The idea for Inheritance began with a simple mandate. Already publisher of a popular Chinese Christian magazine, Sean saw an opportunity to do the same thing for the “second generation”. Share some testimonies, encourage readers.
But when we started seriously considering the possibility of such a magazine, we quickly realized that such a task was a lot more complicated. Asian American identities are diverse and complicated. For a magazine to give voice to such experiences with thoughtful and theological insights, it would also need to address larger systemic issues, such as racism and sexism, that exist as part of American/Western ideologies.
As we produced stories, we were also deconstructing long-standing preconceived notions about Asian American experiences and learning more and more about ourselves.
So you can imagine how some of my own thinking had to shift when Sean turned to me one afternoon and said, “I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and I think that I’m Asian American.”
“I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and I think that I’m Asian American.”
At first, I wasn’t sure how to respond. Was this 50-year-old Taiwanese male who sat before me — who had immigrated to the U.S. for graduate studies, who served as an elder at a Taiwanese immigrant church, and who sometimes preached in Taiwanese — Asian American?
I was naïve in seeing Asian Americanness only through the lens of second-plus generational belonging, as a born-in-America child of immigrant parents. I was Asian American; my parents — and Sean — were not.
Perhaps this self-distinguishing of identity was a coping mechanism for dealing with experiencing “otherness” in America. What could my parents’ generation possibly understand about what I went through as a code-switching, hyphenated individual? My API journey began with rejecting my Asian heritage, including my parents’.
What could my parents’ generation possibly understand about what I went through as a code-switching, hyphenated individual?
In many ways, I see this happening in others in our community. We want to pretend to start life over without or against our immigrant parents. We refuse their churches, seeking to create our own, “more perfect” communities. We’re critical of their ways because we believe that we’re more enlightened.
Sean was right to claim his Asian American identity. He is able to notice and name how life in America has changed him, in subtle and significant ways. I may have inherited my Asian American moniker, but Sean’s claiming of it is a more thoughtful understanding of how Asians and Pacific Islanders have unique and complex contexts through the course of America’s history.
Sean’s claiming of it is a more thoughtful understanding of how Asians and Pacific Islanders have unique and complex contexts through the course of America’s history.
This quarter, we are telling the stories of those who experience the grayness of Asian American and Pacific Islander identities. Mixed people and or Asian Americans in multicultural relationships are often told that they’re too “white” or “not-Asian” enough to be considered Asian. Adoptees who were raised by non-Asian parents have their ethnic roots questioned.
This month, we’re reminded that Asian Americanness is a space for the young and the old, those who immigrated just recently and those whose ancestors immigrated a long time ago, the single hyphenated and the multi-hyphenated. Asian Americanness is something that each of us can define, redefine, and explore in multitudinously connecting ways.
Our collective, yet unique experiences of working through our Asian American identities form our roots, our people — we can’t move forward if we try to uproot and distance ourselves from voices that differ from ours. Only when we listen to and engage with the eclectic refractions of our intergenerational and mixed Asian American kin can we all grow. This is how we practice unity without needing uniformity.
Only when we listen to and engage with the eclectic refractions of our intergenerational and mixed Asian American kin can we all grow.