Practice piano. Practice violin. Study hard. These are all stereotypes of Asians in Great Neck, and perhaps Asians in general. This image was constructed from Generation Zero—the first members of a family to move to the United States. This generation would include my parents, who moved here when they were 14 years old.
However, Asians have largely changed and assimilated since the first of us stepped off the boat. While parts of that image are still imposed in varying magnitudes unto the First Generation (the children of Generation Zero), the ABCs (American-Born Chinese) are quite different from their parents.
From a firsthand perspective as a First-Generation child, there are many differences between me and my parents. For example, when my parents first moved here at around my age, they went to school and then came home to study. Not only was this their parents’ wishes, but it became theirs as well.
Being a Chinese immigrant at that time period was tough since your appearance automatically characterized you as an outsider. If you were lucky, maybe there was one other Asian student in your school, maybe even another Chinese student. Regardless, there was not much to do after school other than to go home and study—no sports, no clubs, no friends. Fortunately, my mother found much to do at her church in Brooklyn, and the friends she met there are still her closest sisters today. My father, on the other hand, went from home to school to home, every day.
Thus, to many Chinese parents, friends are a waste of time. Since they were able to get through their youth in America without them, why can’t their children? My mother often distresses over my younger sister coming home near 1 a.m. on account of a friend’s bat mitzvah or bar mitzvah. And, such is the life of a Great Neck child, is it not? Bar mitzvahs, bat mitzvahs, parties and raves are the classic Great Neck story.
Oftentimes, especially at my own school, there are distinct lines between the Asians and everyone else. My school roughly consists of around 40 percent Asian, 40 percent white, 5 percent black and 15 percent Hispanic. Many note the large number of Chinese and Koreans that fill our halls.
At Great Neck South, students often joke that the Asians study and the whites party. Of course, this is not a rule set in stone, but it is generally the truth. For example, my friend who happens to be part of Generation Zero himself was talking about one of our white peers and commented, “He’s one of the only white kids who doesn’t drink and party.”
So, in such an environment, where do the Asians fit in? As I reread this piece, it doesn’t sound right. I mean, it’s all true. But, the talk about whites and Asians and parties and studying—none of this plays a big part in anyone’s life. You don’t party because you’re white, and you don’t study because you’re Asian. Regardless of cultural values and norms, we do what we do based on our own desire.
Being Asian in Great Neck is truly not much different from being any race in Great Neck, thankfully. I do note that as generations go by, it seems that we do lose more and more of the ‘go home and study’ image. Compared to me and my older sister, my two younger sisters are living examples of such an idea: They have attended more parties and have larger friend circles than both of us combined!
Maybe, one day, a piece detailing what it’s like to be Asian in Great Neck won’t be needed—but, even at that time, we’ll all still know how to play the piano.