Growing up in the Deep South in the 1970’s, my family and childhood experiences seemed ahead of the curve in a lot of ways–settling in the city before it was Hot ‘Lanta; opening the first Chinese restaurant in a mall and being the first to use a steam table; turning chicken wings from being meat discards to a national fast food trend (sweet and spicy Asian wings); teaching Chinese cooking when soy sauce was not available in the local grocery store and wonton soup was considered exotic; having friends from different backgrounds when racial tensions kept some groups separate.
Being in front meant sometimes taking the brunt — of resistance, stereotypes and glass ceilings. Being the first also meant opportunity, innovation and resourcefulness. We were met with a mixture of curiosity, novelty, envy, friendliness and suspicion.
As an Asian American kid growing in the Deep South, being different was positive and negative.Â I felt special and excluded at the same time.Â I had friends but never felt like I belonged. I was a pretty girl but never got asked out. I tried to adopt American fashion and looks but still got called a chink. I got mostly A’s but had to study hard and was no Asian whiz kid. I hated the prejudices between blacks and whites, Asians and blacks, Chinese and Japanese, but didn’t know how to confront it or my own biases.
These were formative years that laid the foundation for my career path and graduate work in social justice and multicultural relations, and ultimately, my decision to return home to Atlanta to start a family history project and new business. The scars would become strengths and the stories would become insights for celebrating and appreciating culture and community…