Have you heard of the term ‘Twinkie’? (And I’m NOT talking about Hostess’ Twinkies – like how when I talk about The Love Boat, I’m not talking about TV show!) I can’t exactly remember when I first heard the term, but often, those who are not Asian American, have not. Being a ‘twinkie’ is usually meant as a derogatory or self-deprecating term for being “yellow on the outside, white on the inside” – i.e. not knowing your Asian language, culture and roots. I came across in today’s Chicago Tribune (6/25/08), an interesting personal essay by 23-year-old Christy Wong, who mostly grew up in a majority white Chicago suburb, titled “Being Chinese American and embracing the ‘Twinkie’”
“As I’ve grown older and spent more time with my Asian-American friends, I have gained a greater appreciation for my Chinese background. I am learning how to integrate some Chinese values and beliefs into my American culture in order to find a balance between the two… So this is where I am at 23 years old. I’m happy to be more than American. I’m also Chinese-American. This is a unique cultural identity from which I won’t shy away. As I’ve gotten older, the Chinese part of me has grown more important. Being a Twinkie is not necessarily a bad thing. It’s my way of refusing to choose between either, while finding value in both. I may not be able to understand fully what it means to be completely American or completely Chinese, but I continue to gain a greater appreciation for both cultures as I cultivate and explore my Chinese-American heritage. This makes my brand of Twinkie pretty darn sweet.”
Wong talks about how she had traveled to Poland as well as China, and how that made her crystallize some of her own thoughts about her own identity (just as I remember how listening to the speech titled, “How I Became a Taiwanese-American and Why It Matters” really made me think about why I choose to be identified as such).
Now this essay is nothing too new, but it’s not too often you come across such an essay in a major American newspaper. Maybe you disagree about Wong’s comment about not being “completely American,” because what really is a “true” American? Well, I think the idea of what it means to be American is starting to transcend beyond being white/Caucasian in our public conscious. But I would agree with the general sentiment that Asian Americans can be perceived as not “real Americans.”
As for myself, I’m not sure if I’ve been called a twinkie, except by my white high school era friend Tom, who himself has called himself an egg (white on the outside, yellow on the inside). Tom is fluent in Mandarin, Cantonese, Japanese as well as a few other languages and has lived most of his adult life in Asia. My Mandarin is “ok” at best – better at listening than spoken, and my reading and writing is less than a Taiwanese kindergarten student (my Taiwanese college friend compared my Mandarin to that level), but I can survive in China with my Mandarin and am sure it would vastly improve if I ever lived there or in Taiwan.
As far as culture and roots, I’ve always had an interest in learning more about Taiwan as well as China (and Asia in general). I’ve enjoyed traveling all over Asia (Taiwan, China, Japan, Singapore, Australia, NZ, Vietnam, etc.) as well as keeping up-to-date with current events in the region – especially anything related to geo-politics, technology or business, but really am not into any popular musicians, rock stars, actors & actresses or the latest television shows or movies (unless they are subtitled and released in the United States). If someone wants to call me a twinkie, that’s their business, but I know who I am, and I’d hope that no one knows ourselves better than us – but that is always a continuing journey of self-discovery.