where are you really from?”. First I got confused when they asked the same question again like they were sceptical of my answer — but soon, I realized they rather wanted to know my ethnicity or where my parents came from respectively. I remember I always hesitated to answer that question because of an inferiority complex (more info later). Sometimes, they would try to guess ‘my country’ which was frustrating because other than China or Japan, they knew nothing else about Asia. Being a documented German-born citizen didn’t matter to them because I obviously don’t look like an ethnic German.
From then on (I was six), all the damn struggles started.
Nonetheless, I became a ‘member’ of several groups of people where I was the only Asian. It actually didn’t bother me until I noticed I was treated somehow differently compared to the rest and that was because — surprise — I’m Asian. For instance, they would always remind me of my appearance by calling me “the Asian guy” or making some stereotypical remarks. Some strangers or people who were not close to me would even call me “that Chinese boy”.
People were rather reducing me to my Asian appearance than seeing me as an individual person.
Once on a tram, a random little kid next to us asked my mom if we were Chinese — she quietly answered no, I could see she felt awkward and so did I. The kid dared to answer back with “Yes, you are!”. I know kids at that age are not ‘woke’ enough and might talk ignorant stuff, being a kid myself back then, I got so mad but didn’t make a huge thing about such incidents and remained silent since I didn’t want to be perceived as over-sensitive.
As a result, I felt like an outsider wherever I went, I was hurt that I also experienced discrimination — luckily, it didn’t happen that overt and often.
2) ‘Whitewashing’ + Stereotypical Portrait Of Asians In Western Media
Through German mainstream entertainment media — which broadcast many American sitcoms and movies — the so-called ‘whitewashing’ from Hollywood has been transported over here too.
Consequently, one would miss adequate representation of certain characters or if there was at all, mostly a stereotyped portrait of Asians.
I’ve seen a white actor playing the lead role enough in my life — even if the original character is supposed to be otherwise which made me question how Hollywood would look on Asians and other POC.
I got my anwser when I would see an awkward-appearing ‘nerdy’ Asian sidekick (mostly male) or an oversexualized female love interest, sometimes with an unnecessary accent or just stereotypical bullshit in general.
Now of course, this has an impact on many people who consume these media, for instance other kids would come to me and say things like “Ching Chang Chong”, “Can you do Karate?”, “Is Jackie Chan your father?” or “Do some Kung Fu moves for us”.
Even adults who have nothing better to do than to troll like saying “ni hao” in a rather insulting way or “Hey, you look like Bruce Lee” while making a silly grin made me feel ashamed of myself instead of seeing martial artists as role models.
I remember watching a quiz show on one of the most ‘serious’-considered German TV channels, where German ‘celebrities’ participated — when a question about a Chinese cat breed came up, one of the participants pulled her eyes back on purpose to make a joke. The whole studio laughed while I got angry enough to turn off the TV after that.
My worst experience was at the age of 14 when once, I was walking down the street passing two grown white women — as soon as they noticed me, they started to make some loud gibberish sounds that were obviously supposed to emulate Chinese phonetics and laughed at me afterwards. I was hurt but didn’t really know how to react and just ignored them by continuing to mind my own business. I know many other people have faced much oftener and worse kinds of incidents. However, it was the worst ‘micro-agression’ I encountered since that was the only overt one I personally experienced so far.
As you can see, these behaviors do not come from nowhere. The lack of contact with Asians (or other certain groups of people) in real life with the stereotypical portraits in media “forms and socializes [you] into what [you] think that group is”.
As a kid and teenager back then, I myself was also naïve enough to ‘believe’ the stereotypes that Asians are supposed to be and act like this and that. The problem was I couldn’t identify myself with other Asians since I didn’t meet any frequently enough in real life and didn’t see a role model in media.
Thus, (it sounds ridiculous) whenever I did see other Asians in my surroundings, I automatically distanced myself from them for fear of being associated with any stereotypes or being made fun of.
Furthermore, I feared that people would see me as close-minded if I would only hang out with my ‘own kind’.
Ironically, this exactly made me close-minded as I purposely excluded other Asians from my circle.
Maybe it was just a delusion, but in a place where you don’t expect many Asians and you suddenly see one, I always felt like we would be pretending not to notice and yet secretly check out each other — so that I felt a ‘pressure’ to get to know them but at the same time distanced myself from them.
Honestly, I did want to make Asian friends in the hope of being understood without explaining myself, but my ‘whitewashed’ mind was telling me that I need to assimilate as much as possible in order not to appear ‘too Asian’ and in order to be accepted by people.
As soon as I began to notice there are white people modeling for Asian brands, I questioned if Asians were not good-looking enough to promote their own brands — teenage me deduced from it that Whites were considered as superior, hence I started to develop an inferiority complex.
As a result, I secretly wished that my hair was lighter and my eyes not being almond-shaped since this has been the beauty standard in society.
Somehow, I was also brainwashed to think being talkative and out-going meant being white which both I wasn’t.
3) Lack Of Exposure To Asian Heritage
The only time when I can somehow connect with my Vietnamese heritage is when I’m at home with my parents or visit my other relatives. Besides my grandparents, aunts and uncles, they are the only ones I speak the language with.
As you grow up, the interactions and discussions with teachers and other people my age influenced my way of thinking more than the ones at home.
This doesn’t mean I didn’t listen to my parents — but the way how my brain would process information is more shaped by the German language since it is required to communicate in German with one’s surroundings. I ‘think’ in German if that makes sense..
The consequence is that I can express myself far better in German than in Vietnamese, also because there are often vocabularies one cannot directly translate — however, I would find it weird if I talked to my parents in German as I’m only used to speak Vietnamese with them from the very beginning, with some German words throwing in-between that I can’t translate.
Conversely, my cousins in Germany and I have been communicating with each other in German since their Vietnamese is even more lacking and we also have been used to it only this way.
Honestly, I regret that I used to pretend my Vietnamese was bad in front of my classmates just to avoid their “Ching Chang Chong” comments and make them stop asking me if I could “say something in Chinese” (?!? (╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻).
On the contrary, I would get completely assimilated outside of home (and kind of another ‘person’) — leading a double life.
In kindergarden and school, you would learn more or less the German — or rather Eurocentric culture.
However, topics about racism, immigration and life challenges were discussed in a quite superficial way. Textbooks were not mentioning the struggles of minorities, let alone other cultures than Western so that I felt completely invisible.
At home, my parents also rarely talked about deeper issues. It was just more about doing a good job at work and school for us — aspiring to live the ‘model minority’ life.
Growing up in an Asian household, it is very likely that the parents would listen to music in their native language.
I assume every Vietnamese knows what I’m talking about when I mention ‘Paris by Night’ and ‘Asia Entertainment’.
Although my dad has regularly been playing these Vietnamese-American music shows on VHS and DVD, I didn’t enjoy them very much since they were more directed at an adult audience — therefore younger me deemed Vietnamese and generally Asian music as uncool.
So I used to preferably listen to the more mainstream American pop music — again, I would mostly see only white and black singers.
At the end of the day, this lack of exposure to my Asian heritage caused a disinterest in exploring my ethnicity and thus not learning to appreciate it.
4) Being An Introvert + Social Anxiety + Depression
Being an introvert has led to many people who met me saying I’m a rather quiet and shy person who doesn’t talk much.
Indeed, I feel quite awkward when I need to socialize with new people. It’s because I really can’t stand smalltalk. I know it is inevitable when you get to know others at first but it’s another thing when you do regularly see each other and still can’t make deeper conversations.
The latter case, I unfortunately experienced too often in my life so far which just further drained my energy away. I admit I tend to wait for people approaching me first — however, if I feel I can trust that person and he or she is also interested back, I will surely get comfortable and open up myself pretty fast.
But since I grew with low self esteem, any attention I got was good until I realized it was all superficial.
Only few people would know this so the rest characterize me as shy (in a rather negative context) or underestimate me and get disinterested which dragged my confidence down since primary school days so that I actually became what they said about me — a shy person. It got to the point where I feared for any judgements so much that I developed a minor form of social anxiety. I cared too much about what others — especially strangers — were thinking of me (also partly because of my Asian appearance) that I avoided any contact in such situations and overthinked every little detail.
Random phone calls, doing presentations and being in public without friends were my worst nightmares.
I would also get very frustrated about people telling me “You need to talk more!” — and even more about those who didn’t even know me saying “Oh wow, I never saw you talking and laughing! You’re always so quiet.”. These remarks always felt like a slap in my face — “They know nothing about me, how can they judge without having had any deeper interaction with me yet? I can be loud and do talk, make jokes, as well as laugh around people I’m close with and not you, you f*cking ignorant retard!” — my mind would go like this and I would distance myself from those people.
Society seemed to either overlook or look down on the ‘quiet’ ones and on the contrary, praise the confident and talkative ones.
So eventually, I occasionally faked being an extrovert to compensate, pretending to be all cool and outgoing in front of people in hopes of being accepted — soon did I realize it was freaking stressful and didn’t feel right since that was just not me.
Before I was aware of my internalized racism and identity crisis, I felt like there was no one to share my struggles with — stucked in my status quo — the constant feeling of not being understood and the disability to actually find words to express my thoughts led me sinking into depression I myself denied at first.
It was a vicious cycle — at such a young age, one wants to belong somewhere — the pressure to have friends as many as possible was not compatible with my introversion, never mind my s.a. and depression.
Whereas lots of my fellow pupils seemed wanting to act all mature and cool, I was longing for being a little child again — at kindergarden days, I wasn’t even aware of race or any background differences between people — other kids didn’t ask where I really came from. Nothing mattered, clothes didn’t matter, I could sleep whenever I wanted, playing alone didn’t bother and I was actually happy.
So what’s the connection here?
Well, it sounds absurd again, but the stereotype of the shy, quiet Asian further encouraged my self-loathing.
5) Other Reasons
I hate to mention it at this point, but I also have to call out my own parents on what they said in my presence at times. Not that I want to blame them — however, it sometimes occurred that I would hear them saying stuff like — “Those white people generally just look better, no wonder why many Asians do plastic surgery to look more white.” — or “White people have the advantage they’re taller and firmer than us, they can wear anything they want without looking ridiculous unlike Asians who’d look like try-hards” — as well as “That singer is so unlucky to have such a flat nose.” [rough translation from Vietnamese].
Once, although she didn’t mean it very seriously, one of my aunts told me I have to pull my nose bridge with my fingers regularly to get a “higher nose like Europeans have” — and as a kid, I unfortunately took that seriously and became insecure about my facial features.
Now, how can this ‘colonial mindset’ from your own parents / relatives not affect you? Well, I didn’t comment back and tried to ignore their statements since I didn’t know what to say. But still, I felt upset and it contributed to my inferiority complex that I began to develop the same thoughts in my head.
Sometimes, when I complain about something, my dad reminds me of how good I have it to live in a place like Germany, comparing my whole life to his former experiences with poverty and political oppression.
As a kid, I couldn’t really comprehend that — it only resulted in me associating my race/ethnicity with being poor, inferior and rigid.
Another complex I had was my physical appearance. I’ve always had a very slim figure due to high metabolism — “you’re too skinny” is what I would regularly hear from my relatives when I meet them, no one seems to understand it’s difficult to gain weight with high metabolism, no matter how much you eat or workout.
During puberty, my skinniness got more and more visible so that I tried hiding it by wearing up to five layers of shirts, even during summer.
The social body ideal of a male — tall, broad, muscular — and the stereotype of the skinny Asian, well, you can do the math how I felt..
Now I know White-male-Asian-female-couples (WMAF) is a very sensitive topic which I’ve seen being discussed a lot online.
To clarify at first, I don’t mind who or which ‘race’ you’re dating as long as you still respect anyone else and especially yourself. There’s nothing wrong with choosing to be in an interracial/-cultural relationship per se. However, having to insult or look down on people of your own background when you do so leads to assumptions of self-hate or internalized racism respectively.
I noticed there were a few Asian girls in secondary school (middle+high school combined) back then — who seemed to look down on and distance themselves from other Asians. One of them who had a white boyfriend would always look pissed off when she saw me, which irritated me because we didn’t even know each other. The other Asian girls once made fun of my looks and seemed to go after white guys as they mostly hung out with them. Well, at least this was the perception of teenage me, I didn’t have any contact with them so I can’t really judge them.
Through this perception however — with the ‘emasculation’ of Asian males in Western media and the whole inferiority complex I already had — I consequently believed that not only others but also Asian females would look down / hate on Asian males.
Deep down subconsciously, I admit, as a teenager, I felt somewhat jealous of Asian females because I thought they were perceived to be more cool and generally attractive — more privileged in terms of dating and media representation — whereas Asian males were just seen as unattractive and nerdy.
I believed the majority of Asian females would never want to date an Asian male because they recognize “white people are racist towards Asians and say we ‘all look the same’, [they]’d rather not deal with the racism of dating an Asian guy and instead, date the people who are being racist.”
As my ‘pride’ got hurt, I distanced myself from Asian females even more and couldn’t imagine to ever date one at all because — “Who the hell wants to hang out with people who look down on you?” — was my thought.
I also remember one time in eighth grade — we had a discussion on some German laws involving marriage. As soon as the teacher tried to explain the application of one law by randomly naming an example with a classmate of mine (a white girl) and me being a hypothetic married couple, everyone else began to laugh — “How would their children even look like?” — I could hear some guy sarcastically asked.
Now how would you feel about that?
For 13-year-old me, it was another confirmation that Asian males were perceived as the most undesirable demographic that people couldn’t even imagine an Asian-male-[insert-non-Asian-heritage]-female-couple.
Consequently, I naïvely thought, if I actually dated a white girl, it would be the ultimate revenge on the Asian females exclusively dating white guys and people would show more respect towards me (as in “Oh wow, he’s Asian who could get a white girl! He must be very cool, since non-Asian girls usually aren’t into Asian guys.”).
(I had to realize much later that I wouldn’t be much better than those mentioned Asian females because I would also see my hypothetical white girlfriend just as a ‘trophy’; I’ll refer to this and also the above mentioned aspects later again…)
Lastly, my name is a rather minor issue, however, I felt quite insecure about it at few times. To be exact, I have two official forenames — the first one is from Latin — the second from Vietnamese origin.
As far as I know from my parents, I’m supposed to have a Latin name as it was ‘recommended’ by the register office at around the time I was born. People who couldn’t pronounce my Vietnamese name wouldn’t have any problems to call me by my first name — which unconsciously made me having a higher affinity to it through the years than to my Vietnamese name that would be mentioned only in formal situations.
I always feared for the moment when a teacher tried to pronounce my second name, because obviously, they couldn’t properly do so and my classmates would laugh.
Also, I always felt awkward when I would introduce myself to new people, imagining their sceptic reaction when I only mention my Latin name. I mean, from my impression back then, it’s not very common that many Asians would have an official non-Asian name so that I also felt confused in my identity by it.
Luckily, this situation didn’t seem to bother most people.
Nonetheless, I never felt that insecure until it occurred twice that someone acted very surprised and ignorant that I still remember their words
— “Wait, you’re Asian.. why is that your name though?.. I don’t understand why an Asian can have such a name.”
— “My parents just gave me that name.”, I answered and felt frustrated that I couldn’t add anything more since I never really contemplated my own name until that very moment.
Well, these were the reasons for my self-hating and identity crisis — 1), 2) and 3) seem to be the most common ones as I learned from other sources, whereas 4) and 5) were rather my personal experiences.
Obviously, those are not logical reasons and consequences (but rather affective / irrational / social / environmental), as everyone perceives / processes certain experiences kind of differently, even if latter are the exact same. To save the ‘logic’ here: one just tends to think and behave more affectively as a child and teenager.
Although I tried to list all reasons above distinctly for better understanding, all of them influenced each other so that it was actually a cumulative mix of them causing my toxic perceptions and thoughts back then.
How My Self-Hatred And Identity Crisis Stopped
Looking back, I realize I actually never wanted to ‘hate’ anyone or identify with someone that doesn’t represent me at all.
In fact, e.g. I did want to make Asian friends as already said and have always enjoyed family gatherings — yet the mentioned circumstances made me often think and behave otherwise so that I was desparately longing for someone who would understand me as a person — I guess you can call that a cognitive dissonance.
Confronting one’s own internalized racism / self-hatred is necessary to overcome that cognitive dissonance and build up a healthy (and ‘real’) self-esteem because otherwise…
Let’s say — even if you had full access to ‘white privilege’ and all white people were treating and accepting you as ‘one of them’ — at the end of the day, your (‘fake’) self-esteem would still rely on white people’s validation and deep down, you would probably still be bitter about not being born white.
It was quite a long process of fighting the toxic in my mind — 14 years passed from the first experienced micro-agression (“Where are you really from?”, age six) to the point I’ve been able to accept myself (age 20).
However, it was simultaneously also exactly this period of ‘challenges’ when I actually began to understand, appreciate and express myself and many other issues step by step.
You can say one part of me was (unconsciously) trapped in the conditions of internalized racism / colonial mentality / identity crisis / self-hatred / social anxiety while the other part of me was trying to escape from all of those before becoming self-aware.
The first little step was when nine-year-old me wasn’t the only Asian in fourth grade anymore. Although I distanced myself from the four other Asians in my class, as soon as the school year came to its end — the thought that we would probably never see each other again — since we would all go to different secondary schools afterwards — made me a little bit regretting not having made friends with any of them back then.
Nonetheless, I didn’t really think too much about primary school days anymore as I was just looking forward to the summer holidays which has had a significant impact on me until today.
Those holidays, for the very first and so far the last time, I travelled to my ancestor’s home country — Vietnam — with my mom and some other relatives.
I remember being all excited about travelling such a long distance and by plane for the first time. Arrived in Sài Gòn, I was just speechless, everything seemed so foreign to me — you can say I experienced a bit of a culture shock.
However, after meeting and interacting with some family members I had never seen before — I quickly felt more belonging to them and generally comfortable in a place that I had imagined being worse. Every time when we would eat or go away on a trip together, I just enjoyed the familiar atmosphere and forgot all the stress of everyday life.
Also for the first time — the experience of being in the majority — I wasn’t feeling out of place anymore (though I was somehow different as a Vietnamese-German) since everyone looked like me, no one was asking where I really came from or giving the ‘stare’ (or I didn’t notice..).
One of the most memorable moments was when I was casually talking with my great-grand-aunts, seeing how happy they were to meet us — their praises that I could speak and read in Vietnamese fluently made me proud and valuing the language much more than before.
Their grandchildren from California also came for a visit at that time. I hadn’t even known I had extended family from the US, I couldn’t believe these grandchildren were my ‘second cousins once removed’ since they’re actually younger than me. Regardless, I’m glad that we got along with each other — I considered them as my first Asian friends. It was also a new experience I had to talk to them in English since their Vietnamese wasn’t really good.
Unfortunately, we stayed only about two weeks — returning home felt kind of weird as everything went so fast.
Back in Germany, reality soon hit me again and I began to be worried about secondary school since it would be a completely new environment for me.
As a ten year old kid by then, I couldn’t really process the experiences like as an adult now — the brief exposure to the country of my heritage still wasn’t enough — being in the minority again as usually, the toxic in my mind came back as I began to distance myself from other Asians again.
Among my new classmates in fifth grade, there was another Vietnamese whom I regrettably avoided at first.
But eventually, we somehow got closer and became friends among a diverse group — to the point that I even considered him as the only reference person in my school since he was the only one I didn’t really feel alienated around — lookswise and on personal layer.
Although we didn’t have any deeper conversations about our ‘Asian-ness’ too often, I always felt somehow more secure merely by his presence — knowing I was not the only Asian anymore until graduation.
I still remember the day of our enrollment when I heard his mom — while reading our class list — saying to him “Oh look, there’s another Vietnamese [me] in your class.” — I guess being in the minority makes you more aware of someone else with the same background or interests.
Next up, I was trying to overcome my social anxiety that got worse during puberty.
I wasn’t even aware of it so that I always thought something was wrong with me. Teachers didn’t understand and kept telling me to participate more in class, my family and classmates couldn’t help much either — “He doesn’t talk much”, I would often hear.
When I was 14, my dad set up an internet connection for us. From then on, I was finally able to figure out what was ‘wrong’ with me. Eventually, after reading tons of sources, I found out I’m an introvert and had symptoms of s.a. — just knowing that there are actual words that described my true condition and feelings made me feel much better and relieved.
With that knowledge, I slowly began to confront myself in order to get over my s.a. — for instance, I would start going grocery shopping alone more often as well as prepare myself for the next school lessons to the extent that I could participate more in class.
However, introversion will always be a part of me and I’m totally fine with it now that I know it’s not anything negative which many people seemed to connotate with.
“[…] [I]ntroverts [are characterized] as people whose energy tends to expand through reflection and dwindle during interaction” — these words gave me an aha moment so that I finally began to appreciate this trait of me.
Moving on — I would say the year 2012 had the largest impact on me in terms of my self-hating and identity crisis. I turned 16 by now and still felt angry about the stereotyping of Asians in Western media — until I was exposed to something completely new for me.
You probably know that viral song Gangnam Style by PSY — the music video was so popular on the Internet that it became a worldwide success. Few months after its release, it was also hyped in Germany with its cheesy dance. The first time I randomly saw the video was on German TV — it was obviously supposed to be all funny and satiric but instead of laughing, I was just flashed by the fact that an Asian singing in his native language was able to land in the Western mainstream.
“Yes finally, we Asians have made it! I’m so proud!” — I saw someone saying in the comment section of the MV on YouTube and could relate.
Without wanting to discredit the singer, despite his success, soon did I realize the song rather became a meme than a serious achievement for Asians, maybe that’s why it got so popular..
After researching this song, I found out about Korean idol pop music — often put on a level with and called as ‘K-Pop’ (mistakenly?) — anyways, a new type of music for me until then or you can say a whole new ‘worldview’.
I was browsing through YouTube — MV after MV as well as tons of variety shows with other younger artists and groups (idols) appearing in the recommended section.
Along with the whole concepts including the idols’ fashion, makeup, hairstyles, setting and choreographies I was not exposed before, it was the first time I got to see Asians not being stereotyped like in Western media as well as being represented as a majority (in fact, almost 100% of idols in Korea are of Asian descent) — and thought the music and visual appearances were cool as it seemed to be much more directed at a younger audience in contrast to the Vietnamese-American-produced music shows mentioned before.
As a consequence, I hardly listened to any other music anymore, K-Pop became the new shit for me that I was secretly enjoying by myself because I didn’t know anyone else who would also like it.
Yet, it didn’t bother me — just the fact that these Korean idols were seriously considered as celebrities, role models as well as beauty standards in East and Southeast Asia was enough to make me forget all the stereotyping happening in the Western society.
In addition, this new worldview contained another portrait of ‘masculinity’ that I hadn’t seen before and noticed while looking at the male idols who would visibly wear makeup and extraordinary outfits, regularly change and dye their hair in any colour — which many younger fans were celebrating and also imitating.
This kind of ‘androgyne’ look being a beauty ideal in Asia — beyond the Western definition of ‘manly’ — made me stop wishing being ‘white’ — instead, I began to embrace my own physical appearance for the first time because — without wanting to sound cocky — I temporarily thought my slim figure and (to Western ‘standards’) rather soft facial features would actually fit more into this ‘standard’.
(Yeah, I know it sounds very superficial but I was 16 and at that age, you unfortunately tend to give too many f*cks about how you look and other people think of you)
You would think all the toxic in me was gone by now — no, not at all!
I realized the more I was exposed to the so-called Korean Wave (Hallyu), the more I began to develop a new form of inferiority complex.
The reason was everything related to Hallyu seemed to give me the message of what ‘true Asian beauty’ is supposed to look like.
Although I myself have light skin, further ‘beauty traits’ like narrow-shaped nose, expensive fashion, perfect clear skin and manipulated hair structure (e.g. natural straight Asian hair permanently permed for more ‘texture’) — that the brand Hallyu is exposing — made me feel insecure again.
Why do I mention ‘Asian’ as a whole when Hallyu is only referred to Korea? Because merely through observation and later through research, I could tell the Korean Wave has spread the most through wide areas of East and Southeast Asia — earlier than to the rest of the world — due to “factors as cultural proximity and similar physiognomy”.
One would see many younger Koreans and non-Korean Asians (in Asia as well as USA/CAN/AUS/Europe) not only consuming the wave — but also trying to ‘align’ themselves to the mentioned ‘aesthetics’ and having a stronger affinity to something Korean related.
By now, I had graduated from school and was in my first semester of uni. My Vietnamese friend majors in a different field so that we wouldn’t regularly see each other anymore and I’d somehow become the only Asian among a diverse group again.
I noticed there was a group full of other Asians in my major — one of them, I had already known from school but hadn’t had much contact with before.
I couldn’t help but wondered how he could make that many Asian friends, wondererd how it would have been if I had siblings or had grown up around more Asians I could relate to, for instance in an area like Southern California (from what I heard from my relatives living there).
At this point, I consciously felt the identity crisis for the first time.
Being surrounded by people who often called me “the Asian guy”, not seeing me as an individual and cracking stereotypical jokes always made me feel out of place. I occasionally even brushed off or made jokes about myself because deep down, I just wanted to fit in.
I felt guilty about denying my ‘Asian-ness’ for such a long time and missing out on many things related to it.
Through the Internet for instance, I found out many other Asians my age or few years older somehow created or were part of a subculture called ‘AzN’ back in the days of the 90s and 2000s (predominantly in North America, Australia and later swept a bit to Europe). It was about expressing oneself as a minority and showing off the ‘AzN PrYdE’ such that people would have usernames on the Internet containing the word ‘azn’ in it.
It seemed to arise from almost no representation in media back then. Now that Asians have significantly more voices and possibilities for expressing oneself (especially through YouTube and social platforms), this subculture faded away and younger Asians are connecting without having to show off the ‘thuggy’ image of ‘AzN’.
Few years ago, I could observe a somewhat newer form of ‘AzN’, as in other Asians my age or younger would hang out to drink bubble tea or eat in Asian restaurants together, go to ‘Asian parties/conventions/events’, share common interests regarding Asian pop culture (especially K-Pop, Anime, Manga) or be part of a Hip-Hop / B-Boy / K-Pop dance crew.
Somehow, this made me desparately intending to join that one ‘Asian bubble’ in my major because I finally wanted to experience all the ‘Asian-ness’ myself, also in hopes of being welcomed and understood because of our similar background — I thought so.
Turned out I was totally wrong!
I firstly tried to connect with the one I had already known from school but he didn’t really made an effort to introduce me to the others from his ‘Asian crew’.
As soon as the others began to notice me, they instantly made some comments regarding my appearance — “You don’t look Vietnamese — more like Korean because of your light skin!”.
Coming back to Hallyu — I had found out about this offensive term called ‘Koreaboo’ which is used to call out or mock a non-Korean person who appears being obsessed with anything Korean-related or desparately wants to ‘look’ and ‘be’ Korean.
Though I myself didn’t reach such level of obsession, due to my new inferiority complex, I admit I felt a bit ‘flattered’ when someone told me I ‘look Korean’ and not Vietnamese because of my fair skin like they said.
One time, I even got someone saying “You kinda look like half White, half Japanese”.
However, independently from this — not that I want to throw shade at anyone but whenever we would hang out, I was always the one approaching them first. Conversations hardly went any further than smalltalk as they generally seemed being disinterested in me as a person — I felt like I was ‘not Asian enough’ for them.
At the same time, I was trying to maintain the contact with the diverse group where I had landed in because — even though they don’t understand the struggles of being the only Asian, I could still work with them at least on subject-specific layer in contrast to the Asian bubble that always seemed to stick together.
Eventually, I also began to lose my interest in them and realized my attempt of constantly floating between two separate groups that were not compatible to each other failed.
Being ‘alone’ again made me feel more insecure about who I was — questioning my real identity.
As I began to research more about Asian cultures, traditions, histories, languages, food, demographics, politics, etc. — especially Vietnamese I was now exposed to — I simultaneously felt more connected to my own roots such that my inferiority complex completely vanished.
I can now embrace that there are aspects of both Vietnamese and German culture embedded in my mentality and values.
What finally helped me to find my identity were the tons of (angry) voices from other Asians on the Internet who also grew up in a Western society as a minority — sharing their stories I could relate to — I finally learned that I was not alone with my struggles.
That recovery phase didn’t / cannot happen overnight though (I personally needed at least three years of proper research and self-reflection).
You can begin to enjoy Asian food, entertainment media and have contact with other Asians but still have internalized racism lurking in your unconsciousness. Even two years after realizing my i. r., I still occasionally made myself the butt of the joke in front of my white fellow students which I instantly regretted even more than during my (unconscious) self-hate period. The key point here is to recognize and overcome your thoughts and actions that are harmful to your self-worth.
The last steps of defeating my insecurities and internalized racism were lots of further research and deeper conversations with people I could trust as well as online with people who could understand me. Through expressing myself at the amount I had never thought I could do so, I was finally able to accept and embrace just being myself at the age of 20.
Impact + What Did I Learn?
A central aspect I learned and noticed on myself was how the so-called ‘stereotype-threats’ from my surroundings affected my thoughts and behaviour causing my self-hatred.
When you constantly hear people deeming you as shy, teachers and family members telling you “it’s bad to be so quiet”, media telling you that you’re an emasculated, unattractive, awkward nerd and belong to the ‘model minority’ — all that while growing up — you would most likely also believe or fear you are like this and that and eventually become the person others falsely see in you.
Although I talked a lot about my own experiences so far, I had to reflect and understand my past in order to understand my present self and to move on — but over time, I also learned the world does not revolve around oneself only…
As soon as I began talking to my parents more than usually, asking them personal questions about their and our family’s past, what they could remember from their childhood as well as how life was like after coming to Germany when I wasn’t born yet — I learned their struggles weren’t much comparable to mine, especially their childhood they and many others never really had.
However, one parallel was the experience of being the ‘token Asian’ at workplace, encountering institutional micro-aggressions and racism my parents never really addressed before — for the first time, I could somehow relate to them.
I don’t want to put it like this since I’m talking about my own parents — but other than that, they still seem to stick to their own beliefs concerning their colonial mindset, even after I ‘sneakily’ tried to call them out when we discussed certain topics.
But okay, I learned this is a preprogrammed generation conflict one cannot easily solve.
Both of my maternal and paternal grandparents came from South Vietnam to West Germany with their children in the early 80s as refugees — the memories of the war and poverty afterwards, ‘re-education camps’ and general oppression by the communists in everyday life remained as a trauma.
After arriving in Germany, they quickly integrated into society, one that had been completely unknown for them as they grew up in a very different environment and culture.
I can now empathize with my parents that besides adapting to a new culture, learning a new language from zero, studying, finding a job and starting your own family — there would be almost no time for reflecting about anything else.
In contrast, my and many other’s grandparents seem to never forget the past — having grown up traditionally, there is the expectation that your children have to take care of you when you get older.
When they returned back to Vietnam for holidays some years ago, they were kind of shocked how everything changed so much — the younger people would not care about their parents anymore, but instead only themselves — frequently going to parties, getting drunk and hooking up have become the ‘new morals’ — something my parents and grandparents would never accept.
Furthermore, I noticed Asian elders tend not to seek mental help if there is some burden on their mind. I can somewhat understand because there is a dilemma. You wouldn’t go to a therapist who doesn’t understand your culture or language.
But also, one doesn’t openly talk within the family or with friends as misunderstandings or unnecessary conflicts can arise. There is the fear of ‘losing your face’, indiscretion or mistrust due to the mentality of someone talking behind one’s back which unfortunately happens quite often in Vietnamese communities from what I’ve heard.
Generally, mental issues among Asians are considered as a strong stigma (sometimes irrationally justified by the superstition—that it must be a punishment for one’s ‘previous life’ in which one did something bad) so that e.g. “Asian Americans are three times less likely to seek mental health services than Whites”.
Many Viets and other Asians are also very concerned with status and material things — causing an unhealthy pressure to follow up.
All this is the reason why my parents have no (more) contact with other Vietnamese or Asians, already since before I was born.
Additionally, being in the ‘sandwich generation’, people like my parents also have to raise their own children which causes lots of stress as oneself gets older too. This stress can cause a ‘disharmony’ within the family so that I used to get very upset whenever my parents scolded me, especially when it was no big deal or had nothing to do with me when I look back now.
According to this article, “[one can see] this with a lot of Vietnamese families who suffered terrible losses during or after the war. If parents don’t resolve the trauma they experienced, their kids can inherit it. It’s partly genetic — trauma can alter genes, which get passed down to the next generation. And it’s partly behavior, usually unconscious.
“Children who grow up in that environment develop a lot of anxiety and are very unsure of themselves. […] Because if parents who are supposed to love and you react that way, how can you have any prediction for strangers?”
“[…] In some Buddhist cultures, people cope by letting go of things that can’t be changed or focusing on the future.”
If that is true what the article says, it could explain a lot of things I couldn’t express or didn’t understand as a kid and teenager.
Indeed, for my parents, I am the future, and so are my cousins for their parents. They worry about me more than themselves, their overprotectiveness is why I think it also contributed to my anxiety back then.
After putting myself in their shoes, I can now forgive them, they did their best to raise me and gave me all the opportunities they didn’t have in their home country back then which I learned to appreciate.
I can consider myself lucky my parents never beat me, in contrast to others’ experiences from what I heard / read.
Somehow, some people can easily talk or even laugh about it while looking back but I know there are also people who still fear or resent their parents as an adult (even a sub-reddit exists with tons of stories for this specific topic).
Unforgotten Historical Conflict
Another aspect I learned is there are still two divided Vietnamese communities outside of Vietnam.
Ironically, Vietnam and Germany were both reunified but even more than 40 years after the ending of the war, one can still see the (mental and verbal) conflict between these communities here.
One are the anti-communist refugees mainly from South VN (VNCH) who came to West Germany.
The other are the former communist contractors and recent immigrants from North VN, predominantly in East Germany before and nowadays also in West.
As already mentioned, my family belongs to the first one. Growing up, I would hear my parents saying things like „Those communist worshippers, we escaped from them and now they’re following us to this place ugh” or “No one would have thought of leaving their home if only Vietnam had been reunified peacefully like Germany” [rough translation].
Generally, I could also tell many Southern Viets look down on Northern Viets and vice versa. It even gets ridiculous when the beef is merely based on stereotypes or insults, instead of on historical facts and individual experiences — such that many people in my generation also absorb it and the essence of the conflict rather got marginalized.
On the Internet for instance, I saw lots of people of each side bashing each other in comment sections.
“You f*ckin’ commies, f*ckin’ Hồ Chí Minh murdered many of our people […]”
— “Man, Northern dialect sounds so weird and stiff”
— “LOL Northern food is so poor, that’s why you only see Southern dishes being promoted”
— as well as “Those refugee Viets, we don’t need you traitors, you’re not proud of VN, we won against France and America thanks to Hồ Chí Minh! Just keep sucking America’s d*ck!”
— “Southern dialect sounds so retarded, they speak like farmers lmao” were few of many examples.
As you can see, it just gets ridiculous, e.g. what does the dialect have to do with the conflict itself?
After doing further history homework, I found out not every North Vietnamese is an ‘evil commie’ and not every South Vietnamese is on the ‘good side’ either. In fact, the Southern regime was also corrupt.
From what I’ve heard, I have some extended family members who had ‘switched the sides’. My paternal grandparents as well as many other families were actually from the North and already fled from the communists to the South in 1954 (the year VN was divided).
My maternal grandpa fought against his own brother during the war, as the latter had been decoyed by Việt Cộng proponents.
As a result, internal tensions in some families cannot be left out unfortunately.
In recent years — after realizing the communist ideology didn’t work out — Vietnam has economically developed quite fast since the country opened itself more to the world — however, you’re still forbidden to critically question the regime. For instance, my text right here would immediately get censored and I’d get arrested if I was a citizen there and expressed myself against the CP.
The ‘indoctrination’ that “Uncle Hồ” is the ultimate national hero sounds cross-grained for many overseas Vietnamese.
To this day, you will still see many veterans commemorating for the ones who had fallen and demonstrating against the current Vietnamese regime while proudly showing off the old yellow-with-three-red-stripes South Vietnamese flag — now a symbol of longing for freedom they have found in the Western countries.
I don’t want to sound like a nationalist either, especially since the South VN from that time doesn’t exist anymore. It’s only the remaining people from that era who still have to deal with their trauma the younger generations cannot fully understand or empathize with.
But without wanting to dive too deep or offending anyone here and aside from all that, I learned to appreciate my Vietnamese heritage without any politics involving since every country has a ‘good and bad side’ of its own.
When people say “You don’t look Vietnamese!” to me, I now know they are pigeonholing as they also have been influenced by some media or their surroundings to believe certain groups of people are ‘supposed’ to look or behave in a certain way.
Importance of Language
Moreover, I’m glad my parents have talked to me in Vietnamese from the very beginning so that I’m somewhat fluent, still not 100% but at least confident enough to speak conversationally.
Having read several stories from other Asians, many of them were forced to take extra classes in their parents’ native language as a kid but were hardly able to learn anything — which made me question if going to such a language school at a young age really helps or not.
To my experience, you dont really learn a language in the classroom but outside of it. A genuine interest in immersing in the language is the key.
So far, I got the opportunity to speak the language with my elder relatives and since there is sort of a ‘hierachy’ in the language itself (kinship terms), I would always sound quite formal.
As a result, I hardly know any idioms or slang and have almost no experience with ‘casually’ speaking the language with someone on my ‘level’. For instance, I don’t know how to say something like “What’s up buddy?” as it would be ‘rude’ to say that to someone much elder.
I can write and read (slowly at least), overall, I’m thankful for every word I learned from my parents because I realized it has a major influence on your relationships with your surroundings.
For instance, I noticed my great-grand-aunts in VN were more attentive to me than to their own grandchildren (who couldn’t speak Vietnamese as previously mentioned), although they’re actually one generation above me and thus expected to be less ‘distant’ to my great-grand-aunts.
If I couldn’t speak the language, I think I would not have the same relationship with my elder relatives as now, especially with my parents and grandparents.
I can say I now definitely value Vietnamese as much as German and English by keeping on learning more phrases and terminologies which I also want to pass down to my future children.
Still A Sensitive Topic
When it comes to interracial/-cultural relationships, it’s a fact that still in these days, not everyone is all open about that for various reasons.
I admit I felt insecure in my teens whenever I saw an Asian woman specifically with a white man because as I mentioned before, I feared criticism, I feared being made fun of my race and appearance, I feared being a stereotype.
I perceived people (especially Asian girls) — who openly bash Asian guys for being too ‘nerdy’, feminine, weak, shy and at the same time not empathetic enough, patriarchal and misogynic — as a threat so that I tried not to fall into these stereotypes in order to be accepted.
I mentioned (some of) those Asian girls in particular because I just couldn’t believe they would look down on males of their ‘own kind’ (ironically, I was already self-hating at that time yet still unconsciously). Having had social anxiety, I was even more afraid of the presence of Asian females (except family members) in my surroundings, assuming that they all would reject and look down on me as an Asian male (not only dating-wise but generally in any kind of interaction) and thus avoiding them to feel less threatened.
I’m not very sure about this but an explanation could be that the stereotypes — for Asian male (undersexualized, see above) and female being submissive, an ‘oriental geisha’ and simultaneously a badass ‘dragon lady’ (oversexualized / fetishized) — ‘split’ Asian males and females (especially in Western society).
Therefore, lots of comments from both Asian men and women bullying each other can be read on the Internet (“That sl*t is just another self-hating one who obeys her white master” — “I will never date those ugly small d*ck Asian guys”, etc. — I think you get the idea…).
It even goes further that there are (‘Eurasian’) hapa children (mostly male) resenting their parents (mostly WMAF) for being a ‘product of fetishization’ like some claimed so.
Sure, there are patriarchal, misogynic, nationalistic, ‘whiny’ Asian men — sure, there are ‘self-hating’, brainwashed, ‘white-worshipping’ Asian women — and sure, there are creepy white men with ‘yellow fever’ but what I learned is — it’s not helpful for anyone calling someone out in such a disrespectful way because it would only spread more hate.
One should learn Asian women aren’t ‘owned’ by Asian men and vice versa, Asian men shouldn’t be considered just as a ‘backup option’ in case it doesn’t work out with the white/non-Asian guys. One should learn to accept and respect oneself as well as everyone else (including Asian males!).
What helped me personally was to see the ‘bigger picture’, i.e. that not all Asian men and women are like that.
And though the history of Western media representation of Asians may suck and it matters to a certain degree, I learned not to rely on that in hopes of feeling validated but instead, continue to work on myself — regarding personality, education, hobbies, language skills as well as being a good friend, son and human in general.
Actually, in case of no visible representation, I would still find that better than stereotypical portayals (maybe because I personally don’t watch movies or TV/online series so often nowadays).
[Edit1: I found out there are similar discussions among the black communities. Black men who exclusively date white women (BMWF) — because of self-hatred, ‘preference’ or “just happened to be so” — lead to black women questioning that dynamic that many Asian men are already familiar with concerning the unproportional high rate of WMAF vs. AMXF.
Concerning relationships involving internalized racism and fetishization, the difference could be depicted by this online comment: “The difference is that black men only date out of contempt for the negative experiences that man faced with ghetto black women, not white supremacy like Asian women. If anything, BMWF is a slap in the face to white supremacy.”]
[Edit2: In recent years, I could observe a trend that there are more non-Asian females dating Asian males (mostly AMWF). I personally could only explain this by naming the rise of Asian pop culture (especially K-Pop, K-Drama, Anime, Manga) in the West nowadays. When I discovered K-Pop at the age of 16 and noticed this trend, I initially thought “Hell yeah, this could normalize the XMAF-AMXF-ratio and Asian males like myself can become more confident through this”.
As I’ve become more mature and aware of this phenomenon, I could also see some problems coming along with it. It seems like many (=not all) of those non-Asian females (mostly young teenagers or in their early 20s) would also (unconsciously) fetishize Asian guys, obviously with a preference for Koreans. Other Asian guys would probably then associated with this too (as a ‘second choice’) because of the “similar physiognomy” mentioned before. Whether the Asian guys in those relationships are aware of their partners’ fetishization or even like it is another question.
Another and bigger problem—independently from fetishization — would be the malicious reactions which AMXF get from other people, since this couple constellation is still relatively rare. People (particularly elder white men, even when they themselves have an Asian woman as a partner) would (hypocritically) get ‘triggered’ and harass or even threat AMXF couples. Obviously because they see Asian males as inferior, they think an Asian male cannot / isn’t supposed to get a non-Asian partner, especially a white woman.
To me, it’s cool to see when people are genuinely getting interested in Asian cultures and people. But in terms of dating — for the first time, I can relate to the constant struggles of Asian females — I‘m also concerned with the fine line between ‘preference’/attraction and fetishization as an Asian male — though it’s obviously less harmful when girls and women do the latter to guys and men than vice versa.]
Ambiguous Labels & Identities
There’s another thing I also want to address. Like I said in the beginning, I’ve used the term ‘Asian(s)’ as in people of East and South East Asian descent as this is somehow the established interpretation of ‘Asians’ in many Western countries and also E/SE Asia (though Chinese, Japanese, Koreans are still the most associated with in this context).
I know some people who identify themselves as ‘Desi’ or ‘Middle Eastern’ or just by their ethnicity but don’t mind if someone calls them Asian.
Then there are those who don’t associate themselves with the term ‘Asian’ at all because of the mentioned (mis?)interpretation.
For instance, there is a number of Filipino-Americans who rather consider themselves as ‘Pacific Islanders’ (a term I had never heard before) than Asian.
I could also read comments like “But Turkish people are Asian too!” or “I didn’t know Indians were Asians”.
Geographically, their roots are in Asia — but over the years, I noticed what we learned in geography doesn’t necessarily correlate with the ‘labels’ people use to call each other.
And if we go a bit deeper, you will see overseas ‘Asians’ are not the same like ‘Asian-Asians’ or recent immigrants from there — especially the younger generations would rather identify themselves with the Western culture since they grew up here.
Some American / Canadian-born Asians even use the (derogatory) term ‘FOB’ (fresh off the boat) to describe or dissociate themselves from those Asians who grew up in their home country or appear ‘fobby’ regarding the way they talk, dress, etc.
The other way around, Asian-Asians tend not to see us as ‘real’ Asians either because we would be ‘too assimilated’ or not very fluent in our parent’s native language.
Therefore, terms concerning different ethnic groups are not distinctly construed because in everyday conversation, one groups other people rather by different looks, history, cultures and genetic origins than by geography and nationality.
This is also why people never consider me as a ‘real German’ since I obviously don’t look like one, but instead simply see me as ‘Asian’ or Vietnamese after they found out where I “really” came from, regardless what my ID says.
Now being aware and having discussed my personal internalized racism from back then, I don’t want to prove or rub my ‘German-ness’ in other people’s faces anymore just for gaining acceptance or feeling validated by ‘real Germans’ (or white people in a broader context).
I now see identity as something flexible, formless (“like water”) — depending on the situation, you can ‘identify’ yourself accordingly but still respect and stay true to yourself (as water is still water whether in a cup or in a teapot). If it is not formless, you can still have ‘multiple’ identities.
Generally, around friends and family, I don’t think much about identity but (even if it sounds ‘do-gooder-ish’) rather see myself as a human with certain hobbies, interests, occupations, worries, etc. (which change over time)—since life is flexible / dynamic itself.
It’s only at moments you start to think about and become ‘hyper-aware’ of it when someone labels you as ‘Asian’ or asks you the ‘static’ question — “Where are you really from?” in the sense of ‘othering’—so that you can also just answer statically. Usually, I’d answer with “I was born here in Germany, my parents were from Vietnam” to make it short because I know most people only want to know that and aren’t further interested in me as a person.
Your Music Taste = Your Worldview?
Finally, one last thing I learned is that your current music taste can also affect your ‘worldview’ and attitude towards certain things in life (positively as well as negatively). As already mentioned, at the age of 16, I mentally got really affected by getting introduced to K-Pop.
Other K-Pop or Hallyu fans might even want to learn Korean or live there.
These days, I admit I distanced myself from the K-Pop scene since the music itself became kind of monotonous for me and since I noticed some rather not so nice aspects in the dynamics of Korean society such as the strong lookism (highly influenced by Korean media), materialism and partly close-mindedness (this is not meant to be offensive to any Koreans but only my observation and perception, I know there are open-minded Koreans).
But instead of talking badly about it, I’m still open to any music that fits my taste or current mood. I rather see K-Pop as a last ‘phase’ of my late teenage years and as a starting point and given chance to learn about other cultures beyond the Eurocentric one.
Somehow, I eventually began listening to Vietnamese music (now voluntarily!).
Other overseas Viets from my generation still might find such kind of music not so appealing or ‘fobby’ — because of its non-existence in Western mainstream and therefore not ‘cool’ or they find Vietnamese sounds “ugly” compared to other languages or whatever.. (speaking from personal experience).
At first, I gave modern V-Pop a chance, but it reminded me too much of K-Pop, as you can clearly see the youth in Vietnam is heavily influenced by Korean pop culture nowadays (no bash, just personally needed a break from it).
So I might not like every sub-genre or interpret but am not ashamed to say I currently really enjoy the music my dad regularly used to play — especially the 90’s productions from ‘Asia Entertainment’ since this is what I grew up with and now feel nostalgic about (other Viets know what I’m talking about LOL). I’ve also found myself enjoying 60's/early 70’s South Vietnamese rock and bolero music (“nhạc vàng”) recently which my dad was listening to when he was younger, and now me exploring the zeitgeist from that time he and other elder (South) Viets often romanticize about.
As a result, I started to look up for the song lyrics, practicing my reading skills and expanding my vocabulary.
This is exactly what younger me could have never imagined — the music I used to deem as uncool is now a source of nostalgia and opportunity to improve my Vietnamese.
All in all in this last aspect, I learned that your music taste (or other certain elements of pop culture like movies, TV shows, food, fashion, etc. nowadays linked with / shown on social media) can heavily influence your perception of the involved people and — on a larger scale — also the rest of the demographic that one associates with it (i.e. if you’re exposed to media that portrays Asians as cool, as heroes and role models — or the secular, familiar opposite — you will likely start to reflect the applicable image on any Asians in real life).
(Besides pop culture, I’m now also particularly interested in Vietnamese history — beyond the VN war — which gives me further, deeper impressions and better understanding of today’s Vietnamese diaspora)
What’s Left To Say?
The last three years were a period of finding, accepting and expressing myself.
In retrospect, I realize I turned a complete 180 in many aspects. For example, I now only enjoy Asian movies, music (including traditional) and cuisine, while hardly consume any Western media and food anymore.
Also developed interest in martial arts and Asian philosophies through Bruce Lee movies and interviews.
I was able to cure my mental issues mainly by being more exposed to Asians with similar stories (although I was practically just sitting in front of my computer during research haha).
The majority of articles, blogs and videos about this topic were from Asian-Americans/-Canadians/-Australians/-New Zealanders so that I asked myself “What about the Asians in Europe? And are there even Asians living in Africa and South America?”.
I read several times that Asian-Americans feel invisible in American society.
Now you could imagine how Asians in Europe feel, it’s even worse when we’re talking about (media) representation because almost no one really speaks up here.
Hence, this is exactly why I’ve been writing this long ass text as an Asian-German / -European ‘represent’.
I attempted to write in German several times before. However, I realized it was more difficult since I was able to find sources almost only in English covering topics like these.
Therefore, it’s still fascinating for me there actually exists specific terminology in the English language to express issues one cannot really do in German (it would sound weird / understood in a different context).
(please excuse my rusty English since it’s not my first language)
I’m glad that especially Asian-Americans made some huge progress in comparison because younger Germans (and other Western-Europeans) are actually way more exposed to American media and people (celebrities) (including online platforms like Facebook, YouTube, Instagram) than their own ones.
Now being 21, embracing my heritage and proud of who I am, one of my goals is to raise more awareness among the Asian communities around the globe (including Europe^^) concerning the identity crisis and internalized racism topic.
It honestly makes me sad that there are pretty many Asians who are considered as a ‘twinkie’, ‘banana’, ‘white-washed’, ‘sell-out’, etc.
[Edit3: On a more personal and tragic level, I recently learned about one of my extended family members from France (a second cousin once removed) who committed suicide at the age of 20 because of apparent depression, inferiority complex and self-hatred. From what I know so far, her father (a white Frenchman) was racist against Vietnamese people, (hypocritically) forbade his (Vietn.) wife and two children having contact with other Viets and speaking the language. While she reportedly looked ‘more Asian’, her sister is apparently more ‘white-passing’, evoking / furthering her inferiority complex and self-loathing. One can speculate that she could have been bullied in school because of that — as her mother stated she would often isolate herself after coming home from school and never really talked about any issues.
As you can now see, this form of self-hatred can eat you up to the point that you don’t even want to live anymore.]
The fact that some other Asians who didn’t have such experiences, bash them for this, doesn’t make the situation necessarily better. To those ones, I hope that one could show more empathy because there are always specific reasons why a person thinks or acts like the way they do. If we educate ourselves through more civil conversations, we will surely make way more progress. Instead of harshly calling them out, one can ask them certain questions regarding internalized racism / self-hatred without explicitly mentioning too much of these specific terms at first.
Confronting apparent self-loathing Asians will most likely result in provoking them such that they will react bitterly, doubtfully or defensive. In my case, I had to find out about my own self-loathing through years of Internet research so that I don’t find this topic being taboo anymore at all, as you can see, I can openly call myself out right here.
Therefore, I think the best way to defeat internalized racism / self-hatred is that one finds out by one’s own and deeply and critically reflects about it without lying to oneself (so that one can honestly express oneself when talking / writing to someone about it) [of course, there needs to be a significant ‘turning point’ for that, in my case K-Pop as mentioned before].
Also of course, despite knowing where people come from, you don’t have to sympathize with everyone since I too draw a line concerning extreme, hopeless cases (e.g. self-proclaimed Asian neo-Nazis; self-hating Asians who explicitly and publicly insult / harass other Asians).
Those kinds of people rather must take their own responsibility for actively enabling racism against Asians.
It’s also sad, in Asian countries, some people still see themselves as kind of inferior because of their colonial mentality such that they treat foreigners (especially white people) like a royal — better than locals or other Asians. I’m not sure if this is an adequate example of the so-called ‘White privilege’ but I remember the day when I was traveling back home from Vietnam, the airport security there led all the white tourists with all their giant suitcases going through without asking any big questions whereas my mom had to open our luggage and pay some money in order to be allowed to pass through (we just carried clothes and some local fruits geez).
What I want to say is: Sure, we are all people or ‘world citizens’ and I’m glad many things have changed for the better, but I wouldn’t have written all this text if racism (whether overt, subtile, aversive, institutional or internalized) and all kinds of discrimination, blaming or shaming hadn’t existed anymore.
Ideally, one would be regarded and treated just as a regular person, independently from being ‘Asian’ or any other labels.
Whether we like to admit or not — we all have some prejudices because we cannot interact with or understand everyone in the world and are limited — we mostly don’t say them out loud, but we still make choices based on them, consciously or unconsciously. If we’re really honest — race (along with further labels) still matter to us to a certain extent. Even though it might happen subconsciously — race is one of the first ‘attributes’ we notice / speculate about each other. You can treat people ‘colour-blindly’ but what you really think about them or what your initial perception (prejudice) reveals is another question (concerning the fact that we’re often confronted with / influenced by stereotypes, images of certain demographics).
At the end, your ‘colour-blindness’ would still not erase all these issues.
With that said, I don’t think one can beat racism away completely. But I do think one can minimize it (and other negative-affecting “-isms”) by proper education, interaction and self-reflection. The residue of ‘XYZ-ism’ would then only be based on our human nature / instincts which we can’t help it and would be ethically acceptable (I hope you get my point…).
(And no, this text is not meant to offend white people in particular or anyone else — in fact, kind of pathetic I was made fun of / discriminated against by other minorities more often)
There were many things I had to learn and others to unlearn again so that it made me the person I am today. Of course, no one is perfect and I’m also still working on myself.
Maybe I mentioned the words ‘Asian’ and ‘Vietnamese’ too much. Obviously, I cannot speak for everyone and I know other groups of people have their own struggles too, but the older I get, the more I’m willing to educate myself to be more aware of these social topics because it will surely still concern my future children and generally the next generations.
I can’t really blame my parents because they grew up differently (different culture, circumstances, no Internet, etc.) and I can empathize with them more now.
As I said in the beginning, I usually keep lots of my thoughts to myself. I was actually already able to move on last year but as I’m aware there are many others who still suffer like I used to, I’m trying to reach out to them letting them know they’re not alone.
I’ve not written this to get many likes, if this could help one person, I would already be more than happy.
This is not meant to be an autobiography either — sure, I also had happier moments in life, met people who accept me the way I am and felt confident, I’m grateful for these memories, but I just had to vent this not so nice part of my past because such experiences will still affect your mind in the long run (especially in case when you’re going to raise your own children).
Alternatively, I could have done a YouTube video talking about this but since I want to keep my privacy, writing seems to be the best solution.
I’m sorry it’s kind of a mess towards the end, yet tried my best to explain everything, naming the causes and effects of all mentioned aspects and being as self-honest as possible.
Some issues may be repetitive or already known to many Asian-Americans (because their history began much earlier than e.g. Asians’ in Europe) but I think the more stories out there, the more awareness would follow and hopefully the more people will be cured from their self-loathing or identity crisis.
On another layer, I will have shown this text to people I personally know and feel connected with — that would be those I can call my (real) friends and especially one of my elder cousins since I never got the opportunity to talk about this with him and since I think he’s the only person in my family so far who could understand everything I’ve been writing here.
Again — even if it might hurt your (false) ego at first — the general message of this article is to be primarily honest to yourself (=not lying to yourself!) so that one can honestly express oneself to others.
These days, I’m still the only Asian for most of the time,
but definitely not self-hating and self-tokenizing anymore.
For any feedback or further discussions, feel free to leave a comment or contact me via email: firstname.lastname@example.org
So to conclude this, if you have taken your time to read until this point, it really means a lot to me and all I can say is:
Thank you for caring and have a nice day! :)