Am I Asian Enough?
My name is Olivia Beach. I am 20 years old, a rising junior at Villanova University, majoring in Political Science with the hopes of attending law school. I am also a quarter Vietnamese. I say this last because when you look at me, you may not see this small but vital part of who I am. Some have told me that they could tell I was not completely White or that there was just something “a little bit off they could not quite put their finger on.” It may sound odd but I take these comments as compliments because it means they can see that hidden piece of me. Typically, those who make these comments also come from a diverse background. I wish more people, not just of mixed backgrounds, were able to see the diversity of my background and upbringing that makes me who I am. To put it in perspective, my mom was born in Vietnam as the youngest of eight but the only one with an American father. Although she is half Vietnamese and grew up in the United States, she is fluent in the language and grew up with a mother who did not speak English. She was raised with Asian values and traditions despite being surrounded by American culture. These values and traditions have been passed down to my sister and I, as we grew up looking White but identifying with Vietnamese culture. One of my most recent experiences with this conflict of identity happened in the classroom during a small group discussion about race and diversity. I was in a group with two White students and one immediately said, “Well since we are all obviously White, I am sure we can relate to one another.” Although I know my appearance screams White and I can relate to many stereotypical White experiences, I felt as though part of my identity had been taken away at that moment. I quickly made the correction and redirected the conversation to center around others like me, who do not completely identify with what their appearance says about them. Although I can appreciate the lack of Asian stereotyping and struggles I experience due to my appearance, I often feel like the alternative of assuming I am completely White is also misleading. I relate to more than a stereotypical White young woman and have experienced Vietnamese culture in a way that has shaped how I act, think, and feel. My experience is unique and very difficult to navigate. I often find myself asking where I belong. Do I belong in the AANHPI community I identify with? Or, am I supposed to give in to the assumption that I look White so I must identify as such? Although I am only 20 and have not fully answered these questions for myself, I do know that my appearance does not define me. I do not fit into the boxes that society has created and that is okay. I have the unique gift of being able to identify and relate with two large groups of people. I have the opportunity to encourage others like myself to form our own “box” and use our voices for the different groups we identify with. Identity is personal and is not always black and white. This gray area I find myself in now is one of opportunity and it is my responsibility to use that space to speak up along with those who are demanding change and equality. About the Author: Olivia Beach is a second-generation Vietnamese American currently residing in Allen, Texas. She is a rising junior at Villanova University majoring in Political Science and minoring in Peace and Justice. After graduation she is looking to attend law school and find a career in public policy.