Lately, I constantly feel like I’m not enough. I’m enough myself for me, and that’s what matters — should matter, rather. (Self-respect!) But from every direction (i.e. every direction on the internet) and then some, it seems like the world is telling me that the various pieces that make up my female Asian adoptee identity are not enough for me to identify with anyone.
In my gender studies seminar this fall, I was the only “face-value” Asian in a class of 22, and one of six students who was racially “other” in physical skin color. Collectively and individually, we were a tolerant, open-minded, courteous group. As we discussed the myth of the “model minority” as it applies to Asians, particularly immigrants, and Orange Is the New Black and Maxine Hong Kingston and intersectional feminism, I was having an extraordinarily hard time not losing my temper with all the white students around me having this discussion as I sat there without actively participating.
Yet, I felt I couldn’t participate. I am Asian and I am American, but I am not Asian-American, and to speak as though I identify as such felt phony and inauthentic. I could feel myself trying to become physically smaller in the corner of the classroom, wishing I was invisible or even better, just not there. I grew upset with myself for having this reaction: it was no classmate’s fault, but I was, in effect, silencing myself. I felt that though I look Asian, I was not Asian enough to be allowed to partake in the conversation as such.
When Ryan Adams released his full-length cover of Taylor Swift’s 1989, I saw multiple comments around the internet from people of color about how white people were about to lose their minds with excitement over it. A famous white male musician, covering a famous slim white girl’s mainstream pop music! I personally was pumped for the release — took him long enough to get it out! — and have no shame about that.
Yet, deep down somewhere, I had this tiny nagging feeling that I was a bad person of color for being excited about it. I tried to refrain from sharing my interest publicly (though failed to do so) to avoid the judgement of my friends. I was afraid I was not white enough to be allowed to enjoy this music.
Recently during a night out of drinking, I was on the receiving end of a one-two punch of brazen, objectifying remarks about my breasts from men I trusted as a friend and a peer. I reacted without thinking, slapping one in the face, and throwing back unambiguous language at both that conveyed my fury. With shocked faces, they separately and repeatedly apologized with some degree of sincerity: I know they listened to me, but I am not sure that they heard.
Yet, not five minutes after these incidents, I found myself feeling vaguely guilty for what I perceived as flying off the handle at them. I know that it was not wrong for me to be angry, but I should have been more calm, I thought. I should have been more reasonable. And besides, they were only words — they did not physically harm me. I was not enough of a victim — if I was even a victim at all — to justify my outrage, and I was not enough of a human to be allowed to command respect.
Why could I not be invisible? Why did I have to have a skin color and shiny black hair, why did I have to have cleavage and a vagina?
When I reflect upon certain things, looking for answers, I often find I am asking the wrong questions. In this case, it’s not a question of why I am singled out for these parts of my identity or why I feel like I am less because they are what they are. It’s, what is it about these parts of my identity that would make me “not enough”?
I know that not every question has an answer and not every question should, and what answers that do exist are not always simple, but in this case, the answer is clear. Nothing about any of these things makes me “not enough.” I am enough. My life and my right to live and experience and feel are enough.
I have a very hard time remembering this feeling of validation. It is one thing to know that I am enough; it is another to feel it. Many days, without thinking about it, I am subconsciously aware that the world as it currently exists can’t help but to unceasingly impress upon me that I am not deserving of the right to own my race, my taste, my appearance, my identity as a whole. It’s the way things are.
In the new year, I ask that you occasionally make active attempts to reach out to your fellow humans on an individual level and remind them, unsolicited, that they are enough. Alienation, unfortunately, does not belong solely to me — in ways, “other” is universal. The world is constructed to be cruel, but we can change that. Everyone deserves to feel like they are enough — because it’s the truth. You are enough.