On Having Friends Who Look Like Me

Read about Michael’s experience growing up with an Asian heritage in a small, white American town.

Like many Asian-Americans, I often feel out of place, though the reason for it is very different. Despite being from Asia and, you know, being Asian, I don’t feel Asian. When with other Asian-Americans, I feel like an outsider. My experiences are so much different than theirs. Often times, it seems like we have nothing in common besides the color of our skin.

I was raised by white parents in a small, rural town in Northern Michigan. There were about ten other kids who were Asian in my high school. One of them was this girl that I had been infatuated with for as long as I can remember. Years after graduating, I realize I was really into her Asianness. Her parents owned the only Asian restaurant in town (she was Hmong but I am not certain what type of food they served in their restaurant) and I remember seeing her and her siblings getting dropped off there after school. I didn’t know that this was a common thing among Asian-American kids at the time, but I remember feeling wistful and not really knowing why.  

A few months into my first semester in college, I joined an Asian-centric student organization. As one might expect, it mostly had Asian members. But, they didn’t exclude anybody; the president was a second generation Chinese-American and the vice-president was a second generation German-American. I stuck around because I liked them and they made it easy to be friends. As cliché as it may sound, being with these people made me a better person.

New Perspectives

My world was burst wide open after I met these people. I gained new perspectives on Asians and Asian culture, like how different each culture was and the relationships between them. I tried so many different foods, like pho, KBBQ, hotpot, and bubble tea.

I also learned about the Asian-American community, this thing I was technically apart of but always felt disconnected with. I listened to the experiences of Asian-Americans, their relationships with their families and each, and the problems that were prevalent towards and from them. I started to feel like I belonged.

It wasn’t just my perspective that changed, it was also me. It’s so easy to convince yourself that you are this open and accepting person, that you have no biases or toxic personality flaws. But then you start to meet people who challenge that belief, you realize you do have these biases and flaws.

And, when you do learn this about yourself, you can’t suddenly change and be better. You have to slowly deconstruct yourself and unlearn these behaviors. It’s difficult, not just for you but the people around you. My friends stuck with me through it. Not everybody is that fortunate, and I’m grateful that I was.

After graduation, I moved to a different city and started a new job. Though we don’t talk or hang out as often, those friends I made in college are still my friends and I realize how exceptional they were because making friends in the Adult World™ is extraordinarily difficult.

My intention with this article is to show appreciation for the kind people who decided to befriend that ignorant, awkward, whitewashed Asian kid. This is for the people who go through experiences that make them a better person.

And finally, this article is for the people who might be in a similar situation to me: Asians who are adopted or grew up in a small, white town and went to a school full of faces that didn’t look like you. I hope you find the kind of people who will bring out the best in you.

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