I Can Be Both

Tuesday, February 12, 2019 - 11:19am

Angie Zhang

Angie Zhang Buy this photo
Courtesy of Angie Zhang

When I was little, I used to be one of those girls who wished that they I were white. My parents immigrated to the States in the 90s, having previously lived under Communist rule in China. That being said, I never had the type of mom who would help out in the classroom or know how to bake cookies, and I was never a “daddy’s girl.” I had to learn a lot of things on my own, and it wasn’t easy.

 

Because I had strict parents that asked about every detail about my daily life,  I did the same thing in first grade to my peers as an attempt to befriend them. I end up coming off as nosy and annoying. No one had ever taught me that privacy and personal space were things people in this country valued. I spent a large portion of my childhood practicing piano and getting tutored in math; I felt like I was missing out on the all-American experience. It would just be so much easier if I were white, I kept telling myself. I wouldn’t have to deal with this shit.

 

I had to learn on my own to be proud of my Chinese-American identity. All of my life, I associated being Asian with having strict parents and playing piano and studying math (all things I actually did, so I really hated that I fit the stereotype) — but as I grew up, I realized there was so much more than just that.

 

My identity revolves around feminism, punk rock, bisexuality; my identity revolves around being unapologetic and audacious, contrary to the submissive quiet girl most people assumed me to be. When I first tentatively came out as bisexual at age 14, I remember overhearing someone saying, “Bisexual? She’s Asian though…” as if people of color couldn’t also be queer. I was tired of people saying things like, “Oh, you’re into rock? I would’ve never expected it-- you just don’t look like the rebellious type.” What the fuck is that supposed to mean, anyway?

 

So, all throughout high school I tried to “look” like the rebellious type. I started dressing in black and wearing Doc Martens with fishnets and ripped jeans, smudging my eyeliner in a don’t-fuck-with-me way and dying my hair green. I was trying to prove myself; I was trying to say, “No, I’m not your average nice Asian girl.” I gave my parents an especially hard time growing up. Often times, I would go to extreme lengths just for a taste of freedom-- sneaking out to meet boys, hiding cigarette packs in my underwear drawer. Granted, half because these were things I actually wanted, but the other half was just because I just wanted to prove a point; that I could be a badass.

 

I don’t try to be a badass anymore; I just am one. The green hair and fake smoking habit died out, but the all-black outfits, Docs, snide remarks, and love for the Sex Pistols stayed. I feel as if I don’t have to adhere to the stereotype of being the “perfect” Asian daughter, but that doesn’t mean I have to try so hard to distance myself from my Asian identity anymore. I still care about my grades, have inside jokes in Mandarin with my old Chinese school friends, and play Chopin’s Fantasie Impromptu at any given moment when I see a piano. I’m not ashamed to be who I am anymore, nor do I have to choose a side. I can be both brash and smart, sexy and complicated, angsty and academic, and most of all, Chinese and American.