I am excited to introduce my first guest contributor, my friend Lynn Masako Cheng, writing about her experiences being Japanese-Chinese-American. Lynn Masako Cheng is a 16 year old actress and activist. She has been acting professionally for six years, performing in “The King and I” on Broadway, the “Annie” Asia Tour, as well as appearing in Netflix’s “Tigertail” and “A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting”. Follow her on Instagram @lynnmasako.
- Avelina Sanchez, founder 100% Mixed
by Lynn Masako Cheng
Growing up with a Japanese mom and Chinese father, I’ve always felt connected to both of my cultures strongly. While Japanese was my first language, I ate dim sum at Chinatown every weekend and listened to the busy chatter of Cantonese floating all around me. I learned how to write kanji at Japanese Saturday School, and also brought traditional candies for Chinese New Year to the same Saturday School. There had never been bad blood between the two cultures I experienced, other than myself being pigeonholed into the general racism that Asian people face.
I never thought of myself as being mixed-race. After all, when people slanted their eyes at me in the school cafeteria, they didn’t care what country my parents were from. They simply saw my face and made an assumption. The truth is, my perspective on my double culture household changed over the years as I assimilated to American ways. At this point, I can barely hold a conversation in Japanese and am hobbling along in Mandarin class at school. Speaking solely English at home has left me longing for something more--a way to embody my heritage beyond just communication. However, with most of our family being overseas in Asia, I couldn’t talk to my relatives or hear stories about my parents. So, like many kids now, I watched and consumed a lot of media.
Recently, Asian culture has become somewhat of an aesthetic. At first, I was ecstatic when I saw non-Asian people praising and partaking in what I thought was appreciation of my culture. KPop “stans” and anime fans bonded so closely that they formed little communities online. I used this opportunity to show off my limited Japanese skills, or discuss animes my friends and I watched together. More people started dressing “kawaii” and taking pictures in Hmart or Mitsuwa by the snack aisles. Girls even started doing a “fox-eye trend” to make their eyes more slanty, kind of like Bella Hadid’s eye shape (which she got plastic surgery for). That is when I realized that they didn’t really appreciate our culture. Non-asian people co-opted the aesthetics, the pretty parts, to fit their idea of what Asian people were like. But that only included a tiny sliver of Asia. This is clear through the treatment of the other part of my identity, or the Chinese.
During quarantine, it was wild to me how Japan’s culture was being so heavily consumed and enjoyed, while there was blatant sinophobia happening towards Chinese people. The Stop Asian Hate movement started picking up much after hate crimes were being committed, whether that be in New York, San Francisco, Chicago, or California. News articles with headlines that completely shifted the blame of the virus onto China, largely ignoring the U.S.’s response to the pandemic. President Trump’s harmful language referring to COVID as the “Kung Flu” fueled the fire in putting Asians and Asian Americans at a huge risk. While these horrific crimes were happening, most of these fans stayed silent. Because why should they speak up on an issue affecting people that are fictional to them? I truly wished to see Asian people banding together especially at the beginning of the pandemic, but when we are all being targeted, it’s every man for himself.
Observing how two sides of my heritage were being treated differently led to me having implicit bias. After all, why should I claim one part of my identity that is so hated by the world when I could instead encourage the suburban white kids to try eating sushi with me? Then I realized that if I can’t be both at the same time without feeling secure in my personhood, then that’s an internal problem I have to fix with myself. Japan is not a cute or kawaii country--it simply covers up its imperialist past by romanticizing through aesthetics. I realized that I never struggled with my two cultures before I started worrying about how other people perceive them. I love both parts of myself equally, and am proud to be Japanese-Chinese-American.