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.”
“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.