For clarity, I’m referring to the fruit metaphor that classifies individuals of Asian descent as whitewashed. Although they may appear Asian on the outside, their actions resemble those who have assimilated into American culture, hence “white” on the inside.
During a snack break in elementary school, I huddled around our usual table under the huge oak tree that stood in front of the playground with two of my friends. They simultaneously began to hum what I now know to be Journey’s âDon’t Stop Believin ‘â, waiting for me to ring the bell. However, I was not aware of the tunes they sang.
Growing up, the majority of my classmates and friends had blond hair and blue eyes, which led me to constantly seek validation from my white peers. I thought I would be instantly accepted if I had consumed the same TV shows, the same food and the same songs. The phrase âI don’t think Amber knows what it isâ during conversations of classic American TV shows or snacks would wear off.
And that’s exactly what I did. In a sense, I was a âpick myselfâ for white validation and moved away from the âAsian-American moldâ. All of my elementary school years would be spent pursuing this validation, Americanizing my personality and interests. I have excelled at disassociating myself from all the stereotypes of Asian American children like refusing to participate in Pokemon card games. It was instilled in me that speaking my native language in front of my classmates meant a lack of belonging to American society. When classmates made remarks like “I didn’t act like a typical Asian,” wheels of validation happiness tumbled inside me.
At one point in college, when other Asians categorized me as whitewashed, I remember feeling a sense of accomplishment at first. It was as if all those years of suppressing my heritage and culture had paid off, because being whitewashed meant I was accepted into American society. However, that changed during my first year.
For the first time in my life, most of my friends were Asian, and I voluntarily chose Chinese as a language requirement. Before this school year, I would have refused to take this course because it would have been in the âtypicalâ mold of Asian Americans. At the start, I started the year with the mentality that it would be an easy A. On the way out, I was slapped with reality upon realizing that being labeled whitewashed was an insult.
This class’s exposure to Chinese culture inspired increased consumption of Asian media: songs, TV shows, and movies. I started to embrace my own Malaysian-Chinese heritage and no longer wanted the phrases that met the white validation I was looking for. For the first time in 14 years, I became interested in learning more about the meaning of the Yee Sang (prosperity salad) which was the center of our table during Chinese New Year and my mother blasting Mandopop in the house. didn’t embarrass me.
Despite the change in my interests, I was still sort of classified as a banana and whitewashed by my peers. It puzzled me and, for the first time in 14 years, bothered me negatively. I constantly wondered what attributes of my personality were considered whitewashed and why it was being used as an insult.
However, over the years I have realized that this term, coined to be an insult, simply represents my personal upbringing as an Asian American. I have found that many of my Americanized interests, developed during childhood, are rooted in my personality. I’ll always enjoy âFriendsâ the TV show, but that shouldn’t create a narrative that I don’t also embrace my culture, as interpreted by the term being whitewashed. So yes, I was a proud banana. At one point, I refused to admit that I was a banana.
Now I have concluded that part of being a “banana” will always be a part of me. This, however, does not diminish my connection to my heritage.
Amber Chia is in her final year at Carlmont High School in Belmont. Student News appears in the weekend edition. You can email Student News at [email protected]