Team Asian America

By Derek Lin
May 4, 2018

One of the few events to really draw worldwide attention: the Winter Olympics! This past February, the major sporting phenomenon came around again—and it was one for the books. This particular time brought about huge diversity to Team USA, and Asian America was no small part of that. Most evident was that there were seven Asian Americans competing in figure skating, one of the most-viewed winter sports.

Credit: Angry Asian Man / United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee

I, like many others, felt very excited and proud to see this representation. Watching Nathan Chen jump into his quads, the Shib Sibs spin into their twizzles, and Chloe Kim absolutely shred on the half-pipe was like drinking a cold Yakult on a hot summer day. Refreshing. But why did this elicit such a strong emotional response from the Asian American community? The more evident reason was likely because we were seeing people of similar heritage and nationality on the big screen. But I believe it also touched on something deeper: the struggle with our identity.

Oftentimes as Asian Americans, our ethnicity can do battle with our racial profile. Add in the different cultural ties we feel from different communities, and identity becomes harder and harder to define for ourselves. Olympic snowboarder Chloe Kim has commented on this confusing feeling, explaining that “[Y]ou know, I can’t just walk around people like I’m […] straight-up American. It’s like, I’m Korean American. My parents are from Korea. I don’t know. It’s weird. I just grew up in the States, so I feel like I identify more with the American culture.”

Olympic figure skater Vincent Zhou has also shed some light on this subject, describing real consequences: “[W]hen I don’t meet […] standards, I come away feeling just this burning desperation that I didn’t do enough. It has been both good and bad because it has pushed me to do way too much and get injured, which is something I’ve gotten much smarter about. But it has also helped me be hungry.”

Credit: Loic Venance / Getty Images

Credit: Ben Margot / Associated Press

So wrestling with these conflicting emotions can be difficult, and the road to self-identification might seem long. But the struggle can be positive for us, in that we learn to accept and take pride in both sides (Asian and American) of our coin. Olympic figure skater Karen Chen shared her thoughts on this, saying “I think it’s just realizing that I’m Taiwanese-American. That my parents are from Taiwan, and just embracing that, and embracing who I am. Yeah, I’m American too. I was born here, I was raised here, and this is my home.”

Credit: Ben Margot / Associated Press

Thus, our individual identities can be a mix of many elements. We can take from our Taiwanese roots, celebrate our American tendencies, and show ourselves proudly to the world.

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