Whenever I tell people I’m from California, 95% of the time they ask me why I chose to go to school in Vermont. I usually respond that I liked the school itself and didn’t know what I was getting myself into with winters.
The shock of moving to the East Coast was probably half related to seasonal change and half cultural. I had no idea that I was moving to the second whitest state and one of the least diverse schools in the country until my first day of orientation (which coincidentally was in the middle of a blizzard).
I was one of 2 Asians and 4 people of color in a group of 100 students. I quickly realized how homogenous my class was; nearly all of my classmates responded Massachusetts, Connecticut or New York when I asked them where they were from. At my first few parties, I often received comments from my peers along the lines of “Wow, you drink/smoke? I wouldn’t have expected that!”
Their comments implied that their expectations of me were that I was a quiet Asian girl who studied hard and had never been to a party before. One girl told me there wasn’t a single Asian person in her high school just-outside-of-Boston, as if she was excited to have her first Asian friend.
I quickly felt disconnected from the biddies and bros of my class who bonded over their New England prep schools and drinking crappy beer. Of the few friends I made over orientation, I became close with an African-American girl from New Jersey. As the only black person in our class, she and I bonded over the lack of diversity of our class and the need to meet more people. Through her, I was introduced to the “minorities” or students of color on campus; mostly African-American or Latin-American students, especially from New York City. I was excited to meet people and feel part of a network, but I also felt extremely uncomfortable when I was hanging out with them. I felt like I was only included because I was a “person of color,” but that was never a label I identified with before going to college.
As far as my Asian-ness is concerned, I’m a classic banana, yellow on the outside white on the inside. In my own Bay Area bubble growing up, there was racial diversity around me everywhere, but race was never something I considered as a personal issue. It was hard for me to connect with the other minorities; furthermore, there was some speak of Asians not really even “counting” as people of color. I didn’t feel that I fit in with the minorities and didn’t like that I was a part of the group solely because of my race. I felt too white-washed for the minorities but too Asian for the biddies and bros.
Eventually, I disassociated myself with both of these groups and found another group on campus that I felt was more accepting and aligned with my interests.
Being an Asian-American is an important part of my identity, but not the only way I define myself or want others to perceive me. Going to a small college where everyone knows everyone means that others will label you; by your gender, race, hometown, sports team, social clique, weird habits etc. I strived to be acknowledged as more than just “that Asian girl” and find friends who I had genuine connections with.