I am deeply, deeply Midwestern.
I often forget how much of an Ohioan I am until, of course, I leave Ohio. Then, wherever I go, it becomes painfully obvious that I am, indeed, from the Midwest, the Rust Belt, the Corn Belt. Not everyone knows what this implies, but as with any stereotype, the word comes with a myriad of associated traits. UrbanDictionary says that Midwesterners are:
considered a different breed. the good: they’re nice outgoing people with morals. the bad: they’re nice outgoing people with morals.
This is one of the more flattering associations. Along with being considered homey, tacky, and stupid by much of the rest of the country, Midwesterners get asked questions like “Do you live on a farm?” almost anytime they visit the coasts. No, I’m not a farmer, and where I come from is suburban and where I live is a major urban center. Sure, I love to play cornhole. So sue me. But I think being a Midwestern Taiwanese American, or perhaps more broadly, a Taiwanese American who is from a predominately white community/city/state/region, warrants some more critical thought.
I’m looking to say farewell to good ole’ Columbus town. Not because I hate it, in fact, I love Columbus. I’ve been here all my life, and it’s time I left my comfort zone… because I am incredibly comfortable here. I want to travel, to get lost, and find my way again. So I applied for a job in San Francisco. That one action, pressing send to a cold, unfeeling email address, drove me to really consider potentially moving over two thousand miles away from the city where I grew up.
But along with most others who are considering moving from a place they’ve lived their entire life, I know in my heart that if I moved to San Francisco I would struggle immensely. Perhaps, not for the reasons you might be thinking. The predominating apprehension I have in moving to California is more or less about my identity as an Asian American. How does a someone who grew up in a predominately white place, like Ohio, deal with suddenly being somewhere where faces like mine are numerous? Suddenly, my place in the world would be different.
When I have been in California, the air didn’t smell the same, and racial relations between the white and Asian populations seem completely foreign to me. Being Asian has entirely different connotations. I almost enjoy the challenges of being a minority, yet many of those challenges don’t exist (at least in the same form), in places where Asians and Asian Americans are a dime a dozen and have been so for generations. Asians had “become white.” (Zhou). Being Asian is being normal. WHAT.
I, like many Taiwanese Americans, grew up where being Asian was different. Really different. I think you know what kind of experiences I’m referring to. But that kind of upbringing made me stronger, it made me proud. I started to feel like looking and being different was a positive distinction, and I could make it so. However, this confidence often runs into this wall. This wall called real life. This tension of advantage/disadvantage has pushed and pulled me in opposing directions until it found outlet in the Asian American community. The various parts of Asian America I have been able to taste have been of wildly different flavors from one side of the country to the other.
In Ohio, I feel like I’m always fighting for my place, for my right to my position. For the rights of those who look like me. If I moved to sunny California, I may be more combative than I should be, more vigilant than I need to be. It reminds me of a scene from Dark Knight Rises, at the beginning of the movie Gordon is described as a war hero in peacetime, and thus irrelevant. I feel like that’s what I’d be outside the Midwest. Obsolete and unnecessary.
And there is a certain guilt that comes with leaving an area where there is so much to be done. Columbus is a place where the Asian American cause is still very malleable. I can, and have (in a small way) been a part of it. But there are more lessons to learn for me, ones that I can’t learn here. Something tells me my relationship with Columbus does not end here.
I know that the Midwest has made me who I am, and I may not be Lieutenant Gordon but I can do my part to do good no matter where I am. Gotham is a place that could do with some change, but it is also a place to be celebrated. And that’s exactly how I feel about good ole’ Columbus, Ohio.
Photo by Young and Lo