I’ve always had a bit of an identity crisis going on in my life. I mean obviously everyone has a different experience and well, here’s my two cents. Being Asian in north America racism is still a thing. Although not very explicit (like no one is going to call me a Jap and tell me to go home, usually! Unfortunately, you still hear shit like this happening.) it’s still there. As much as I try to run away from it I will always be at least partially defined by my skin colour. It’s one of the first things people see and judge me by, immediately and subconsciously associating me with whatever stereotypes they have of Asians in their minds.
It started when I was a kid going to an elementary school which was predominantly all white kids. At the time I never really realized it but when I was a kid I loved wearing hats and sunglasses. It made me feel cool, a part of the group, more similar to the other kids. Obviously there were cool kids in school and I wanted to look like them, but I never understood why I couldn’t look like them. I had my Ken Block DC shoes, west 49 jeans and shirts, but I couldn’t quite look the same. Looking back of course I can’t look like them. I don’t have blonde hair, blue eyes, nor white skin. But young innocent me had no concept of race. I always felt, different. When you’re a kid in elementary school different isn’t good, but then again is it ever good?
As I graduated to Junior high, the world expended. Not just to the small confines of the school playground during recess, my yard and the back alley, but also the internet. On the internet I came across a community of my own, the Asian-American culture. On mainstream TV there just wasn’t anybody like me on the screen, most of the time Asians were just depicted as terrible drivers, or the nerdy friend of the cool guy main character. Social learning theory was in full effect, it was like Albert Bandura hypothesized I don’t think I could ever consider myself necessarily “manly”, or “sexy”. I focused on my education, being book smart was a part of my identity, or so I thought.
Exploring this new community of Asian-American’s getting mainstream level exposure on YouTube from the likes of Wong Fu Productions, Ryan Higa, and Kevjumba shattered the Asian-american sterotype that I had learned from TV. But, once again I didn’t fit the bill. I didn’t like going to hotpot, watching anime, getting boba, it just wasn’t me.
As I made my way through junior high and high school cycling was growing to be a big part of my life. Mountain biking took up a lot of my time outside of school, I found a community there and a long with it a part of my identity. I was a cyclist. Since then a large part of my identity was associated with the hobbies that consumed most of my time, a photographer, a climber, a splitboarder, a university student, a cyclist.
But then it begs the question what is an identity?
Here’s what I think an “identity” is. It’s not defined by your driver’s license, passport, gender, skin colour, your looks necessarily. Also, an identity isn’t something that’s stable, it’s always changing. Identity is performative, the perception of “you” by others. Some people may see me as a cyclist, others a climber, or maybe a photographer, as someone’s son, friend, enemy (I hope not). Thus, your identity is the perception of you by others, which means that your immediate physical attributes is the immediate basis of your identity. These physical attributes is defined by the society the observer lives in. For example, in Canada if you’re Asian, the stereotype is that you’re a bad driver, good at math, not very active, enjoy anime, but if you’re in Japan then they probably wont think twice about you being Asian, would probably define an individual by their visible gender, or style choices, or mannerisms.
I’ve never filled the stereotypical Asian role, or at least that what I think. Sports and the outdoors has always been a big part of my life, especially now more than ever. Especially growing up with cycling which wasn’t really an “Asian” sport. I mean there was only a handful of Asians who were a part of the community. When I would talk to my other Asian friends about it they could never relate either. It came to a point where I resented being Asian. It was like a soft spot, a weakness that people could poke fun at, that people would always point out, I was constantly reminded about, that I was different, that I didn’t belong. Asians typically aren’t at the center of discussion when it comes to racism in North America, but trust me, we experience it too. Obviously its not all bad, sometimes its even good, but one thing is that I’ve CONSISTANTLY been reminded of it.
I’ve been lucky, I never have had an outright act of hate towards me because of my race. But still small subtle jokes, nuances, social expectations, differences in how people act. When you are singled out, you’ve experienced it so much you reach a point where a small part of you almost always wonders if the colour of your skin had anything to do with it. This mismatch of social perceptions/expectation of my skin colour and who I think I really am had always created a bit of an identity crisis in my life.
Although COVID-19 has had an interesting effect on individuals of my skin colour, I think the world is generally going in the right direction. It’s cool to see initiative by companies like MEC to promote diversity in the outdoors. Unfortunately, some people don’t agree with initiatives to promote diversity, saying that it realistically doesn’t make a difference. But I think they are wrong, Asians establishing hard alpine lines, women climbing insanely hard climbs, people say that they are breaking barriers which they are but promoting diversity in the outdoors removes those barriers completely. It does this by “normalizing” diverse individuals in the outdoors, resetting social norms, so people like me hopefully don’t feel like they should be “acting” a certain way because of their skin colour.
I don’t think I’ll ever stop having a wrestling match with my own identity of who I am and what I look like. But, as I grow older I realize I’ve got better things to shape my identity with. That its more than just skin colour. With social media and big companies really spreading the message of diversity in society it helps take down barriers, shift people’s perceptions and change their attitudes. I hope to share my stories so maybe people who may have had similar experiences have something, somebody to relate to.

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