An Ode to My Very Asian Teenage Years

Photo by Silvana Smith

By Francesca Bernardino

Admittedly, I’m one of those people whose hometown is a major pillar of their personality. I love telling people I meet that I’m from Vegas, and I take a certain joy in explaining how I don’t actually live on The Strip (but practically everything in the city is a ten minute drive from the tourist-infested, perpetually traffic-jammed Las Vegas Boulevard.) I could keep indulging in the formative influence of living in Las Vegas on my teenage years, but my coming of age was best defined by Asian culture, which I’ve come to appreciate so much more in retrospect. 

Though Las Vegas and its year-round unbearable weather robbed me of suburban childhood experiences like playing outside with your neighbors or having picnics at the park with my family, I highly value my distinctly Asian memories of my childhood and teenage years. Growing up, I rarely felt like a minority as the pieces of my identity came together thanks to an abundance of neighborhood boba shops and all the older, cool family friends I looked up to who grew up on Naruto. While I often cringe at memories of my insanely stereotypical Asian high school, I look back with begrudging fondness on that microcosm of potential nursing and dental students driving Hondas to Key Club events. 

Now, I’m a college student at one of the whitest places I’ve ever been (as in I’m-in-the-B-roll-of-their-latest-diversity-and-inclusion-video white.) Now, I’m thankful that my bringing a Tupperware full of jasmine rice and ulam and nights loitering at Chinatown were pivotal elements of my coming of age story. It’s hard to ask my Asian friends who grew up in small, conservative, majority-white towns to imagine a high school where K-Pop and anime are usual topics of conversation, or good, authentic Asian food is a standard stop after a long school week. It’s harder to explain common figures in young Asian communities like the vape-wielding ABG or classic Swagapino, ukulele and all. While these are still technically modern cliches of the Asian teenager, I feel some kind of pride in knowing that these tropes originated from within the community, free from the influence of white people constructing our identities for us. 

I’ve cycled through an embarrassing rotation of phases, highlighted by periods of borderline obsession with some band, actor, or TV show. Looking back on all of these scrapped drafts of myself, however, it’s clear that my Asian identity was a constant. My monthly playlists, monopolized by whichever band or artist I was fixated on at the time, was definitely blasting in my car on the way to get boba after school. Birthday party foods were always Filipino lumpia and pancit, and we’d greet our friend’s parents as “Tita” or “Tito” whenever we’d hang out at each others’ houses (after taking our shoes off before entering, of course.) The opportunity to embrace my Asian identity as I grew up didn’t grant me immunity to day-to-day microaggressions, but the ordeal of adjusting to a painfully white school was undoubtedly softened by the comfort of an identity I was always fortunate enough to feel close to. Despite all the turbulence that coming of age entails, the Asian-niche joys of my teenage years are something I’ll always hold dearly.

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