So…what is Asian American?
This question popped out in my head after we finished watching ‘A Song for Ourselves’, a movie about music and the beginning of Asian American Movement in the US.
To me, being Asian American is confusing because I can be inside the Asian bracket but I never consider myself an American. I was born in Indonesia with parents who were Indonesian of Chinese descent. I might be mixed of native Indonesian and Chinese based on what my parents told me of my grandmother on my father’s side whose skin is dark but has Chinese eyes. It really depends on who you’re asking because if I was asking my father’s siblings, they will deny vehemently that my grandmother has a native Indonesian blood.
To begin to understand why they would reject the native Indonesian identity, one must trace the history of Chinese people migration to Indonesia. From what I learned, there were four waves of migration, the first one happened in the 1200, with the latest migration on the 1900 and that’s pretty recent to me as I was told that my grandfather on my father’s side migrated to Indonesia in late 1800. So putting this into account, who can really tell if their blood is mixed or ‘pure’ Chinese based on skin color or appearances only?
Chinese people or Chinese Indonesian as they like to call us weren’t treated well in Indonesia. My mother and father were born in 1955. They have Chinese names and they were treated as Chinese born in Indonesia. My parents were less than 10 years old when they were forced to change their Chinese names to Indonesian names as part of the assimilation process.
Chinese Indonesians were very restricted, we weren’t allowed to have our culture flourish in Indonesia. Chinese names, language, books, traditions and schools were banned. No wonder my older relatives rejected an Indonesian identity.
Now, I live in the United States. I’m asked everyday: “what’s your ethnicity, your culture, where were you born, why are you speaking with an accent?” On one side, some people are trying to differentiate me, if I answer honestly then I say that I’m from Indonesia and I’m Indonesian. On the other side, some people don’t even bother asking and will put me in the Asian American bracket.
Well…I’m not American. This is not a matter of being loyal to any country or even trying to take my rightful place in society and be recognized as part of an ethnic group who help build America. To me this is a simple matter of Identity. It’s very personal and I won’t ever identify as Asian American as I accept being Asian but my ethnicity will forever be Indonesian.