I am a Chinese person with a White name. And no, I am not a halfie. Rather, I am a Chinese adoptee. Therefore, I am the antithesis of the common phrase and acronym ABC (American Born Chinese) and am instead a CBA (Chinese Born American).
I was adopted at 9 months old from Shangrao, Jiangxi, China. I grew up in Maine – the most northeast state in the United States – and have white parents. Neither of my parents can speak Mandarin. However, I started learning Mandarin when I was in high school and continue to do so at college. Regardless, my spoken Mandarin is distinctly American.
As an Asian person who grew up in a White household, my cultural background is understandably much different than ABC’s. And I sometimes feel a disconnect with my ABC friends. This disconnect is even more prominent with my Chinese international student friends at college. However, despite not quite fitting in with Asian communities, I also feel overwhelmingly Asian in white spaces. In a way, I am too White for Asian communities and too Asian for White communities.
Here are five experiences of mine where I was either too Asian, or not Asian enough:
Most recently, I experienced not being “Asian enough” at a NYC Chinese restaurant. I was eating with Jennifer, a good friend of mine who is an ABC from San Jose (an area with a strong Asian community). After our dishes had arrived, I went to move some of the vegetables and dumplings onto my own plate. Jennifer laughed and made a comment about how it’s the little things that reminds her of how “white I am.” In this instance, I did not just eat from the main serving plates as many Chinese do.
Another friend of mine, a Chinese international student from Beijing, somewhat jokingly called me a “fake Chinese” when I mixed up 不 and 没 in a sentence (they both mean “no”).
I was also mistaken as a White girl by an older Chinese couple. In this instance, I was awarded a scholarship through my college for students of Chinese descent. Every spring, the awardees and the donors have a dinner together so that they can connect. I was sitting at the table waiting for my donors with a White girl across from me. When my donors arrived, they immediately went over to the White girl assuming she was Molly. I quickly piped up that I was Molly indeed to their surprise. They assumed I was White simply based on my name. While I do not fault them, I am still surprised at the assumption since the scholarship itself is for students of Chinese descent.
Regarding feeling “too Asian,” I remember I was once called by the wrong name by one of my teachers. Instead of Molly, I was called the name of one of my friend’s, Hulan, who is also Asian. Talk about awkward! Moreover, I did not even know she was referencing me before another teacher said, “You mean Molly?”
I was also too Asian when I attended a Science Olympiad Invitational at MIT in high school during both my junior and senior years. I, and a good friend of mine, who is a Chinese international student, were the only Asians on the 12 or so person team. He and I were placed as partners for one of our events under our advisor’s lighthearted comment that we’re “Super Asians who will bring home the Gold!” While this was obviously a joke, as we had no chance at getting first, however it felt uncomfortable. My own teacher was proposing the idea that my friend and I would be the most successful because of our race.
My inability to fit into Asian and White spaces is a shared feeling that many other Asian Americans can relate to. While I have slowly become more confident in my identity as an Asian American, words and comments can sting even if their intent was innocent. Especially in such stressful and difficult times, I hope that we can all be more careful with the words we choose when speaking with others.