Being Proud of my Blasian Identity Didn’t Come Without Some Pain
Despite the ongoing trauma I’ve experienced and the toxic things I’ve had to unlearn, I wouldn’t trade being Blasian for anything.
Until recently, I thought that being a biracial Black and Asian person was no big deal. I look Black and was always closer to my African American dad than my Vietnamese mom, so I thought that nullified my biracial heritage somehow. However, certain experiences, new stories, and media have reminded me that no matter how Black I appear to be, I will always be Blasian.
The very first time I became aware of how my ethnicity affected me was when I was asked what my race was on a form when I was in elementary school. Ten to twenty years ago, official documents didn’t give you the option to say that you were multiracial or choose more than one race. I remember being a little confused because I knew my skin was Black, but both my parents weren’t. In the end, I chose “Black” and sometimes I still just choose “Black” when I think my ethnicity is too complicated for others to understand.
Growing up in an interracial household meant that I was being exposed to bits of two different cultures and sometimes seeing them come together. Lunch and dinner meals would sometimes be Vietnamese foods like fried rice, fried spring rolls, and meat, hard-boiled eggs, and rice in a brown sauce. When my dad was alive, the house would be permeated with his deep, booming voice as he talked loudly on the phone to his siblings in Troy, Alabama. Occasionally, I’d hear old-school R&B music playing from his computer and in his truck when I would ride with him.
Since I was closer to my dad, he planted the seeds for what would eventually become pride in my Blackness. Through music, radio, and television, we developed a special bond that involved us listening to music and the Tom Joyner’s morning radio show when he took me to school. In the evenings, we would watch the news followed by game shows like Wheel of Fortune and Jeopardy. Through these things, he instilled in me values of intelligence, news awareness, and artistic appreciation that stayed with me long after he passed.
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In addition to living among two different cultures, I also dealt with two different expectations that occasionally collided with a painful impact. Besides the good my Dad passed on to me, he also projected toxic masculinity and respectability that pressured me to be “strong” while always being “good” and feminine in a way he preferred. Meanwhile, my mom was strict to the point where I used to have schedules for eating and drinking. Once I started middle school, I wasn’t allowed to do anything in school that wasn’t school work or field trips, which meant no school clubs unless I joined the military club ROTC. Although she did display a kinder side when she provided for me physically, she also could be emotionally abusive at home.
With my mom, the pressure to be strong was even worse because South East Asian culture taught her that strong expressions of emotions made you weak. If I did the smallest thing wrong, she would blow up, yell at me, and call me “stupid” and “lazy”. When I cried in response, she’d get even angrier. This happened often enough that over time I learned to suppress my emotions, hate myself, and developed depression and anxiety. At one point in high school, I considered suicide due to the combined stress of emotional abuse at home, academic pressure from school, and school bullying from other kids who considered me weird because I liked reading and cared about making good grades. They didn’t know that reading was a coping mechanism and that making good grades was the only way I could get approval from my mother.
Besides dealing with my parents’ expectations, I occasionally had to deal with anti-blackness from other Asian people, especially when I went out with my mom. When we would go to Vietnamese stores or a Chinese restaurant, those who worked there would laugh in disbelief when she’d tell them I was her child. While hanging out with the daughter of one of my mother’s friends, her dad was very stiff with me. I later found out from my mom that he didn’t like Black people.
After my father’s passing in 2012, I wrote and published the poem “Blasian” as a tribute to my parents and my heritage. Since then, I’ve become more conscious of things that make me react due to my Blasian heritage. Some of those things are good, like the Black-Korean female protagonist of Sharean Morishita’s webcomic Love! Love! Fighting!. More problematic things that give me pause are articles defending Asian-style Tiger parenting and hip-hop artists perpetuating Black and Asian stereotypes.
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When I hear about these things, I wonder how discussions would benefit from the acknowledgment and respect of Blasian identities. All too often, it feels like Blasian people are either overlooked, objects of fetish, or expected to end racism with our existence. My ethnicity is not a trend or a weapon, but a part of what makes me who I am as a whole. Despite the ongoing trauma I’ve experienced and the toxic things I’ve had to unlearn, I wouldn’t trade being Blasian for anything.
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