How to Manage Feeling Not “Asian Enough”
By Michelle Yang
Feeling not “Asian enough” is a common struggle in the Asian American community. I often don’t feel like I belong, as an ethnic Chinese immigrant to the U.S. who was born and raised in South Korea. Because I’ve been raised with a mix of cultural traditions and values from all three countries, I don’t feel “enough” of anything. If you’ve felt this way, too, it’s important to know you are not alone. Many people share these experiences, including those who are multiracial, adopted, or transplants like me.
When you don’t feel like you fit in with your culture of genetic origin, it can be difficult to trust your own feelings and make decisions. Your culture affects how you see the world, and feeling disconnected can make you feel unsure of yourself.
If you’re experiencing those feelings, it’s important to find support. You deserve to feel better, more comfortable in your skin, and confident in your choices. You deserve to feel good enough exactly as you are.
What can you do if you feel “not enough”?
Take a moment to think about times when you have felt like you’re not good enough. You can do it alone or with the help of a therapist, friend, or support group. Think about what caused those moments, what made you feel not enough, and when they have recurred.
One example might be experiencing the model minority myth, which is the expectation that Asian Americans are always smart and successful. That stereotype creates pressure to live up to high—and very narrow—expectations. If we don’t, it’s easy to feel like we don’t belong or aren’t good enough.
Think about your life right now. Are there things that remind you of the moments when you felt like you weren’t good enough? They can be people or places. Are there, for example, people who call you names like “halfie” or “Twinkie” that make you feel like you’re not Asian enough? Are there people who make fun of you for not speaking the language your family speaks or being Asian but not great at math?
When other people make you feel like you’re not good enough because of your race or identity, it’s a kind of oppression. It’s like bullying, because they want to make you feel weak by repeating stereotypes. If they continue to judge by generalization instead of considering you as an individual, they are trying to see you as less than human.
After you figure out what’s making you feel like you’re not good enough, consider whether there’s anything that can be done to stop these behaviors or actions—even if it’s something you’re doing yourself.
- Identify stereotypes. When you’ve grown up with generalized ideas like “Asians are good at math” or “Asians are quiet and polite,” they can be difficult to notice and leave behind. Challenge your own thinking and that of the people around you.
- Reject them. Recognize that everyone has different experiences, abilities, and personalities, regardless of their race or ethnicity. Even if you can’t control how others feel, you can reject stereotypes or external metrics of what is enough for yourself.
- Check others. If you feel comfortable, call out damaging stereotypes and the model minority myth to others, and encourage other people you know to do the same.
- Set boundaries. If the behavior continues, think about what you can do and are comfortable doing, including asking them to stop, removing yourself from situations or people who make you feel this way, or formally making a report.
Define “Enough” for Yourself
We can focus on our own goals and achievements and avoid comparing ourselves to others. Acknowledge that success can come in many forms. It’s OK to ask for help and support when you need it, and it’s important to remember you are valuable and deserve respect no matter what. What other things make you feel valuable and appreciated in your life? When do you feel completely accepted and loved without conditions?
Find Your Community
Don’t let certain people decide whether someone is Asian enough. Focus on creating and maintaining relationships with people you feel safe and comfortable with. Those are the people who will make you feel like you belong and are part of a community.
Remember: You Are Enough
Your identity is valid and deserves to be celebrated. You are enough just the way you are, so don’t let anyone else make you feel otherwise.