While I’ve always been close to my family here in Colorado and my brother and sister-in-law who live in Seattle — especially during the past few years — I’m fairly disconnected to the Asian American community. I don’t have any close friends who are Asian besides my cousins, and I don’t attend many cultural events, which is something I’d like to change. That being said, I am very proud of my Thai roots, though like many U.S.-born Asians, I’ve had a long-time struggle with defining my identity.
In celebration of Asian Pacific Heritage Month, Denver’s Asian Avenue Magazine and the Colorado Asian Culture and Education Network honor Asian Americans who’ve made significant contributions to local communities in Colorado through the Asian American Heroes of Colorado program. I’m honored to have written the cover story for the magazine eight years in a row, and even though I have limited involvement in the community — being a part of the award makes me feel a unique connection and inspires me to explore my heritage. Asian Avenue is also where I got my start in journalism; it was the only publication out there that trusted my straight-outta-college reporting skills.
As I correspond with the dozens of remarkable honorees and write the profiles year after year, I realize the feelings I’ve had in the past about not belonging or being unsure about which culture I fit into (American vs. Thai) are very common. What I’ve gathered is that it’s OK to not be defined by a single ethnicity and to celebrate all of the aspects of your identity — no matter your birthplace or what box you check when filling out forms or applying for jobs.
I’m ashamed to say that there are things I’m incredibly proud of now that I used to be so self-conscious about. For example: my Mama’s cooking. While I was growing up, I was sometimes embarrassed that the traditional Thai and Chinese dishes she’d make were so different from the meals I’d have when I’d go over to my friends’ houses for dinner. But the food my Ma would make wasn’t weird — it was delicious and bada$%! I love a good meatloaf but who could turn down authentic homemade tom yum soup or a heaping bowl of Chinese long-life noodles and barbecued pork dripping in a sweet rosy glaze? The comfort of fitting is not worth sacrificing important aspects about yourself, and I know that now.
I hope someday that sharing my stories and stellar programs like the Asian American Heroes of Colorado will make an impact in helping future generations of Asian Americans embrace their heritage and let their American Asianness shine. Our differences aren’t weird — they’re awesome.