Being Asian-American is… complex. We, as a sub community, are incredibly diverse, which is something that American society and media rarely ever acknowledge accurately. Makes sense, considering that the continent of Asia is made up of almost fifty nations. Yet we still, as a culture, tend to lump Asian-American identity into one, all-inclusive category. Strike that. We, as a culture, lump Asian identity into one, all-inclusive category - American or not. It’s not enough to assume that Asians and Asian-Americans are all the same or similar enough because we're not.
Take Filipino-Americans. Aside from being raised in the States and of Filipino descent, there are many reasons why an individual might identify as a Filipino and American. For example, I am a Filipino-American who was born in the Philippines, immigrated to the United States at a young age and eventually swore citizenship at the age of eighteen after my parents petitioned for me. That is how I identify as a Filipino and American: As an immigrant.
But there are also those who are first (second, third, etc.) generation Filipino-Americans. They are the Filipinos who were born in the States and whose parents and/or ancestors immigrated before they were born. My experiences, believe it or not, differ vastly from theirs. My identity is rooted in memories of moving from one country to another; theirs is rooted in being American born and raised and in having Filipino immigrant parents and family members.
Then, there are the Filipino-Americans who are actually part-Filipino and part-American, whether that’s white or black or another ethnicity entirely. I had a hard time growing up and trying to balance the two opposing cultures that were simultaneously raising me; all of us did. I can only imagine how much more complicated it was for someone who is not completely Filipino, but not completely another ethnicity either.
Now take everything I just said about Filipino-Americans and apply it to all of Asian America. Remember, there are forty-eight countries that make up the continent of Asia. Are you starting to see why Asian-American identity is more complicated than you think it is?
I am an immigrant. I am American.
Photo by Human Being Productions
The one thing we do all have in common, despite our various backgrounds, is how we identify as Americans; not Asians. We identify as Third Culture Kids. We are children born in between cultures and in between worlds. We are individuals who took years, decades even, to understand how to be ourselves or to even know what that means. We relate to each other, not as Asians, but as immigrants and the children or grandchildren of immigrants. We relate to the struggles our families went through just to become “American”. And we relate to the constant struggle we face daily as we try to prove how “American” we truly are.
We know that it's easy to just lump us into the same all-inclusive category, but we also know it's a cop out. It's our identities as Americans that we want to see represented because being American is what makes our stories so much more complex than the industry has been willing to depict. We're not one-dimensional people and we're tired of being portrayed by one-dimensional characters.
I want to be in your film, your t.v. show, your play; we all do. Most importantly, we want to be represented as accurately and genuinely as possible in work that's being produced. In order to get to that point, we have to come to an understanding about what it truly means to be Asian and Asian-American. If you make that effort to understand who it is that's being represented in the story you're trying to tell, well that's already one giant step forward.
So, for what it’s worth: I am Cori Dioquino.
I am Asian. I am Filipino. I am an immigrant. I am American.