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With the month of May dedicated to Asian American Pacific Islander (AAPI) heritage, I have had this time to think and reflect on my own personal experiences related to my cultural and ethnic identity. Through social media, I have found that many Asian Americans have experienced the push and pull of trying to figure out where they fit in when it comes to the labels of Asian and American.


Asian woman looking at reflection
Photo by Jessica Ticozzelli from Pexels

I have had my own experiences of feeling completely out of place when trying to identify with my Asian side and feeling rejected when trying to identify with my American side. I was born and raised in California and grew up speaking English to my family, friends, and peers. Although my parents tried their best to keep me enrolled in Saturday Korean school, my unwillingness to learn has left me unable to speak my parent’s native tongue. It is something I think about often, and I regret not taking my Korean classes more seriously. I feel alienated from my own ethnic identity because I am unable to communicate with my grandparents, who solely speak Korean, and I feel burdened knowing that I could have had the opportunity to build stronger relationships with them had I continued to attend Korean school.

I believe this guilt has manifested over time into a greater feeling of detachment from my identity as a Korean American. How could I say I am Korean if I lack the ability to speak the language? Yet, at the same time, I didn’t know if I could fully Identify as an American either. There have been moments where my presence was a spectacle, or I was hyper-aware of the fact that I was one of the only Asians in the room. In those moments, I questioned if I could ever really identify as an American when I felt so out of place.

This insecurity about my American identity was further amplified when it came to the physical differences I saw in myself and others. When I was younger, I had a hard time accepting the way I looked. Perhaps it was because what I saw on TV, social media, or any media for that matter, credited beauty to western features. Rarely was an Asian ever in the spotlight. Of course, over time, we have witnessed a rise in representation of the Asian community, not only in screen time but also in the diversity of roles Asian actors/actresses have taken on, but there is still this western beauty standard that would occupy the back of my mind when I was younger.

This left me stuck in between two identities that I felt disconnected from. I felt like a fraud identifying as a Korean because I couldn’t speak Korean, and yet I felt like I would never be able to be seen as just an American for the way I looked.


Woman poses in a windy field.
Photo by Larm Rmah from Unsplash

Today, with the seemingly abrupt spotlight on Asian culture and the wider range of Asian American content creators across platforms, I have learned that there is a larger community of Asian Americans who have experienced what I felt when I was younger. Watching Asian beauty influencers have helped me to appreciate my Asian features, and I began to take Korean classes at a local community college in an attempt to mend the disconnect with my Asian heritage. From this struggle to find my place of belonging, I realized I was not meant to fit into one category or the other. Instead, my identity as an Asian American is a complex blend of both my Asian heritage and American identity, and I have learned to embrace both aspects of this within myself.

Emily is a third-year at UC Davis, pursuing a bachelor's degree in Communications and Cinema & Digital Media. She is currently Design Director for VITA at UC Davis and Digital Media Director for Her Campus UCD. She enjoys thrifting and getting coffee with friends.
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