Dear 100 Hour Board,
Growing up Asian-American has its benefits. I was able to experience many cultures and learn from all of them. However, I've started to really wonder just what I identify as after a negative experience asking someone out.
For a bit of context, I'm the only member of the Church in my family(converted 4 years ago). Serving a mission has helped me understand some BYU culture and terms such as DTR, NCMO, and the dreaded Dear Johns haha. But I still am very spiritually immature, especially in the category of dating and self-worth oof.
At BYU, I asked a girl that I knew if she would be down to grab a bite to eat. Very straightforwardly, she stated that she didn't date Asians. Obviously, my pride was hurt but I appreciated her honesty and went about my way. What I didn't like was the way I was handling the rejection.
It made me realize that I don't actually consider myself Asian. I don't even consider myself 100% American, whatever that means. I can speak several languages and interact in all of their respective cultures, but I don't have one I associate with the most.
I know who I am(a child of God) but I don't feel who I am. Instead, I feel bitter now. I've sacrificed much to join the church, and everything to stay. I can't fix my Asianness so I've done everything else: actively live my testimony, get good grades, really work out, etc. But I can't shake this feeling that I'm not as good as the "Provo All-stars" in my life who go on dates with girls all the time.
I just want to appreciate myself. And I know the Atonement of Jesus Christ can enable me to do that. I've read many of your writers' posts and they inspire me. But more than that they've incredibly shaped my life these last three years. So without further ado, here's my question. By what process did you start to see yourself as Heavenly Father saw you? I know it's different for everyone but I could really use some fresh ideas(or maybe buckle down harder on the old ones haha)
A Distressed Asian-American-seriouslywhattheheckamI
That girl might have been honest, but refusing to date people purely based off race is despicable and horribly racist. It is not okay. Your cultural genetic makeup is NOT something that needs to be "fixed". There is nothing either inherently worse or better about one race vs. another (I mean, there are lots of cultural norms that are better or worse--like white supremacy is a thing that is absolutely terrible, but I'm talking about base humanity here). It honestly breaks my heart that you're taking that girl's rejection based off racism as an implication there's something wrong with you. Having Asian (or any other kind of) blood is not a flaw. Not accepting other people based off race, on the other hand, is an enormous flaw.
It seems like on some level you may already recognize this, but the number of girls you date is not a reflection of your worth. Not fitting into a prevailing cultural mold is also not an indicator of comparatively lower worth. However, knowing these things and actually feeling them is very different--and judging from your question, your problem is that you don't feel the truth of your worth. Bridging that gap between knowing and feeling takes a lot of time and mental reinforcement. As I'm sure many readers see coming, one of my top suggestions is therapy. Given that I can't give you therapy via this answer though, I will at least share my own experience.
Back when I was in high school, one of the core elements that I used to define myself was loyalty to my friend (let's refer to her as Pink Bubblegum, or PG for short--and yes this is the same unhealthy friendship I've talked about many times on the Board). I had been friends with PG from the time we were in first grade together. And after being bullied and ostracized by almost every single other person I came into contact with at school from the time I was in third grade all the way through middle school, PG and her group were my only friends. Throw in PG's medical problems coupled with my personal drive to deeply care for people who are struggling, and it created the perfect storm for me to devote absolute, unwavering loyalty. Despite the fact PG and the rest of the people in that friend group didn't off true friendship or caring to me in return.
The result of this situation was that I felt invisible, like a shadow of person instead of a full individual in my own right. I remember reading the play Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead by Tom Stoppard and it resonated with me like no other work. Because even in a story devoted to them and told from their perspective neither Rosencrantz nor Guildenstern were the main protagonists. The play echoed my own sense of futility in breaking through my closest friends' total indifference to who I truly was as a person. I desperately grasped to glimmers of hope I was valued as a friend instead of as a sycophant, but as time passed that hope slowly died. Hope burned out as I was crying in the backseat of PG's car, full of her family and other friends, and no one noticed. Or when I was sobbing on and off for a full night at a hang out at her house with no one the wiser. Or when I confessed to one of the friends in this group (who were all purportedly my close friends) that I thought I was suffering from depression and was only met with an awkward, discomfited look followed by complete silence on the topic from there on out. Or when PG tried to set up the boy I liked with another girl right in front of me less than a week after I'd told her I liked him.
No matter what I felt, PG never looked closely enough at me to even see, let alone care. And since PG was my sole social connection--with me in my classes, and my only invite out of my house--that formed the texture of my identity.
A major turning point in my floundering sense of self came my senior year of high school when my mom found me a vocal coach and signed me up for private lessons. I finally had something to devote myself to that was totally unrelated to PG. For the first time I could remember, I started having self confidence. Singing gave me an arena where I could grow and flourish as me. It gave me the space to define myself as something where PG had no part.
Moving to college and the four years I spent there were even better for cementing my sense of self worth and strong identity. Part of that came from forming much, much better friendships. I am very secure in the knowledge that my friend Black Forest Cake, or my super amazing former roommate will be there for me when I need them, and that they care deeply for me as I am. In ACME, I found a sense of belonging with an entire group. Instead of racking up more instances of being ignored, I got to experience the deep kindness of being noticed. When I was stress crying, one of my friends would hold my hand and tell me I was smart and going to make it (and then she would also insist I go eat ice cream to feel better). When I was super sick with a cold (in hindsight it was probably the flu), a friend silently dropped off cold medicine at the desk I was working at.
These new experiences really helped me feel seen and valued. Which in turn grounded my sense of identity as me.
Another very critical part of me appreciating my identity has come from pursuing things I like simply because I like them. This has translated into genuinely liking myself. I love being the sort of person who does yoga, burns scented candles, drinks herbal tea, paints, bakes/cooks, watches anime, plays DnD, pursues data science in my career, and is constantly listening to music or podcasts. I'm an odd blend of spiritualist hippie and logical nerd, and I love it.
Perhaps a question to ask yourself is what motivates you to do the things that you do. If you're working out, doing well academically, and building your testimony only to match some external mold of what you should be instead of for the sake of the activities themselves, maybe that's part of why you feel like you don't measure up. For me, I feel the most self-fulfillment when I'm enjoying the experience of journeying towards a goal as opposed to being primarily focused on the goal itself.
As always, if you'd like a friend on the other side of the internet, my email is open at firstname.lastname@example.org. Seriously, this isn't just some sort of courtesy request. If you've been reading the Board for 4 years, and really like this community, you're probably the type of person I would love exchanging emails with.
I'm sorry that happened to you, you really don't deserve it. Especially in light of recent events (I was part of the reason this answer was kept long), I think we need to do a much better job as individuals to fight racism and prejudice, and it's just lame and hateful.
For me, I found myself a similar category of non-categoricalness, though not stuck with any particular labels. I think this video (you can start at 3:00 if you want to, but it's only a 5 minute video) by Sabrina sums up my thoughts pretty well. I rewatched that video and think it also melted in my head with this video (a little longer, but worth it) as well, which is from the same channel, but deals more directly with being multicultural, and I think it expresses some very similar struggles to the ones that you are facing.
If it helps you at all to hear about my experience, I don't really naturally fall into any groups except "white" and "American", but even those groupings don't give me a sense of culture or identity either. It wasn't until a really good forum last year that I started to consider what my identity meant to me. It was the one on jazz music, and a big thing that stuck with me from that is the culture of the black community and if I remember correctly, there was some encouragement to find and connect with personal identity. For me, besides being a member of the church (which doesn't distinguish one at BYU), I don't have that much sense of identity. After watching that forum, I really grappled with my identity and what the different labels I have given myself or could give myself mean to me.
I don't have any huge answers, but with where I am right now, I've found it's nice to have little communities of identity, and for me the largest ones I fit in are "neurodiverse" and a sense of culture in my family, especially being able to cook foods that I ate as a kid. I hope there are more things that I'll come to identify and connect with in the future, and I also want to make sure that I can help my kids develop a culture and identity that will strengthen them and help them feel connected and a part of those around them. I hope the same for you, too.
Best of luck :)
Dear Distressed Asian American,
Hey - I hear ya. The identity crisis of third-culture folks is real. Have you heard that term before? It may be insightful to look it up or read some books by people who have had similar experiences of being cultural transplants. :)
I actually identify as Japanese and American, because I’ve not wanted to identify myself as Asian American when white people don’t identify themselves as European-American, etc. That’s just how I see it. *shrug*
Anyways, first things first. I will speak frankly. It is not your fault if someone decides they don’t want to date any of the beautiful and incredible people who are in your race. I see it as the fault of cultural ignorance or shelteredness (and not necessarily always their fault!). One thing I realized about myself was that as the daughter of a white man and a Japanese woman who lived in the States, I initially had a preference for white men, given I grew up in white dominated cultures. This continued into my BYU experience. However, I found that as my exposure increased, so did my preferences. I moved to DC for an internship, met more people of color and found myself preferring Black and biracial men more. I moved to Japan for my mission and visited Kyoto after my mission, and after coming home I realized I was really into Japanese guys. I lived in Jerusalem for a study abroad and no kidding, had a huge thing for Arab men! What this has taught me is that it is my exposure and familiarity, my comfort with other appearances and cultures, that increases my desire to be with those people. In fact, the more my world has opened, the more I actually prefer partners with more diverse backgrounds.
I can’t speak for ALL people and why they do or do not have preferences… but my current theory is this: When you are immersed in a culture you see the variety of appearance present in that race. When you only see a minority of those people, including a minority represented in media, you form opinions based on the minority you see. You may also be uncomfortable with the potential for cultural differences. You may also be uncomfortable with what you are not familiar with. Thus, immersed in white culture, I wouldn’t have said as a teenager “I don’t like white men” because I knew there were some I found attractive and some I didn’t. I based my preferences on the world I knew at the time. I, sadly yes, didn’t know yet what I was missing.
As a child, my cultural identity was fraught with dissonance. I knew I was Japanese, yet I saw myself as white… that is until I looked in the mirror or until someone reacted to my race. Britney Spears and Lindsay Lohan and the Backstreet Boys were my role-models for how I should look and who I should date. I’m going to be super honest. I was embarrassed by my mom sometimes because of her Japanese “otherness.” I think she felt this too because it was difficult to raise a child in a foreign culture. It hurts me to think about my past feelings. It wasn’t until about the age of 18 that I started really embracing my Japanese identity. I am not sure why this is, but I do know my peers embracing my “Asianness” and saying how cool it was helped me. Versus the negative experiences I had in my childhood of peers teasing and “othering” my Asianness. Thus the importance of finding people who accept and love who you are.
My sophomore year at BYU was the first time that I realized how much I had denied my Asian side of myself. My friend, a sociology student, was interviewing me for her class. During the interview - this all surfaced. I was surprised. I had suppressed my Japanese side for much of my life: I quit speaking and learning Japanese, despite being fluent initially, because I didn’t want to be different from a VERY young age. I tried to hide my different food. I tried to be as white as possible. I was clueless about how to wear makeup that suited my unique and beautiful eye shape. I thought I wasn’t beautiful because my face looked so different from the faces of my friends.
I cry a little for the teenager and young adult who took quite a bit of time to figure out how to love and embody herself fully: ALL of herself. And I rejoice in the woman who learned how to love where she came from, have immense pride in it, share it joyfully with her friends and acquaintances (including my food), and to love her unique body and soul. Because, that’s what God has given you and each of us! I will never fully understand what it means to be Japanese, because I didn’t grow up there. I will never fully understand what it means to be a solely European-descended American, because I do not have that experience either. I don’t understand what Heaven is like, because I don’t remember it. But I do have God’s love and influence to guide me and continue to speak to my heart that God knows who I am. If you think about it, we are all spiritual transplants trying to find our way home.
I really do see life as a process to chip away at all the stuff that gets piled on - the rock that is NOT you until you are left with the sculpture that IS you. Michelangelo has this quote, “Every block of stone has a statue inside it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it. I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free. The sculpture is already complete within the marble block, before I start my work. It is already there, I just have to chisel away the superfluous material.”
To get back to your original question, and I edit it a little: By what process did you start to see yourself as [your] Heavenly [parents] [see] you?” For me, it was spending a LOT of time in nature (I hear God better in nature), spending a lot of time with friends/family who unconditionally loved me, learning about the wonderful aspects of my cultures and thinking about which aspects I want to share and embody (for example, always bringing something to visit someone or always offering something to a guest are Japanese values of generosity I want to practice more, I also enjoy the Danish concept of hygge, I love Japanese fashion, wabi-sabi design, and philosophy), helped ground me in who I am, who I want to be, and how much God LOVES me as his daughter and his own creation. I also believe whole-heartedly that therapy is for all people to understand themselves better. I don’t have “all of the answers” now, I don’t know that I ever will in this life, but I’m completely grateful that I’m on this journey, and that I am a mix of cultures and races.
Your Asian Sista, c/o Ardilla Feroz