When I was a boy, my brother and I listened to 'Born in the U.S.A.' by Bruce Springsteen—recorded from the radio on our portable cassette player—on repeat. Looking back on it now, it neatly summarizes growing up non-white in the suburbs.
'Born in the U.S.A.' might be the most misunderstood song of our time. It's a rebuke of post Vietnam War-era America, but most people hear the chorus and think it's patriotic. Bruce Springsteen says it is meant to be hopeful, but what I hear now is irony—the chorus that sounds so filled with pride "I was born in the U.S.A.", is actually a deep sense of shame.
Growing up non-white in the suburbs was a lot like that.
Kids in school never let me forget that I was different. They would run up to me and pull their eyelids to the sides. They would ask, unprompted, if I was Chinese. Even parents and school teachers would politely ask what my nationality was.
In tears, I would tell my Korean mother "I just want to be American." I can only imagine the kind of heartbreak that caused.
So there I am as a young boy, listening to 'Born in the U.S.A.' and trying to feel more American. All the while not understanding the song and the irony of it all—underneath that pride was a feeling of shame even though I was in fact, born in the USA.