“Excuse me sir, you are not who you say you are”

One of my rude awakenings when I first came to the United States for college in 2002 came whenever I went anywhere that called my age into question. Whether it was to see an R-rated movie, buy alcohol, get into a club, or a government building, no passport or foreign driver’s license was accepted as identification.

“Can’t let you in. That’s not a real ID.”

“What? This is a Philippine driver’s license.”

“It’s probably a fake. Kids use them all the time, can’t take a chance even if it is real.”

“Well here’s my foreign passport then!”

“Nope. Can’t accept it. If you’re in America, you need a state ID, driver’s license, or American passport.”

“But what about people who are just visiting? How would tourists and travelers think of getting into clubs or buying alcohol if they aren’t residents or citizens?! This is ridiculous!”

“Hey, you don’t like it, go back to China. We don’t need you here.”

“I’m Filipino!”

“Go back to Mexico or Cuba or wherever it is you’re from then.”

Whether it was in Hong Kong or Manila, China, or Thailand, I never had to get an ID there to go wherever I wanted to. It just seemed so unreal that even if I wasn’t a tourist, my first few months of living in America seemed very unfriendly to those who weren’t residents or citizens.

Part of my gripes in remembering this sordid occurrence in my life was that it already gave me the notion that being in America, living in America, traveling to America, or being an American was an exclusive club for the elite.

It’s been very hard to integrate into American culture and society, let alone be part of the American dream when I was constantly being sent mixed signals. It’s either I have the papers documenting my status to show I’m “really” American, or I go back “home” because unless I have my papers, I must not seriously want to be American. Or, “American”. How does one be “American” then if people are constantly telling me that whatever I’m doing isn’t enough, whatever I’m doing isn’t “really American”, or that I should go “home” since I’m not wanted?

I used to think it was a racial issue, but the more I look back over these nine years, the more I see that it is a socio-cultural issue. I’m Asian-American simply because I was born here in the United States and claim Asian heritage, but because I grew up overseas and went to international school, my accent is American (Canadian actually), yet my mannerisms, as they describe, are “fob” for “fresh off the boat”.

The big lie I felt I was told before coming to America was that I would be going to an open-minded society that embraced diversity. The longer I stayed and observed, the more I realized that the diversity they embraced was designated as looking different, but thinking the same. No matter how individualistic American society is, it’s almost as if it’s a specific type of individuality that screams and shouts at how proud one is to be oneself, while mocking others for being “others”. That was the impression of America I carried for many years.

The longer I stay here, the more I see it’s a good thing, in that people are here to take what they can. The problem with this, however, is that I rarely see the next level of evolution: what can they give back in return for being given their opportunity to discover or define themselves? It is something that I’ve had to spend years reconciling.

At this present stage in my life, I feel a contradiction inside: since America has very little to offer me in terms of feeling a home or a community, I am disinclined to remain here or give anything back, knowing people will continue to take and take. At the same time, I also feel more inclined to give because I have grown a lot in these past nine years as a young man. Whatever comes out of this, at the very least, I hope to give back to the world as an individual with good intentions rather than seeing how much I can take while closing my eyes and pretending the rest of the world doesn’t exist.

2 responses to ““Excuse me sir, you are not who you say you are”

  1. Transition varies I think from person to person but it always centres round the same theme of frustration of trying to fit in and be accepted. Rejection is a very hard thing to deal with and even more so when we are trying to be understood and we unintentially become misunderstood. I think of moving to another country like going on holiday. We can see the brochure, we can listen to people talk about where we are going and what it will be like and we can visualise it in our minds. But when we get there, it is always different to what we expect.
    We are unintentially different to what people expect of us, as much as where we end up is different to what we expect of it. It takes time to transition and get used to the differences, to figure out what is expected of us in order to be accepted or to accept. Sometimes it can take years and can be a journey of self-discovery, perhaps for some people a lifetime as they never want to transition anyway and close their minds and their hearts to their new world. Harder still when many TCKs are going through a mourning process of what they have lost in moving, never mind trying to be understood and accepted in the place they have moved to.
    Perhaps some of the burden should be taken up by parents and those who are involved in such transitions to make the transition a smoother process where such problems are kept to a minimum.

  2. lifelongbruin

    Wow! That’s a RIDICULOUS story. Talk about ignorance. I am glad you are able to extract wisdom from such a bad experience however. I definitely see where you are coming from and would agree with your statement that the U.S. is full of people who look different but think the same. Then again, nobody really accepts “different.” You go to any part of the globe and if you behave or speak in such a fashion that does not fall within the norm you will get some funny stares. Even more so when you’re talking about large groups of people transplanting. People feel threatened by what they don’t know and we cling to what we do know. For example, with the Mexican Immigration issue. Americans (and I use that term loosely because it’s mainly a radical thinking group of Americans) are threatened by the large presence of Mexicans in the U.S. because it is changing certain aspects of their daily life. However, big or small it doesn’t matter. They don’t like the fact that the way they’ve done things, or their parents did things, or their grandparents did things are changing. All they see is that the “American” way of life is in danger of being “lost.” But like I said, that’s true with any society. We cling to our beliefs, our traditions, our way of life and sadly it’s embedded in us to a certain degree. From an evolutionary standpoint it’s what has allowed our ancestors to survive over the ages and form societies. I believe the challenge here is to look beyond our emotions, to fight that urge to cling to our beliefs and way of life, to place them on a pedestal, and believe it is the ONLY way. I know you already have done that. Let’s see how many more people we can get on board 🙂

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