Mestizos and Me: An Asian American Tale

At the end of the 2016 Fall Quarter and the start of this quarter (Winter 2017), our lectures focused on mestizos and what it meant to be one. In the Fall, Hugh Glass from The Revenant was used as the primary example of a mestizo.

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A man of mix cultures, or the movie version at least.

This quarter one of our main topics is the Incan empire and the Spanish inquisition. Interactions between the indigenous peoples of America and the Spanish inevitably led to the creation of mestizos. This term originally meant as someone of mixed race, often of Spanish and American Indian descent. This might be a bit of a stretch, but let’s say that the term has grown beyond that limited definition, where it can now be used to define someone who is of mixed cultures. Actually, that is what Professor Lazo did when he labeled Hugh Glass as a mestizo, so it works out doesn’t it? Anyways with this concept in mind, let’s get to the main point. Today I wanted to talk about how the term “mestizo” can be applied to myself as an Asian American, but also the kind of stereotypes there are about us Asian Americans and the effect it’s had on us.

 So how does the concept of Mestizo apply to myself exactly? Well, being an Asian American, or more specifically an American of Vietnamese descent, I’ve had to balance between being American and being Vietnamese. For example I struggled between what language to speak at home. Would it be Vietnamese, or would it be English? There was even some internal conflicts over the food I enjoyed. I loved the different kinds of noodle soups that my parents made.

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Hey look an actual original photo! Thanks for all the good food mom!

But I also came to love the different kinds of American food out there.

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That’s another original one! American Brunch is a past time I have come to love.

However, at some point those two identities mixed and merged together. I originally spoke mostly Viet to my parents with little English mixed in between. Eventually as I became more exposed to American culture through schooling, I spoke less and less Viet and more English to my parents. Today it has gotten to the point where they speak in Viet, and I respond in English. As far as food goes, I figured there was nothing wrong with saying that Vietnamese food and American brunch were my favorite kind of foods. Embracing the best of both cultures and defining them as your own is the best way to go about it.

Being an Asian American also comes with its stereotypes too however. As many of you probably heard of before, Asian Americans have this stereotype of being the “model minority”. It’s a stereotype where Asians are successful in their schooling, in their careers, and in their lives in general. Growing up as an Asian American, such expectations are put upon us, often by our own parents to varying degrees. Everyone expects you to get good grades so you can get into a good college. These kinds of expectations have to come from somewhere right? Some have argued that the success in so many Asian Americans come from a combination of hard work, strong family ties, and a large focus on education. For me and countless others, expectations like these have put stress on ourselves and our relationships with families, all in order for us to try and achieve that model minority image. It feels great to be able to live up to the image that others have made for you, but sometimes it hurts just as bad when you fail to do so.

To end this, its also important to consider the nature of stereotypes. They are often overreaching, half-truthful concepts that others place on a group of people. Not all Asian Americans go through experience of trying to be a model minority. Some have it worse. Some better. The experience isn’t the same for everyone, but the effect that the stereotype has will always be there.

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