Unpacking why I’m Ashamed of my Asian Culture

My Goal of Breaking Away From Stereotypes Lead to Subconscious Thoughts I Never Wanted

Jessica Lim
Human Parts

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Diem Nhi Nguyen | Unsplash

We live in a world where judgments happen in a split second. People watch me — a twenty-something Chinese female — walk down the street, and they’ll immediately make assumptions about what I like, how I speak, my upbringing, and why I’ve made my decisions in life.

Everyone seems to have an idea of who I’m going to be before I even open my mouth to say a single word.

Before I begin, I just want to make something very clear — to myself, to my family, and to anyone who ever reads this. I am proud to be Chinese-Canadian. I am not ashamed of who I am. I don’t wish I looked different or that my parents raised me differently. I just don’t like when people assume who I am and what I like. And I hate it even more when people are right.

I feel like that headstrong, stubborn, devil’s advocate part of me has driven many of the decisions of my life. After all, the last thing I’ve ever wanted in life is to be a walking-talking stereotype.

Let’s dive into this a little.

I’m the girl who refuses to go into the women’s only section of the gym. The varsity athlete in me didn’t ever want anyone to think I was intimidated by the men who thought they were hot shit for lifting heavy plates. I am pretty sure that part of the reason I studied engineering — specifically software — was because I wanted to be the girl who could dominate in a man’s world.

So does it surprise anyone that I hate Chinese food? And that I cannot name a single anime character? Or that the very idea of K-pop music makes me internally cringe?

Old habits die hard, especially when they’re subconscious. And the oldest habit I have is trying to prove to racist strangers that not all 700 million Chinese girls are the same — and that even if they were, I’d be different than the rest of them.

I am a third-generation Chinese-Canadian, but I didn’t grow up in a completely whitewashed bubble. My parents tried to speak to me in (albeit quite broken) Mandarin for as long as their vocabulary could hold. I went to my grandma’s to celebrate every major Chinese holiday. I grew up in a predominantly Asian area, so I have been to more than my fair share of authentic Asian restaurants, and my childhood friends were ethnically diverse.

Even so, if the TV was on in the house, Hockey Night in Canada was probably playing. Dora the Explorer and the Mickey Mouse Clubhouse were my childhood icons. A fajita was more likely to find itself on my plate during family dinner than fried rice ever would.

The hardest part to admit is that there is a subconscious part of myself that takes some pride in that. I’m someone who loves learning and experiencing new cultures. But for some reason, I’ve never been in love with my own.

Every single thought I have regarding my heritage is a juxtaposition. I wish so badly I could speak Chinese. But god forbid anyone thinks I am actually Mainland Chinese instead of Canadian. When I hear people boast about the merits of their cultural cuisine, I wish I felt the same love for Chinese food. But I also enjoy admitting that rice, soy sauce, and oyster sauce are among my least favorite foods.

As much as I want to be more in touch and more appreciative of my roots, I think the unfortunate reality is that my lifelong attempts to be different have caused me to be subconsciously ashamed of my culture.

I think that living in North America has given me an innate idea of Western superiority. Even worse, perhaps even a subconscious superiority complex because I’m whitewashed.

I know I cannot be the only person having such trepidious and shameful thoughts. But none of us want to admit it. After all, it’s hard to be a champion for stopping anti-Asian hate when you have some pretty heavy internalized racism yourself. How am I going to convince the world that I should be respected when I barely can hold myself to a high level?

So I guess we’ve unpacked it. But now what?

I don’t want to live my entire life out of touch with my heritage. Because of this, I’ve had “living in Asia” penciled into my life plans since I started unpacking my entire relationship with my background. It is by far the best way to immerse myself in my culture and language. But more than that, it gives me a chance to look at life through a perspective where my culture is not ostracized but instead normalized.

Fast forward to the present day: from unpacking to packing.

Instead of taking a cushy software job in Silicon Valley, I decided to search for opportunities in Asia instead. After all, some things are worth more than money in the bank. And if a better sense of identity isn’t on that list, I don’t know what is.

And so the journey begins. Next Stop: Jessica in Asia

I’m never going to be a poster girl for Chinese culture. I don’t think that’s a problem, given the environment I grew up in. But I’m hoping that next time I see one, I’ll see a bit of myself in there. And be proud of it.

If you’d like to follow along with the perspectives I gain on this journey, please subscribe or become a Medium member. You can also support my writing by buying me a coffee.

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Jessica Lim
Human Parts

Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing … or both | Reach out 👋 jessicalim813@gmail.com