The Beautiful Complexity of Being Latin Asian
Growing up as a Chinese Mexican, I lived much of my life thinking I was the only one. This belief was exacerbated by many Hispanics I grew up with in Texas, who looked at me or my mother in disbelief at how good our Spanish was. Then there was the pejorative word “chinosa dismissive and hurtful identifier that some Spanish speakers use to refer to anyone who looks Asian. For a long time, I was hesitant to claim my Latinidad because I knew people would question it, so I just started identifying as Asian American — even though it wasn’t the identity that most accurately reflected my truth.
Then came TikTok. The app – which has become something of a gathering place for countless communities, from ADHD TikTok to sobriety TikTok, Earth Tok and Farm Tok – has led me to so many other Asian Latinos who are open about their identity. . They helped me realize that so many of us are bound by feelings of profound invalidation, but also of beautiful complexity. We are classic examples of WEB Du Bois’s notion of “double consciousness,” or the idea that we are constantly compelled to perceive our own existence through the prism of others. But over the past few years, I’ve come to realize that living in a constant state of duality can be a good thing: coming from two deeply spiritual, community-focused, and eating like bomb cultures is actually fun as hell. .
So many of us are bound by feelings of profound invalidation, but also of beautiful complexity.
Asians and Hispanics are two of the fastest growing ethnic minorities; and from 2010 to 2019, the population of Asian Latinos in most states doubled, according to The Los Angeles Times, and is expected to continue growing. And over the past two years, platforms like TikTok, along with the Stop Asian Hate movement and the increased visibility of Latino culture thanks to high-profile stars like Bad Bunny, have opened the door to more intersectional conversations about Latinidad. .
Just as Asians and Latinos aren’t monoliths, neither are Asian Latinos. To illustrate this – and celebrate our diversity and complexity – I reached out to other Asian Latinos who live at an intersection of these movements and asked them what it was like growing up as a Latino Asian, what they feel about their identity now and what they want other people to know. (These interviews have been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.)
Coming from two cultures that are deeply spiritual, community-oriented and eat like bombs, it really is fun as hell.
Kiki Gao, Mexican Chinese, 35, Dallas
When I was younger, my sense of identity as a Chinese and Mexican person felt like a diluted mix of the two cultures. When I traveled to China, people treated me like a foreigner because I didn’t use local slang and couldn’t read Chinese. It wasn’t until I got older that I realized the uniqueness of this opportunity, as I can choose which aspects of each culture to incorporate into my identity – almost as if I know more languages, so I have more words to express myself.
People are definitely curious about my racial and ethnic identity. I look Chinese, but the Latin culture has a huge influence on me in the way I speak and behave. If people have a preconceived notion of a “quiet Asian woman”, it’s usually shattered once they talk to me and want to know how I have two totally different cultures in my past. I want to encourage people to ask questions. Often people are reluctant to ask questions for fear of being insensitive. However, from my perspective, their desire to know more about me shows genuine interest based on good intentions, and I am happy to share anything they would like to know.
Brenden Perez, Taiwanese Mexican, 23, Chicago
Growing up, people always challenged my racial and ethnic identity, mostly coming for my Latinidad. I was what many would call a “no shoe“, which means that I was a Mexican / Latino who did not speak Spanish – and many other children excluded me from certain things because of this. They would call me the chinito, and sometimes Asian insults; I’ve always been different when it came to fitting in with Latinos.
My advice for other Asian Latinos is not to neglect one side of your heritage and culture because you are embarrassed or ashamed. Our foods, languages and customs on both sides are equally important. I wish I had started learning my Taiwanese grandmother’s native language at a younger age, but I’m catching up, and I know it means the world to my grandmother that I want to learn to know and understand his house. Validate both sides of your family and keep them; there are a lot of people to learn!
I was told more than once to go back to my “real” country. But I’m not from China; I am Chinese Peruvian. I speak Spanish, not Chinese, and I consider China part of my soul but not my homeland. -Nilton Ma
Nilton Ma, Chinese Peruvian, 33, New York
For many years growing up in Peru I tried to connect with my Chinese roots, but even though I was outwardly very similar to members of the Chinese community, I was very different on the inside. I wondered, “What was it like to be Chinese?” What else could I do but be Chinese? In Peru, the slightest physical difference made you a foreigner — and for me, that meant that I didn’t feel Peruvian enough. At school, everyone called me “chinosin reference to my appearance. In early adulthood, other Peruvians told me more than once to go back to my “real” country. But I’m not from China; I am Chinese Peruvian. I speak Spanish, not Chinese, and I consider China part of my soul but not my homeland.
I would like people to understand that the color of our skin, our preferences and our way of life does not make us less Latino. We have all come from different parts of the world at different times and we will keep moving forward. I am a proud Peruvian Chinese and a proud Latino making my way through the great city of New York.
Michizane Cruz Matsuki, Japanese Puerto Rican, 9 years old, New York
What I like the most about being Latin Asian is that I always eat the best food. My mom makes the best pizza empanadas and I love sushi. I want to be able to talk to my family in Puerto Rico and Japan, but it’s hard trying to learn two completely different languages.
Sometimes people don’t know my two origins and ask me “what am I”. When I tell them I’m Puerto Rican and Japanese, they say it’s a “cool mix”. I would like people to know more about the holidays I celebrate in my two cultures – like Three Kings Day in Puerto Rico and Boys/Girls Day in Japan.
I would tell a younger Asian Latino that it’s important to know their culture, eat their people’s food, and practice speaking their native language – because I need to practice more!
Ximena N. Beltran Quan Kiu, Mexican Chinese, 35, Chicago and Albuquerque
There are more of us than you might think and our experiences are very diverse. There is no “right” or “wrong” way to be Latin Asian; there is only one spectrum, because identity and history are not linear. There is an amazing piece of art in Albuquerque called Mundos de Mestizaje (meaning mixed worlds) that challenged my own belief of who I am and where I come from. The more I look at “who I am” and “how I identify,” the more I realize my world is bigger than being Mexican, Chinese, Latino, or Asian.
People made fun of my ethnicity and culture when I was a teenager. I had neither the knowledge nor the words to express myself. I know now: their ignorance is embarrassing. – Ximena N. Beltran Quan Kiu
If there’s one piece of advice I would give to a young Asian Latino growing up now, it would be to listen to Bad Bunny. [in his song, El Apagón] when he says “Todos quieren ser latino / Pero les falta sazón“, [meaning, “Everyone wants to be Latino / But they lack flavor”]. Now redouble your efforts, because you have this whole other culture that is part of you. It’s an elite club where there are so few of us. Que orgullo.
People made fun of my ethnicity and culture when I was a teenager. I had neither the knowledge nor the words to express myself. I know now: their ignorance is embarrassing. I can look back and laugh, because I thought it was so amazing that I had such unique ethnic/racial makeup. Because of this mindset, I never let anyone’s limited worldview affect me. I hope you don’t either. This belief, this self-love, has protected me from any animosity thrown at me. Never shrink to be more digestible. Let them choke.