Asian American Olympians Reveal Their Struggles With Asian Identity Growing Up

The success of Asian American athletes at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang has also shed light on the unique struggles many of them face when it comes to racial identity.

via Instagram/nathanwchen

Beyond the challenges of training, competitions, and other physical demands of chasing the Olympic dream, these young athletes also rise above prejudice, just as they are coming to terms with their sense of belonging between Asian and American cultures.

via Instagram/govincentzhou

In a heartfelt post after winning their medal, Alex Shibutani wrote that when he and his sister Maia Shibutani were starting, others looked at them as “different.”

via Instagram/alexshibutani

“Throughout our career (14 years and counting), we have had to, and will continue to push past stereotypes, labels, doubters, and cynics,” he tweeted.

via Instagram/alexshibutani

Vincent Zhou, highly touted as the future of men’s figure skating, also had to deal with some ignorant troll questioning his citizenship on Twitter just days before his Olympic ticket announcement.

Chloe Kim, the 17-year-old rising snowboarding star, is also no stranger to such encounters.

via Instagram/chloekimsnow

At a press conference in September, Chloe shared that she would occasionally get the “No, where are you really from?” response after saying she’s from “Los Angeles.”

via Instagram/chloekimsnow

Brought to the spotlight, they are often forced to answer impertinent questions about their race and identity.

“Do you identify pretty strongly with both cultures?” a journalist asked Chloe.

via Instagram/chloekimsnow

“I always get that question; it’s never my first answer to say that I’m from Korea or, like, ‘I’m Korean,'” Chloe replied. “It’s always, like, ‘I’m American.’ Like, I feel like I’m pretty—what do they call it, ‘Twinkies’?”

A Twinkie is a term used, often pejoratively, to describe a person who might be “yellow” on the outside but White on the inside.

via Instagram/chloekimsnow

Kristi Yamaguchi, who is Japanese-American, told Bleacher Report, “I totally get where Chloe is coming from when she said, ‘I see myself as a Twinkie.’ It’s not because she doesn’t see herself as Asian. I think it’s not necessarily seeing yourself as White. It’s just identifying as American.”

Her statement has since been recorded, published, interpreted and scrutinized for public consumption.

via Instagram/chloekimsnow

While they are indeed bestowed with gargantuan expectations of representing the country, they are also young athletes fulfilling their dreams at an age most are still in the process of recognizing who they are.

via Instagram/chloekimsnow

With such supportive parents, these young athletes will undoubtedly do alright on their own terms.

“I think my parents felt us being a minority a little bit more than I did, and they tried to shelter me from that so I didn’t feel it at all,” Nathan Chen said in an interview with Team USA last year.

via Instagram/nathanwchen

Proud of his heritage, Chen expressed his appreciation for the sport that has welcomed Asian Americans with open arms.

“As I got older, there were more and more Asian kids at [skating] competitions that I was going to – that felt cool to me.”

Feature Image (left) via Instagram/alexshibutani,  (right) via Instagram/chloekimsnow

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