Friday, June 15, 2012
Two Worlds. One Loincloth.
Maybe it's because I still have Mulan on the brain, but Tarzan makes me think a lot about being Asian American.
Let me explain.
Caught between "two worlds," Tarzan longs to understand who he truly is. Is he a man? Is he a gorilla? In both contexts he never feels quite at home.
With his gorilla family, he can't climb trees, he has no fur. He has to wear a loincloth. With humans, he'll never get used to standing upright. He prefers swinging and leaping to walking. Also, he wears only a loincloth.
He's significantly an outsider no matter which way he looks at it.
I can relate. When I'm among a predominantly non-Asian (ie: mostly white) group, I never feel quite myself. I feel sheepish when I rave about dim sum and all I get are blank stares. I can never quite explain why the Jeremy Lin phenomenon gave me so much joy. I struggle to express the complexities of my family background. Yes, I'm Chinese, even though my parents were born in the Philippines. No, I'm not part Filipino.
And yet, I often feel very "American" when I'm with my Asian friends. Because of my uncommon background (ethnically Chinese with a significant Filipino cultural influence), I often find it hard to relate to Chinese and other East Asian friends. I don't speak Mandarin or Cantonese. We never used chopsticks growing up. My parents weren't strict about school or grades. My relatives actually kiss and hug each other.
So am I human or gorilla? Am I Asian or American? Why does it sometimes feel like I'm neither?
For Tarzan, he comes to realize that he is ultimately both. Though he finally stays with his gorilla family, it is the very human things about him that enable him to thrive and lead well in that community. He is neither just human or just gorilla.
My Asian identity and American identity sit side by side. Not always in perfect harmony, but together they make up who I am. I will never be just one, and neither could I ever be fully both. Asian American is itself my ethnic identity, in which I straddle two worlds, yet as a whole complete person.
The experiences I've gained through my Chinese-from-the-Philippines family, my immigrant Chinese home church, my Midwest upbringing, my Chinese American Christian college fellowship, and my current life in a predominantly white Madison community... all these worlds come together and make me who I am: me. An Asian American human-gorilla. Who, fortunately, gets to wear more than just a loincloth.