“I don’t feel like anyone could understand me without knowing more about me than most people do,” I texted. “I usually do not have the time to explain the about-150 years of geopolitical and sociocultural history of the U.S., Europe and Asia and how that impacts me.”
He didn’t quite understand that at first. So I gave him examples: I told him about how I watched people jump out of their high-rise apartments because of a financial crisis. I told him about how I didn’t have any contact with friends for a month at the age of six because of an then-unknown epidemic which threatened the tightly-packed city and turned hospitals from centers of healing to centers of fear.
I didn’t touch upon how my life was shaped from birth by the complexities of three systems of law, immigration policy and notions of nationality and citizenship; how I spent many hours of my life in embassies and consulates and breathed the abstractness of territorality; how the colour of a tiny, 52-page booklet would determine how fast I passed through airports; how my spelling of “colour” and “recognise” would prompt unwanted responses, ranging from passive-aggressive commentary and hate-filled ridicule.
“You frame your experiences in such a global context,” he eventually wrote back, after we kept texting about me. “I’m not sure what the impact of that is.”
Neither do I, not really. I do know it creates a huge amount of mental stress. I know things are even worse when the identities of LGBTQ are combined with belonging to an racial/ethnic minority, and the term LGBTQ-POC exists for this reason. I know that Asian Americans, in particular, have struggled with reconciling this dichotomy and deciding between assimilating themselves and their children to American life and recognising their Asian heritage. I know that I haven’t been doing so well, and it’s been worse recently that it ever has been.
Here, I am greatly indebted to professors Michelle Huang and Douglas Ishii, of Northwestern’s Asian American Studies
Department Program, for introducing me to the critical race theory, intersectional theory and the critical history of Asian America. (I am also grateful to Justin Tse of the same for being the only one who understood my humour.)
But such academic concepts can only take me so far. Where do I go next? How am I supposed to find common ground with the people around me? Where do I find people who understand enough about my life to fill in the gaps for what I don’t say and what I don’t know how to say? Who are the people who know to look for the deep and hidden injuries and tramua — real and imagined, physical and emotional — that have shaped and molded me to this point?
I’ve looked for twenty years for someone like this. I’m still looking.