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"Tales of an Oreo and a Twinkie"

Last year, I was one of the lucky freshmen who quickly met her best friend on move-in day. It had almost seemed like our identical personalities had led two lives in different bodies that grew up on opposite coasts. I am an Asian American proudly representing the suburbs of Los Angeles, while my African American friend hails from a suburb near Washington, D.C. After discovering our uncanny parallels in scathing, sarcastic humor, a secret love for Dancing with the Stars, and a preference for Otto’s Pizza over Noch’s within two weeks of our first encounter, we easily became best friends. As the year went along, our friendship, aided by late night adventures with our main group of friends, helped us maintain sanity against the piling pressure of LS1a p-sets, extracurricular commitments, and homesickness. Moreover, as our friendship grew deeper, so did our conversations, reflecting our growing comfort in expressing our personal opinions, critiques, and concerns with each another.

Looking back, one of the greatest moments of our friendship was the night after we both attended our first freshman party—Rush Hour (yes, fitting). After laughing at encounters with awkward freshman boys, Alexis casually told me: “I really don’t know how to dance to ‘ratchet’ music; in high school, I was always called an ‘Oreo.’” She went on to explain how she had attained the Oreo label through her inability to connect with the black community. She was a black woman who embodied “white” characteristics. As our conversations continued throughout the year, she pondered whether it was her preference for alternative rock over hip hop, penchant for astronomy, or inability to “twerk” that reinforced this designation that still held personal sway as she tried to come to terms with the person she should become in college. By the end of these conversations, she reached the conclusion that she simply did not fit into the societal mold of a modern day black woman in America.

As an Asian-American woman who has similarly been labeled a “Twinkie” in high school, I can relate to Alexis’s frustrations. I was seen as an Asian American who personified “white” qualities. Though my mom is an immigrant from the Philippines and my dad is fluent in Cantonese, my associations with my Asian heritage are limited to my grandmas’ undeniably delicious Chinese/Filipino food during the holidays. Unlike the societal stereotypes of Asian-American women, I suck at math, can’t understand CS to save my life, lack the ability to speak Cantonese or Tagalog fluently, and embrace public speaking. I never gave much thought to my status as an Asian American after living my life in the diversified suburbs of Southern California, yet my freshman year forced me to reevaluate this identity—speculating whether my disinterest in joining Asian cultural groups on campus failed to make me “Asian enough.” While many of my friends have pressured me to become more involved in these cultural groups, I have politely declined; I fear that my associations with my Asian heritage aren’t strong enough for me to truly fit in with these organizations. Was I an Asian American woman who failed to “live up” to my own culture? If I failed to adhere to the stereotype of Asian women, wasn’t that a good thing? In order to reinforce my “Asian-ness”, must I spend time with Asian people? I noticed many individuals settling into racially segregated social groups outside of classes and extracurricular commitments, and I hesitated to devote more social time to the exploration of my Asian-American identity. While joining these groups would allow me to be seen as “more Asian” in appearance, my hesitation would have inevitably me led me to be even more disillusioned in thought. I embraced my closest friendships with friends like Alexis, as I felt our diversity breaking down the natural segregation of social groups on campus.

As we begin our sophomore year together, Alexis and I have sought to pursue various avenues to help us identify with our ethnic cultures. Alexis has expressed interest in possibly being involved in more black cultural groups after being enthusiastically welcomed by student leaders at the activities fair. I’m taking a WGS class on Asian-American feminist literature and the popular gen-ed class on classical Chinese philosophy. While I aim to explore my Chinese and Filipino roots through an academic standpoint this year, I am still hesitant to explore my ethnicity through more extracurricular involvement. After living with the label of being a “Twinkie” for so long, I cannot help but be anxious as to whether I will truly be able to develop a holistic understanding of my identity. Amidst the many sophomore struggles that have already arisen, the tales of my roommate and me—the “Oreo” and the “Twinkie”—continue to unfold together.

Bernadette N. Lim ’16 lives in Dunster House.

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