“ … see I’m a star spangled banner with a red hole in it, straight Japanese but raised in a foster country that tells you to forget where you’re from instead of embracing the things you’ve never had, but see imma start searching for my own heart to finally find a place to call home”
~ G Yamazawa
We as a first and first and a half generation of Asian Americans are unique in the sense that we grow up American all the while we are raised Asian. We are the guinea pigs to a cultural experimentation. We get to define how we grow up experiencing culture duality and we get to set the history pages and the role models for the our kids and their kids after them. We are the first of our kind.
Just this past weekend Pitt ASA brought the famous poet and acclaimed rapper, G Yamazawa to come to speak and perform for us. Little did we realize, G mainly writes and raps about culture and family; two integral themes in Asian Culture, but also two distinctly different definitions when we compare with the older generations of Asians.
“... I am afraid of passing down my lack of language to my children and their grandpa’s accent will sound more foreigner than family…”
Our parents and grandparents can all speak our native language, but can we? They can write and conjugate perfect formal and informal text in our native language, but can we? They can read smoothly our native language like cutting butter on a hot knife, but can we? And if we can’t speak or read or write, then do we lose a valuable part of our culture our father and mother, our grandfathers and grandmothers, and our ancient ancestors all took for granted?
Personally for me, I am an Indonesian-Chinese immigrant and I too feel scared of passing down my lack of language to my children. I feel as if I already lost the Chinese part of my ancestry. Yes I participate in the traditions and the festivities, but I can neither speak nor read nor write the language. It wasn’t until recently till I realized why I was forced into a Chinese class at the age of nine. The same goes for my Indonesian side. I can speak it, but even at times I am lost for words because of certain vocabulary; I can write, but it feels as if I am a third grader learning English all over again; I can read, but the long pauses and hesitation feel so heavy. I pride myself on my Indonesian heritage so much -- the food, the language, the music, the culture -- because I don’t want to lose it and because I want to find a life partner that shares the same excitement on preserving culture as I and to teach my kids that same excitement.
“When you forget where you’re from, you truly become American,”
Those word will stick to me like white on rice. It needs no further explanation.
Imagine how our parents feel when we know little or nothing about our culture, our history, our lineage. As Asian Americans often times our parents won’t push us to learn the language or learn the culture. Maybe at trivial times in our lives, but never “Did you know _____ once had a great leader named ____ who led a revolution through our street?” or “This is tradition because ______.” We learn so much in classes about American history and her great heros, but do we know of our great heroes? I feel as if our parents don’t go through that trouble only because they don’t want to distract us from what we need to be successful in America. In their eyes I feel that we should know English, go to school, and get a high paying degree so we don’t have to struggle as they do.
“Speaking English is like climbing a barbed wire fence / Standard English wasn’t gonna feed his children,”
G talks about his father and how his father doesn’t really need to be formally taught English, because his father relies on his cooking to feed and provide for his family. I know that my dad works from 5am to 7pm every weekday to prep and serve food inside our family owned food truck on the corner of 17th and Market in Philly. I know that whenever I see him tired I feel a bit guilty because I’m always at school in my after school activities or even now as I’m in college six hours away sometimes I think about the last few words my mom said to me when Pitt was the college I was going too. “ What are you going to do when your dad gets sick or when the person who helps him clean the truck daily can’t make it to work? I can’t operate the grill like your dad and manage transactions.” I had no reply. I was lost for words for one of the first times in my life. For G’s dad and my dad learning English isn't a necessity to them, but rather perfecting their skill of cooking to provide for the family is.
I am my family’s son, but I am also a student. I live in America, but the rest of my extended family is in Indonesia. I am learning in English, but I must never forget Indonesian, my only connection to home. I am United States citizen, but I am also an refugee/immigrant.
I am American, but also Asian.
I am the first of my kind.