Thoughts on the Way Home

Friday, April 11, 2008

Where Are You FROM From? - Mike Tong


From the Desiring God Blog:

When I meet people today, it is inevitable that one of the first questions they ask is, “So where are you from?”

“I grew up in Los Angeles.”
“No, I mean where are you from from?”

Oh, how I despised that question. Why are you asking me? Do I remind you of Charlie Chan?

I really am from L.A. My parents are from Taiwan. Yes, I like Thai food, too—but that’s just a coincidence.

For better or worse, Americans label people. African American, Mexican American, Asian American. And if you’re white? American.

As an Asian American boy, I always feared roll call on the first day of school.

“Johnny Rogers?” “Here.”
“Pete Stone?” “Present.”
“Uh…Ming-Jinn Tong?” “Er…here. But I go by Michael.”

As I got older, folks would almost fall over when they heard me speak English.

“Wow, you have no accent!”
“Yeah. I was born in New Mexico.”
“New Mexico? Do you speak Spanish, too?”

I’ve had that conversation at least 10,000 times.

I used to think that Asian Americans would begin to blend in, that you wouldn’t be able to tell us from Adam. But anyone who can see the light of day will always be able to tell Adam Anderson from Adam Chang.

It doesn’t matter that Adam Chang has been in America since birth like his great-grandfather and that Adam Anderson just flew in from Sweden last year. Mr. Anderson will be called American and Mr. Chang will be called Asian American.

The reason for this is obvious, but I never wanted to embrace it. My face. Asians look different than whites. So there it is—big and ugly (not my face, per se). Different physical appearance. A completely different race. As a boy, I didn’t like my label. I am American! Why do I have to be Asian American and you get to be just plain American?

Today at 28, however, I love being Asian American. The reality is that I am just plain American, but most people don’t want to hear that. And I don’t want them to hear that either—for me or for themselves.

Purposely identifying myself as an Asian American is a way of loving both faces of my heritage. I’ve lived in a back alley of Yong Kang City and I’ve lived in the District of Columbia. I’ve tasted animals you’ve only seen on Planet Earth and I’ve had sticky BBQ sauce on my pulled pork sandwich at Famous Dave’s. I’ve spoken Mandarin far too loudly in a crowded noodle shop and I’ve wiped a patriotic tear from my slanted eye while the Star Spangled Banner blared before the rodeo in Mesquite, Texas.

But most importantly, I’ve realized that I didn’t just appear in this country. Everyone living in America today has roots somewhere else. I’m blessed to have a reason to dig down and find mine.

I’m Asian American. Where are you from?

No, I mean where are you from from?

--Mike Tong


I don't care where he's from, or where he's from from; if he likes Famous Dave's, he's alright with me. gh