When I first started writing this article, I began recounting all the racist encounters I had with non-Asian folks in Germany. My classmates referring to the Onigiri (rice balls) I had for packed lunch as “smelly brains”, asking me whether I could speak Chinese, and telling me I was “pretty even though I’m Asian”. I would respond “I’m only half Japanese”, clinging onto my German side as much as possible. I thought about the amount of time I spent in front of the mirror trying to make myself look more White. Opening my eyes as widely as possible, flexing my nose to make it look taller, and biting my lips hoping they’d become thinner. It wasn’t a good look. However, something about listing all these negative experiences to highlight the struggles of being a mixed Asian didn’t sit right with me. I felt like I was merely feeding into a collective victim mentality where I can bathe in self-pity. Yes, I experienced everyday racism and of course it wasn’t nice. Yes, I have had complications and frustrating conversations that I would not have had if it hadn’t been for my “confusing features”. Yes, I had to shut down White boys approaching me in clubs, proudly yelling they love Asians. But I refuse to be this poor little Germanese girl who’s only ever halfway there. Who’s 50% privileged, 50% disadvantaged and 100% confused.
Growing up in Germany, I didn’t quite understand the relevance of culture and belonging, I just wanted to make friends with anyone and everyone. I thought of my Japanese side as more of an added extra that allowed me to eat delicious homemade food, watch fun anime, and visit Japan once a year. However, the older I got, the more I started to despise every little thing that reminded me I wasn’t “fully German”. All I wanted was to fit in with my friends, so whenever I felt like I didn’t I became angry and frustrated. There was a time when I stopped speaking in Japanese to my mom because I hated it so much. Still, she made me attend Japanese school every Saturday. This meant I couldn’t have sleepovers with my regular school friends and had extra work to do. The older I got, the more I refused to go. But my mom was stubborn and kept saying “Deliberately skip Japanese school once and I’ll never let you go there again”. Somehow, that was enough to make me keep going. Because as much as I hated it, a part of me liked being around other Germanese people. It was one of the few places where I felt fully understood and accepted. Now, I am beyond grateful for my mom’s persistence.
Long story short, there was some sort of turning point. Many turning points, in fact. As a child, I wasn’t offended by racist comments because I was too young to understand. As a teenager, I was my own worst critic and neglected my Japanese side. One could say I was racist towards myself, which sounds ridiculous. Now, at 22 years old, I am finally wise enough to choose to accept and embrace my mixed features instead of letting them limit me. I made the conscious decision to celebrate both of my cultures equally instead of choosing one over the other. It’s awesome to be multicultural. If people make stupid comments about it in the future, whether knowingly or unknowingly, I don’t want to get offended anymore. Why get offended about something that simply isn’t true? Why get upset about something I am proud of? I don’t expect everyone I meet to hide their confusion when I tell them I’m from Germany without looking the part. I don’t want to get annoyed at people for asking me where I’m from. Instead, I want to be able to have open, honest, and insightful conversations with them so they know better in the future. Without talking about it, nothing will change. I hope this piece contributes a little bit to that conversation.
Overachiever Magazine was started by Rehana Paul in October of 2018 to give a platform to all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities.
Our name is poking fun at the stereotype that all Asians are overachievers, especially Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. It’s also in recognition of all of us who have had no choice but to be overachievers: managing societal expectations, family obligations, and educational opportunities, all while fighting the patriarchy.
We have grown since then, putting out bimonthly issues (we are contributor powered: apply to write for our next one!), and weekly reviews of culture, and news that is important to us.
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We do not claim to speak for all Asian women, non-binary people, and other gender minorities. We are just here to give them a place to speak for themselves.