Dis.Continuity | On Being Asian and American.
My father’s story.
Country roads, take me home / To the place I belong
West Virginia, mountain mama / Take me home, country roads
This is one of my dad’s favorite songs. Not that unusual, except when you realize my Dad was born in Taiwan in the 1950’s and emigrated to America in his early twenties for a Masters in textile engineering in Massachusetts.
West Virginia isn’t his home; his country roads lead to Fongshan, a small town in Taiwan.
Yet my dad loves Westerns and to this day, wears cowboy-styled shirts with pearl buttons, chest detailing, and elaborate embroidery down the back. With the eye of a textile engineer, he says to me, “Look at the construction of the shoulder seams.”
My own story.
I think I was in middle school when I realized, with a jolt of profound, genuine shock, that my beloved forefathers of the American experiment — George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Alexander Hamilton — weren’t actually my ancestral forefathers.
For context: I adored Little House on the Prairie; I’d read every Anne of Green Gables book by 12, and I’d memorized the first 200 words of the Gettysburg Address — for no reason except I thought it was beautiful. I loved Americana.
Yet I am Chinese-Taiwanese-American, so my literal forefathers were not men of European descent in white powdered wigs, but men like Confucius, Lao Tze, and Sun Tzu.
My relationship with being ethnically Asian and growing up in America has been tumultuous, to say the least. From sing-song “ching-chongs” in kindergarten, to bringing odorous ethnic dishes for school lunch, to discussing in undergrad psychology classes with my white friends whether identity is fixed or contextual (definitely contextual for me!), I’ve straddled the liminal space between two cultures for as long as I’ve been alive.
Sometimes more one, sometimes the other.
Too indirect for corporate America, but too direct for possible future Asian in-laws.
Not bold enough for Silicon Valley, but far too risk-taking for my Asian, risk-averse father.
I’m 36 — I’ve now lived the same number of years outside of my family of origin as I’ve lived as an independent adult in American society, and I wanted to share a series of personal reflections about the contradictions of being bi-cultural, in a series I’m titling “Dis.Continuity.”
Each Sunday, for AAPI month, I’ll post a long form article reflecting on my own grapplings with one of the classic Asian values, through the lens of my family relationships. And every Thursday in May, I’ll jump on Clubhouse (@tteng) for “Tea Time with Tiffany” at 5 PM EST — mostly to hear your reflections and hold space for this conversation.
I hope you’ll follow along and join me.
This is the opener for a 4 part series on the contradictions and tensions inherent in being both Asian and American, published during May 2021 in honor of AAPI month. You can read the other parts here: