Just got done reading Mia Tuan’s, Forever Foreigners or Honorary Whites?: The Asian Ethnic Experience Today, and appreciated her thoughts on the word “American”.
What race do you think of when you hear the word “American”?
I suspect many think of a Caucasian person. Why not an Asian? Further, why do Asians often self-identify themselves as “Asian-Americans”? Why don’t those with European heritage identify themselves as “European-Americans”?
Although those are rhetorical questions, I will answer them: looks. As Ronald Takaki asserts in his Strangers from a Different Shore and as is supported in Tuan’s research, those with Asian heritage cannot “shake off” assumptions of foreignness as readily as their European counterparts because they physically do not fit the mold of what society says an “American” is (read: white).
For example, if you are an Asian, have you ever been asked, “Where are you from?” You respond, “Chicago.” They retort, “No, where are you from from?” — as if they are incredulous that your black hair and yellow skinned-body could actually be natively born in the United States.
A similar question would seem almost farcical if asked of a 2nd generation European, for example, simply because Europeans look more like what American society has traditionally defined “American”.