Nicholas Wycoff (นฤนาจ บ้วพัน)
Nick: I was born in Thailand, but I grew up in America. Ethnically, I am Thai. There's no doubt about that.
How I identify… that's a tricky one. I felt like a regular American going to a private elementary school, private highschool, and now, private college.
It was in second grade when I first realized I looked different from everyone else. In America, there's CATS testing, which is standardized testing everyone has to take. At the "fill out your ethnic part," I got confused, so I turned around to the girl behind me and asked, "What am I?" because I didn't know. She was like, "Well, you're not White." So I just circled African American. That's my earliest memory of realizing that I am not White.
My first reaction to being asked "What does Asian mean to me" is, instinctively, to not put myself into that category because of how I grew up. But as I've grown, I am more willing to identify as Asian, but even then I have restrictions that I put around me.
Yes, I am Asian, but I was adopted and didn't grow up in Asia, so I don't have the same experiences as one who did grow up there and stayed in Asia all their life.
In high school, I almost shut out that part of myself. I was subject to a lot of Asian stereotypes and jokes. It made me hate where I came from and who I am. I remember spending multiple days just wishing I were a regular White guy.
It's been a long journey of accepting and embracing who I am and who I am becoming.
What helps me with embracing my Asian side, per se, is learning new languages, specifically Asian languages like Chinese, Korean, and Thai. It helps me feel connected to the cultures. Recently, I started to learn Korean. I studied it for a few days and I already could read and write basic Korean. Being able to do that without having friends translate it for me felt authentic. I was reading Korean just like a Korean person would or reading Chinese just like a Chinese person would.
Eliza: When do you feel a disconnect from your racial or ethnic group?
Nick: Because I grew up in America, people would say, "So you're basically American." There are some people on campus… I'd tell them I'm from Thailand… and they would say, "Well you're not really Asian. You're American." Comments like that really hit me hard.
Honestly, I haven't met any Asian American who feel the same way I do. The Asian Americans I've met say things like, "I'm basically American, though" or "I'm Asian but not." We have two sides to us... and I want to embrace this whole other side that I haven't explored in 18 years. Just not thinking about it or giving it thought is awful to me.
Eliza: Like undiscovered terrain?
Nick: It's like rejecting a part of how you were made. I have never been ashamed to associate with other Asian Americans. If I could actually meet other Asian Americans who feel the same way I do, I feel like that would be very helpful because, right now, I feel like I can talk to the internationals, but that's one thing. If I could talk to people who grew up similarly to how I did, that would be a whole other experience.
Eliza: I'm sure you will eventually. You're not alone.
Just because we may look different, it doesn’t mean we are actually different at all. And if we look the same, we might actually not be the same at all. You and I-we both look Asian-but our stories are completely different. But compare me to a White person and our stories may be more similar. We just look more different on the outside.
Don't assume. Assuming is very bad no matter who you talk to. And who knows? You could have a very similar experience with a White, Asian, or Black person. Color of the skin or where you're from has no bearing on what your story is or is becoming. Stories get written all the time.
Eliza: Thank you for sharing.