When I told one of my white friends I was joining an Asian sorority, he was really confused and a little defensive.
"What’s wrong with a regular sorority?"
I have absolutely nothing against Panhellenic sororities. I have lots of friends in sororities, and they are some of the most accomplished women I’ve ever met. What makes me uneasy to join is that they are predominantly white. The idea of this being a determining factor didn’t make sense to my friend. But I don’t think I could ever have a true sisterhood where I was “Other”ed because of my race.
I grew up in a small, conservative, white, Christian town where on two separate occasions I received death threats because of my race. I was bullied from late elementary to early high school and was suspended from school for 3 days in 7th grade for fighting back to one of my bullies. Once, a white boy tried to impress his white girl friends by making jokes about how ugly I was compared to them.
When I went to Vietnam, my uncle lectured me for hours in Vietnamese about how I was a traitorous failure for not being in touch with my roots. My grandma told me I looked too “Western.” I still can’t communicate well with many of my own relatives because of my limited ability to speak Vietnamese.
Being “Other”ed is rarely malevolent now. It takes the form of “You’re pretty for an Asian” and “So… do y’all celebrate Thanksgiving?” and “You look so exotic. What are you?” and “I love Asian girls” and “You don’t act Asian!” and “Of course you get good grades. You’re Asian!” and “Me love you long time hahaha!” and “How can you understand Vietnamese but not speak it?” The list goes on. I don’t expect people to ignore my race. And I genuinely like answering questions about my culture. But I long for a place where I can be with people like me.
I am both too Asian and too American to fit into either part of my hyphenated identity, and I am treated like an “Other” in both worlds.
I am, however, wholly Asian-American.
With my Asian-American friends, I’m not “that Asian girl.” It’s not some weird medical phenomenon that I can understand a language and not speak it because most of them are the same way (it blew my mind when I found this out). I’m not betraying my race because I have blonde in my hair and listen to hip hop. When I tell my Asian-American friends about the racism I’ve encountered, they laugh and tell me their own stories. With them, I’m just … me. Free of the prejudices and presuppositions that come with my race because it isn’t a curiosity to them.
I decided I was going to rush with an Asian sorority when I partied with them one night and they picked me up in the morning to get pho in Austin’s Asian district. Not once did someone ask me how to use chopsticks or what was in their food or to read something on the menu in Vietnamese because it sounds cool. I could even eat pork’s blood without scaring everyone. It was just like being with my family.
That’s the kind of sisterhood I want.