In honor of Asian-American and Pacific Islander month, I’d like to say a little something about what I think it means to be an Asian-American serving in Thailand …
For me, the experience has largely been a test of assumptions.
Everywhere I go the general consensus is that this face, body, and heritage are a product of this country. How can I be American if I look Asian? This is the question that comes up more often than not when I am first introduced. At a District Office meeting with leaders of the community, heads visibly turned when it was announced that I was the new “farang” or “foreigner” American English teacher that would be working for the next two years at Phang Palm 2 School.
It was funny and kind of interesting to see the surprise on their faces. Nevertheless, I can understand how for some, the situation can stimulate some frustration. In no way, shape, or form am I under the illusion that I am not Asian. Both my parents are first generation immigrants to the United States. So I sort of get it. I must have come from somewhere in Asia. Otherwise I wouldn’t look the way I do. But the expectation that comes with the adjective “American” when put before your name is that you are somehow different. Other. Dissimilar. Exotic even. So how do I fit?
What do I have to offer that they don’t already have?
Definitely not black hair for one thing. Or chinky eyes. Genes for small stature. Skin that turns a dark shade of brown in the sun. I’m an alien that blends in with the landscape. A chameleon of sorts that is for some reason trying to stand out. To live in a terrarium made of glass for others to gaze upon. To shower their “oohs” and “ahhs” upon. To feed and care for from a distance.
Why I am here has more to do with learning than anything else. And what I have learned is that being Asian-American is the same as being Asian. We really are one and the same. All that grand puff-and-fluff about being “American” is nothing more than a minor detail. To let the fact that I am not being immediately recognized for my nationality-slash-country-of-origin get to me would be an outstanding gesture of egotism. So what if I just so happen to be from America?
I don’t need to be American to give you my time and an open mind.
The Peace Corps mission is to promote world peace and friendship by fulfilling three goals:
- To help the people of interested countries in meeting their need for trained individuals.
- To help promote a better understanding of Americans on the part of the peoples served.
- To help promote a better understanding of other peoples on the part of Americans.
I am here to become a strong, successful English teacher who is able to share skills and knowledge with others in my community. I am here to represent myself in the best way possible by striving every day to make myself a better person. And I am here to learn everything I can from those around me. The fact that I am an Asian-American can help or hinder me depending on how I choose to let my identity shape the course of my future. It all rests on the present.