Foreignness and liberation / by An Huynh

"Among the children of immigrants, Asians in America seem most caught in a state of limbo: no longer beholden to their parents’ countries of origin but still grasping for a role in the American narrative. There is a unique foreignness that persists, despite the presence of Asians on American soil for more than two centuries; none of us, no matter how bald our American accent, has gone through life without being asked, “Where are you from? I mean, originally?” But while this can lead to alienation, it can also have a liberating effect. When you are raised in two cultures at once — when people see in you two heritages at odds, unresolved, in abeyance — you learn to shift at will between them. You may never feel like you quite belong in either, but neither are you fully constrained. The acute awareness of borders (culinary as well as cultural) that both enclose and exclude, allows, paradoxically, a claim to borderlessness, taking freely from both sides to forge something new.

In the end, doesn’t it matter — not to others, but to ourselves — where we are from? And no, I don’t mean “originally.” I mean the forces that made us: the immigrants who raised us, with all their burdens and expectations, their exhortations to fit in but never forget who we are; and the country we grew up in, that is our only home, that taught us we are “other” but also seems, in some confused, tentative way, to want to learn something from us."

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