The Accidental Asian
A chapter within the book called “Notes of a Native Speaker” depicts an essay written by Liu which fully describes his struggles with race and how he overcame them. Eric Liu is an American born Taiwanese Asian. His parents immigrated to the United States before he was born and in so, gave him a mixed cultural background.
He started becoming a writer after attending Yale University and graduating from Harvard Law School. In his “Notes of a Native Speaker” author Eric Liu argues that as he was “becoming white” he was achieving, learning the ways of the upper middle class and distancing himself from radicals of any hue. He has assimilated and in turn put himself into the profile of the “banana”. To begin, Liu opens his essay with a brief list of reasons as to why people can consider him to be white. One example from his list is that he eats “gourmet greens” (Liu 1).
He goes on to state how he has reached a new status George in America. White people call him an “honorary white” (Liu 2), while fellow Asian people call him a “banana” (Liu 2), in that he is yellow (Asian) on the outside and white on the inside. Liu believes that assimilation has been “fixed in whiteness” (Liu 4). If anyone assimilates, then it is to be white. He adds that the assimilated are portrayed to be traitors to their own race; “He cannot gain the world without losing his soul” (Liu 6).
After Liu’s extensive introduction he begins to inform the reader of his childhood and his parents. His parents did not strictly follow Chinese culture. Instead they clung to the relaxed American culture and in turn, did not force Chinese culture on Liu. Liu suggests that this is how he was able to assimilate so easily. While in fourth grade he made no distinctions between races. It made no difference if one friend was black and the other white. Once he hit adolescence however, things changed. As kids grew older, the look of “cool” began to grow too.
Liu, like any other kid wanted to be cool. He shares that one major part of being cool, was to have the cool hairstyle. For most of his childhood, Liu sported a bowl cut. The new style in his school however was hair parted down the middle and tapered on the ends. With Liu’s Asian genes it was nearly impossible to accomplish this style. After a couple years of trying various different hair styles that did not suffice as cool, he finally became content with having a crew-cut. Liu also thought that because he was Asian, he had less of a chance to get girls.
Liu insists that it was the “sole obstacle” to his “advancement” (Liu 20). His response to this was to do more school activities such as write for the school newspaper and join the school newspaper. Although he wanted to disconcert stereotypes, Liu states that this made him seem like a typical “Asian overachiever” (Liu 21). Another concern Liu had from his Chinese heritage was that he had never been taught American manners. When he went to a friend’s house to sleep over, he never said “thank you” for it.
When he had dinner at a friend’s house he ate differently than the others. As he began to change the way he acted and talked at friend’s houses he began to realize that he was getting further and further away from his Asian heritage. College was Liu’s final frontier of assimilating. He did not want to make himself look more Asian than he already was. This involved him taking several steps. He never joined any Asian only groups. He had friends of different races, not just Asian. He went against Asian stereotypes and tried doing the opposite of them.
Liu points out that he is “not proud to have had this mentality” (Liu 43). After a while at the college he began to show signs of learning the culture and after some time wished that he had been comfortable in his own skin as a teenager. He began to realize that all his troubles to attempt to fit in with the other white kids was pointless. Liu sums up what he has learned from his childhood by saying, “I do not want to be white. I only want to be integrated” (Liu 51).
He concludes his essay by giving a brief explanation how assimilation works now. In every assimilation, there is a mutiny against history — but there is also a destiny, which is to redefine history. What it means to be American — in spirit, in blood — is something far more borrowed and commingled than anything previous generations ever knew. Alongside the pain of migration, then, and the possibility, there is this truth: America is white no longer, and it will never be white again.