On a recent Uber ride, my driver eagerly told me how he had recently become an American citizen. He told me about his childhood in Bangladesh and his journey to the United States. He told me that while he will always love Bangladesh, he is an American now, and he looks forward to giving his children opportunities he never had.
Yet his excitement and enthusiasm made me a little sad. Because I know that no matter how American he feels, people will hear his accent and see the color of his skin, and these things will lessen his Americanness in their eyes. I know that despite their American passports, people will still ask his children if they eat dogs because “everyone knows that Asians eat dogs.”
They will never fully assimilate in America, which still thinks of itself as a white country, despite its growing minority populations. Their children will grow up between two cultures. Even if they identify as Americans, their loyalty to this country will constantly be questioned.
They will likely earn good grades, not because of their race, but because they will honor their parents’ hard work by doing well in school. But people will not see the effort they put in, instead assuming their success can be attributed to being Asian. Classmates will comment on the darkness of their skin, commend their mastery of the English language, turn up their noses at the scent of the spices coming from the lunches their mother packs.
They will become token Asian sidekicks, the focus of racist jokes, walking targets for racial profiling. They will find themselves outnumbered by white people in classrooms, at business meetings, in crowded elevators. They will view this as a normal thing, and grow to accept the mantle of being a minority without question. They will begin to think that this is the way the world is, that white people have the upper hand.
If they are lucky, they will learn to embrace their heritage and wield their cultural diversity as a weapon against xenophobia. If they are not, they will become embittered at their marginalization.
I hope they fight. I hope they fight against those who will see them as something less, as something inferior. I hope that they educate people, that they love their diversity. I hope that they find peace in a country which will try to make them feel as if they don’t belong.