Being Bananas

by Albert Chen

Circa 1991

            I’m a banana, at least that’s what my parents like to say. A banana or a twinkie, or anything else that is yellow on the outside and white on the inside.  I think it refers to being Chinese in appearance, but American on the inside; As if being an American refers to a white thing.  It is ironic how we are as busy labeling ourselves as others are labeling us.  Bush called us the “model minority;” we call ourselves Asian Americans. Those are the nice labels.  To be derogatory is to call us chinks or japs or whatever; and the stupid thing is we let ourselves be hurt by them.

            Its frustrating at times being an Asian American; people pigeonhole us into these stereotypes that label us and deprive us of our individuality.  Even the “politically correct” term “Asian American” was carefully constructed to emphasize that were are just as much American as we are Asian by capitalizing both. It is “politically correct” to avoid the “oriental,” because it is supposedly an adjective for objects and not people.

            Personally I don’t care what you call me, because I know who I am: I am  Albert Chen and that is the only name that I need. Sure I am proud of my heritage, it is no better or worse than any other, but it is my heritage.  I am also proud to be an American.  In the end though, I am a person, an individual not to be clumped into a label or a stereotype. You may not like me or what I believe and represent, but at least respect me for being a person. Do not condemn all people with the same color skin as I have for my actions. My actions are those of my own choosing, and others are not to be held responsible for them.  In the same stroke, there is no reason for me to take pride in the accomplishments of other Asian Americans unless I really did help them in their endeavors; Just because I have the same color skin and hair as they do, does not entitle me to their achievements. It is amusing watching every Chinese American family buy an Amy Tan book simply because it was written by a prominent Chinese American. If they read it, more power to them; If they understood it, so much the better; If they formed opinions from it, I commend them; but they need to read the book and not simply buy it because of who wrote it. I think it is wonderful that a greater understanding  of Asians and Asian Americans is being promoted: A greater understanding of people’s attitudes and cultures breeds a greater sense of respect and trust; but in the end, we must be responsible for our own actions as individuals, and should not hide behind our labels.

            We have to know who we are, not whom we are labeled to be. It is not always so easy; many times, it is easier simply accepting our stereotype and being proud of it. It is harder being proud of ourselves and according ourselves with personal dignity and respect; but it is then, and only then, that we can really ask to be equals with the rest of the people in this world.