Why I'll Never Feel "American" Enough

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

These thoughts aren't spontaneous. I've actually been milking it for awhile. It's like a stew with potatoes, carrots, an assortment of beans, tomatoes, and many other things. Some are deeper shades, and some are more dense. 

Most of the time when I'm put in a situation like this, I usually laugh along or just brush it under the table. I'm not for scenes or calling people out. But the stews done, and I just have to let this all out. So excuse me if I do end up calling you out, I promise you it's between you and I. 

Growing up, I definitely noticed that I wasn't like my classmates. I had a couple of AP classes and none of the other Hmong kids (except for one) were in them. I got to know my classmates and made some really good friends. However at lunch, I still sat with my Hmong friends. I definitely didn't want to be labeled as someone who thought she was better, but I definitely did enjoy their company as well. I always felt divided, like I had to choose. I couldn't hang out with my white friends completely, or my Hmong friends completely. The situation dictated who I was going to sit with or talk to. 

I went to a very diverse college, which I enjoyed. As a minority, I felt comfortable among all people of color. I liked learning about other people, and their cultures, and what they liked to do. There was more than meets the eye, and I know I'll never fully understand, but I try.

When I started working, my outward appearance was never really on my mind. Most people treated me as me. To be honest, I often forget that I'm "Asian" or "Hmong" or "Oriental" or whatever others see. I'm just me, Kaolee. I love the beach, I love the feel of hardwood floors, I love shopping, I hate when my teeth feels dirty, I hate when my hair feels greasy. 

I had a particular coworker who was always very careful when he wanted to know more about my beliefs or my culture. I think that in all my life, he is probably the only person that has asked me about my culture/beliefs in the right way. He was never looking to offend, but always looking to know more, and that I really really appreciated.

The most offensive things that I have heard are actually things said by members of my church. And no, this doesn't mean that I will leave my church. My relationship with God is unconditional, and is between me and Him.

I had a good friend said to me that when she first saw me, she thought I didn't speak English, and that she thought Brandon translated for me. It was an honest mistake, but I think the thing that sticks out most to me is the fact that an assumption was made based on my outward appearance. I felt like all my years in college stood for nothing, and here I looked like someone who couldn't speak English. It hurts because I have always felt like I was an educated person. I don't think she was thinking that, but just that one comment does make me feel all sorts of way.

Not too long ago, someone was asking me about my background. As often is the case, when someone ask me where I'm from, it's really, what country are you originally from. It's a fair question as I wasn't born in the United States. I was born in Thailand. When I do get asked where I'm from, my first thought is North Carolina. I was there from 5th grade through 11th grade. It's where I'm from. I played soccer in high school there. I got my license there. I made the city spelling bee there. It's where I grew up.

I was complimented on how well my English was. This is always a nice compliment I suppose. I rarely see it as a compliment though. I guess it would be like complimenting any white person that their English was good. For me, my English is a given. I don't think twice about it. It is what it is, and I speak it pretty darn well, and understand it pretty darn well.

Someone asked me if that was how I pronounced my name in Hmong. I think this one really bothers me because I would never question another person on how their name is pronounced. Maybe that person thinks I'm a liar? Or not, but nonetheless, that is how I feel.

I hear justification for comments all the time. Oh, well I'm saying a good thing about asians, so it's not racist. One reason or another. Just as I wouldn't fully understand the feelings behind #BlackLivesMatter, how could another race dictate to me what is considered racist or not about my own race? 

These thoughts aren't for you to be afraid to ask me about me. These thoughts have been floating, basking in my brain for a very long time now. Stop making assumptions. 

I'm more than Asian. I'm more than Hmong. Don't mold me into what you know, or assume you know. 

Somedays I feel "American." But sometimes, I will hear something that reminds me that at the end of the day, I'm not. I'm still considered an outsider. Sometimes I don't belong. 


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