Grace Hilty received her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and is currently on track to get her Master’s degree in Social Work from Ball State University. Hilty also works as a wedding photographer as well as a human services worker for a local children’s home in South Bend, Indiana. Hilty is hardworking and dedicated. She puts her heart into everything she does. She is an advocate for fairness and inclusion for all people groups.

“They don’t get to decide what parts of me are permissible.”

If you were to ask me what my favorite movie is, my response would be Crazy Rich Asians (if you haven’t seen the movie, please do yourself a favor and watch it!). This movie is the first modern American story with an all-Asian cast. I remember sitting in the theatre, crying throughout the entire film and feeling so perplexed as to how a romantic comedy could have such a strong healing impact on years and years of ethnic identity confusion and hurt.

This film not only provided a significant opportunity for positive Asian representation in media, but it also took the time to illustrate a differentiation between being Asian and Asian-American. Although the differences between the two ethnic cultures may appear subtle to some, navigating the experiences of being two different ethnic identities will always have its challenges. There are many different types of Asian-Americans–each with unique stories and circumstances. Some Asian-Americans are first-generation immigrants who face the challenges of assimilating to U.S. culture while also trying to preserve their close connections with Asian culture, traditions and heritage. While other Asian-Americans are adoptees or descendants of Asian immigrants who face the challenges of reconciling their Asian identity while feeling further removed or even isolated from Asian culture, influence and representation. However, a single blog post cannot encapsulate the complexity and uniqueness of being Asian in America.

As an Asian-American adoptee, many of my past understandings, values and beliefs about ethnic identity have been influenced by the racial insensitivity from others. Because I didn’t know the Chinese language, eat authentic Chinese cuisine or even have Chinese parents, I have been constantly reminded how I’m not really Asian. For the longest time, I believed that was a compliment. I thought that their dismissal of my ethnicity would exempt me from their racial stereotypes and microaggressions. I felt honored that people didn’t “see” me as a real Asian because it was embarrassing to be associated with an ethnicity that was perceived as being unattractive and monotonous. However, I am braver now to call that out as complete bullshit. People didn’t dismiss my ethnicity because they genuinely saw me as an outlier of Asian stereotypes, but as an attempt to minimize their own guilt while proceeding to express their racial prejudices in my presence.

After being repeatedly told I wasn’t really Asian, it eventually became a self-fulfilling belief. I thought maybe they were right, I can’t truly embrace being Asian when I feel so isolated from Asian culture, influence and representation. I had minimal interaction with other Asian individuals and the majority of my close relationships were with white individuals. Therefore, I had limited opportunities to talk about racial identity and diversity. However, I am fortunate to have attended a college that emphasized the importance of having these conversations. I developed a wonderful group of individuals who have provided me with a safe space to process, wrestle and explore my own thoughts and struggles with my racial identity. And for the first time, I had people who never once invalidated my Asian authenticity but instead encouraged me to embrace and love this part of me that for so long had been dismissed—that for so long I had dismissed.

I will never be the Asian that remembers growing up in a home speaking Chinese, or having home cooked Chinese dishes, or even being raised by Asian parents. I have not been socialized by Chinese societal standards, my experiences are not shaped by Chinese culture and tradition, and my worldview has not been influenced by Chinese beliefs and values. And for that, it has made understanding my Asian identity more challenging. I think I will always experience to some extent an internal and external disconnection from other Asians who have these experiences. However, despite this, I am still a real Asian—I always have been simply because it’s not for other people to validate the authenticity of my Asian ethnicity. They don’t get to decide what parts of me are permissible. They don’t get to place me inside the parameters of their limited understanding of the Asian experience. They don’t get to dismiss me at the expense of their racial ignorance and complete disregard for cultural competence.

As I have developed the courage to dismantle the long-held negative self-perceptions of being Asian, I have found so much comfort in this quote by Gemma Chan (Astrid; Crazy Rich Asians, 2018)—”it’s important to see Asians as being fully-dimensional beings. They’re sometimes beautiful and glamorous, but they’re flawed, sometimes tragic, sometimes comedic, a whole spectrum of being fully-dimensional human beings.” This quote is not only true for Asians, but it holds truth for every individual that society has attempted to diminish their presence and refuses to see their individuality. So, choose to be an ally—create a space for your friends of color to exist loudly and celebrate the beauty of their diversity.