Saturday, May 17, 2008

A Sandwiched Generation

You take your shoes off before entering the house.
You’re not allowed to sleep over at friend’s places.
Your parents shop at Asian grocery stores, (you have no idea what they’re buying).
You can speak English without an accent.
You regret the fact that you didn’t learn Mandarin, or any other Asian language properly at Saturday language school.

You are Asian-Australian.

The 21st century marks a new generation of Asian-Australians. We are witnessing the rapid emergence of Asian-Australian youth. These of which are individuals that have been born and bred in Australia, forming a mixture of Eastern and Western values. In realizing this generation, we are noticing that dilemmas are arising in identity formation.

“They said we should go out and have smart Asian kids, then they were like Jenny and Hwasung studying in the tree, s-t-u-d-y-i-n-g!”

Jenny Nguyen-Khuong is a year 12 student, and a highly experienced recipient of racial taunts. For simply appearing Asian, Jenny has been the object of many taunts and stereotypes, and the school yard is no exception.

School days are ones in which popularity is a life-or-death necessity. Being accepted is what makes our world go round. It is this environment which influences how we grow, and how our identity forms. It is however, being a part of more than one culture that can skew our chances of becoming the crowd favourite, because Asian-Australians are obviously ‘different’ from the average ‘Aussie’.

Miss Nguyen-Khuong brings to light the idea of racial association through the taunts that she has received in the past. This is the notion that all Asians know each other, should be paired together, or because they ‘look alike’ the assumption is made that they are related.

This notion is also reflected in Year 11 student, Tiffany Hoang. From the moment schooling life began for Tiffany, she was immediately paired with another Vietnamese boy and labeled ‘brother and sister’, despite the fact that they were not at all related.

“We would be embarrassed to know each other. We got affiliated with each other, just because we were both Asian.”

It seems harmless, but racial association can lead to Asian-Australian youth to reject their Asian culture and desire the Western lifestyle. Living in Western society can certainly emphasize differences in regards to being Asian, thus to be accepted, individuals go to lengths to try and assimilate.

“We’d come up with 101 Asian things that we’d try to un-associate ourselves with, like I refuse to eat sushi in public.”

This is what we can label “Asian dissociation’. To be accepted within Western society, Asian-Australian youth aim to separate themselves from anything characteristically ‘Asian’. It allows them to question what they want to be associated with.

Seeking acceptance through Western incorporation creates identity and self esteem dilemmas, causing an imbalance in cultural relations. Asian-Australian youth are constantly measuring themselves against their Western friends, and if what they see and feel does not satisfy them, it will continue to take a toll upon their ‘Asian’ identity.

Another common dilemma is the idea that Asian-Australian parents are ‘too strict’. Asian-Australian youth are critical of their parents for not embracing a more ‘Western lifestyle’. These youths are put under constant pressure to work hard, achieve academically and also harbour the value of respect. Australian youth however, tend to be brought up in a more relaxed climate. Asian-Australians witness the greater independence their Western counterparts receive and tend to idealize this Western ‘freedom’.

Lucy Samsa-Knapp could be labeled a fully fledged Australian. She has the ‘no worries’ attitude, where everything comes in her stride. In her perspective, “Asian parents seem strict and not accommodating, you all think you’re bad children.”

It is this idea of feeling ‘bad’ which comes from defying parental rules, so as to assimilate into Australian society and obtain this sense of belonging. The rules and expectations Asian-Australian parents harbour may seem impossible to achieve.

Asian-Australian youths are expected to follow traditional Asian values, but still maintain a socially healthy lifestyle in Australian society. These two opposing lifestyles create such obvious dilemmas for these individuals, who feel pulled between two worlds.

Asian Australians – they’re caught in the middle, something that we can call the ‘sandwiched generation’. They are clearly a part of both Western and Eastern culture, yet at the time they are not completely one or the other. They are considered Asian in Western society, and clearly Western in Eastern society. It adds a significant dimension to who they are, and who they are to become.


Anonymous said...

This was awesome!!! I just loved your article. It really reveals to society how for "asian-australians" it does get a little confusing. Because what we learn from school/society is always different from our parents and their culture, and meanwhile parents don't understand/accept that we are simply westernised. Not to mention that in living in this society, asians are initially not first class and have to prove themselves, so we always try and distance ourselves with those asians who "make all other asians look bad"...

From an Asian-Australian voguette.

Stephanie Kok said...

I totally relate to least I really did when I was younger. I think that as you get older, it's not so much of an issue anymore.

Another term is ABC - Australian Born Chinese...but I'm sure you've heard of this already!

Also, another anecdote...I had a friend from Hong Kong whose last name was 'Kwok' and despite having a different last name...apparently we were 'sisters'. Go figure.

A dreamer said...

this is a brilliant article and i can identify so much with it.
i'm asian too and i agree, in western society, i am asian but in asian, i am western.
so it kind of puts you in a bit of a limbo.
you know i dont get discriminated upon at high school anymore. where as it happened in primary school alot more. the whole ching chong thing. the thing that suprised me when i entered high school was that there was this big group of asians who all hung out together. it wasn't that they were pushed away by non asians but that they CHOSE to just hang out in racial orientated groups. it was weird.
it kind of bugs me that all the non asians thing that asians are smart and study all the time.
and yeh, the fact that they say they cant tell the difference between two asians bugs me too.
well done on a great article

Anonymous said...

i completely agree with this article and the comments. as asian australians we have to constantly prove our selves to both spheres that we belong, be it with our family we have to keep with our asian values or we'll seem 'white washed' and when we're out we feel we have to prove our 'aussie-ness' so that we don't seem like FOBs - its a double edged sword & hard to find a balance. But in the end its a personal choice - I say just be and sooner or later people will just have to accept it and get over it.

Annette Lin said...

I'm a banana and PROUD OF IT!!
Okay I just had to say that. But yeah, as Steph said, it was more of an issue when I was younger but now I don't care. I'm an Asian who acts like a white chick, so what?
Although for a while I wished I was Eurasian, then not only would I feel half/half, I'd look it too AND be really hot!! Ahahaha