“Twinkie” Life Unwrapped

by Simone Quinanola

“You’re a Twinkie; yellow on the outside, white on the inside.”

As an Asian growing up in a centralized Western culture, this phrase has been used to mockingly ostracize me for my “whitewashed” practices on multiple occasions.  For those unfamiliar with the concept, “whitewashing” is when someone adopts or identifies with more Western practices and traditions in comparison to the practices or traditions of their own culture.  My first encounter with the phrase occurred in middle school, when my friends and I would engage in conversation about traditional Asian upbringing, food, and dirty Tagalog slang when we weren’t obsessing over boys or bearing the angst of the dreaded 7th grade emo phase.  Sometimes I’d have to validate myself within the group during these conversations; according to them, I didn’t act like a “typical Asian,” and therefore couldn’t possibly identify with the cultural circumstance in discussion.  I use quotes because that excuse was and IS total bullshit.  It was confusing, frustrating, and left me thinking: why do my culturally-fused habits discredit my experiences of Asian culture?

The rejection of my Asian culture experience by my peers lies in their failure to acknowledge my bi-cultural reality, in which I grew up with and currently adhere to two cultures, not just one.  Both my mother and father were 1st generation immigrants when they moved to America, so it was practical for them to raise me in accordance with both Western and Filipino cultural practices. As a result, I confused dinner rolls with pan de sal and had to explain to my friends that even though I looked more like Mulan, Belle was my favorite Disney Princess at the time (a coveted title now claimed by Jasmine… sorry Mulan).  Personally, I think the circumstance proved to my advantage.  I likely experienced less bullying than I would have otherwise as a result of my immersion in Western culture, I was able to acquire more knowledge about both of the cultures I identified with, and it was a lot easier to make friends because I could relate to not only one, but technically three different cultures.  The way I see it, my adopted mannerisms are not the product of cultural exchange or “whitewashing”, but a reflection of my surroundings.  It makes sense that I ascribed to more Western norms while growing up since I encountered them more frequently through school, community events, and holidays, to name a few.  I am also familiar with the Filipino culture in which my parents were raised.  Cooking Filipino delicacies, observing the traditions of my second culture, and sifting through its history are a few of the ways I have kept my multicultural heritage alive.

Since my dominant surroundings were culturally Western, I was secondarily associated with my Asian heritage.  However, the two are by no means mutually exclusive; I found I could conform to more Western norms while maintaining cultural connection to my Far East roots.  In the end, I never saw the adoption of Western norms as the death of a culture, but as a way to adapt and enrich my experiences since I could view them through the perspectives of two ethnicities.

Plus, Twinkies aren’t all that bad.  They’re sweet and delicious, aren’t they?

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