Midwestern Roots

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

3 Responses to “Midwestern Roots”

  1. As a fellow Midwestern Taiwanese-American, I can definitely see your perspective! I was shocked when I saw how many Asians lived in California last time I visited, but some areas in CA are still predominantly white, and I felt very out of place. And even though there were quite a few Asians in my high school, it felt like we had to try harder to be well-liked. It’s tough being different, but I think people are slowly starting to accept & appreciate other cultures. Especially now that I’m in a (Midwestern)university, I’ve found lots of other Asian-Americans with similar experiences as well as non-Asians who are fascinated by our culture!

  2. Really appreciate this post Andrea! My wife and I adopted two brothers from Taiwan who are 4 and 3. We live in a very diverse city in Florida right now but are possibly moving to a community near Columbus. We grew up in the midwest and know the lack of people who look like our Taiwanese American boys. Love the way your time in C-bus has made you stronger and proud of your identity. You’ve got new blog followers in our family! Good luck wherever you end up.

  3. Jing Hu

    Wow. You are the first Asian American that I know who actually LIKES the Midwest. I applaud you. I’m very surprised that you had a good experience in the Midwest because for 10 years I’ve had to deal with alot of prejudice and exclusion as i lived here in NEbraska.

    In my experiece as a Taiwanese American, I’ve came across alot of Midwestern people to be anti-social towards minorites such as Asians. I don’t know if each midwestern states differ in terms of hospitality. But I’m a current grad student at Nebraksa Univ., and the white students are not only the majority of my class, but a good handful of them don’t even socialize with minorities, and many don’t even network with the diverse international students.

    There were a couple of times in college at lunch time I tried to socialize with a group of white college students in class the white people tend to mingle with one another, but the minorities like me was left outside their social network/groups.

    For the 10 years that I have lived here in Nebraska, I have only made one friend from college who is actually a white American girl who studied in Taiwan for 2 years.

    Same thing happened to a friend of mine who was from India. The Asians tend to study together, the white students tend to form their own unique little study groups. So sad.

    On a lighter note, I AM SO HAPPY I’M LEAVING THE HORRIBLE MIDWEST and moving to Seattle! IT’S SO SEGREGATED HERE! It’s really hard to be accepted as an Asian American here because people here (white majority) will always view you as Asian, differnet from them, no matter how hard to try to make friends. I abosultly hated my 10 years here in the Midwest.

    Anyway, Im glad you had a more productive experience. 🙂 Good luck to you.

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