Seeking My Asian Roots
My name is Cedric Hutchison and I am African-American and Korean. The history of African Americans and slavery means I was essentially robbed of half of my background, not knowing who or where I was from. The only part of my heritage that I’m certain of is being Korean, which led me to Asia in search of learning more about my roots.
Being the grandson of an immigrant who passed away in 2006, I always felt there was a lot more to my culture than I actually knew. My grandparents met as a result of my grandfather being stationed in Korea. My grandmother left home when she was 16 looking for a way out of a strict Korean household. My great-grandparents weren’t accepting of her dating anyone who wasn’t Korean so the fact that she was dating an American, a Black American at that was unethical to them at the time. But that didn’t stop them. Once my grandparents got married, they traveled to many different countries before settling in America and having my mother.
My mother’s first language is Korean. However, my grandmother wanted her to grow up as an American therefore she put her in English-only schools. Although now being Blasian is looked at as exotic or trendy, back in my mother’s times it was not. My mom and her siblings were teased at schools for looking like a “jap”. My grandmother did the best she could to fit into the societal American norms.
When my grandparents got divorced, instead of going back to Korea to be with her family, she raised my aunts and uncles alone. I always remember my mom telling me that my grandmother and my mother got their driving licenses at the same time. My grandmother is one of the strongest women I’ve ever known even just in my short 14 years of her being alive.
Knowing that I come from a family with such an interesting past and wanting to learn more about myself I decided to travel. I yearned for new experiences, new people and new environments.
Blasian Living Abroad
My early 20’s were completely rocky and I was living way too fast. When I was 21, I lost 80 pounds in 6 months. With this newfound weight loss, came new found attention. I was drinking as if I was still a 260-pound man and my tolerance wasn’t the same. So I found myself in 3 accidents and totaling 2 cars driving while intoxicated. I’m honestly thankful I didn’t kill myself or anyone else. Because of these setbacks, I graduated school later than my peers and went through a patch of feeling unmotivated. I lost a really good job I had during college. So I decided to clean up my life and set a goal: living abroad. Living abroad is something I knew I always wanted so I made it my reality.
So since coming out to Asia, where I’ve been living for years, I’ve been able to reconnect with family I hadn’t seen in ages as well as meet new family members. My mother hadn’t been to South Korea since 1997. So while I was living in China, she came to visit me in Beijing and we went to Seoul together. As soon as we got to Seoul, my little cousin greeted my mom with a welcome sign and it was pretty much a waterworks show from then on. My mom was crying, my aunt was crying, and I almost shed a thug tear as well. My aunt cooked a big meal for us and many relatives came to visit. Every time someone new came, my mom cried. There were some relatives she hadn’t seen since they were children. We looked at photos, I played with my younger cousins, and it was an experience (and meal) I’ll never forget.
One of the best moments was reuniting with my cousin Shin, who actually came and lived with us for a year in 2011. His father (my great-uncle) wanted him to move to America, learn English and start working. Shin was in his late 20’s when he lived with us. At the time I was ignorant and didn’t appreciate the experience as much as I should’ve. Here I had a Korean cousin, who only spoke Korean, and I hardly interacted with him. I was 20 at the time and was worried about doing my own thing. Fast forward to now and we were able to reconnect, which also brought tears to my mom.
So traveling while Asian in Asia, I feel a sense of community and am learning more about my heritage. In Asia, I just feel like I belong. I connect more, but I didn’t realize this until I was living in the Czech Republic.
The most hardship I’ve ever experienced traveling while Asian was in Prague. There weren’t many people of color (POC) in the Czech Republic and the city was very traditional. Meaning, if you didn’t look like them, they weren’t very receptive to you. I’m not easily annoyed, but daily tasks in Prague would literally piss me off. I remember in the butcher shop, I’d notice certain clerks would take everyone’s orders except for mine unless I was just really vocal and loud. As a POC, I know better than to go somewhere and bring attention to myself. If anyone saw a Czech woman and I arguing, they’d automatically place the blame on me. However, after a few visits, and the lady skipping me more than once, I finally said something about it. In which she rolled her eyes and starting mouthing off to me. I remember telling her it’s not my fault she cuts meat for a living.
Another example of this was while riding the trams in Prague. While riding, there’s no security checking to make sure you actually bought tickets. When two of my friends came to visit and we were headed to the airport, an undercover officer came up and asked us if we purchased tickets. He didn’t ask anyone else, just bypassed a bunch of people and questioned us. Interestingly enough, we were the only minorities there.
Situations like these are exactly why I wanted to get the hell out of Prague! But some of these incidents may not had to do with me being Asian, it may have something to do with another part of my identity.
Traveling While Black
Anytime I travel, I’m always worried about how I’ll be received as a Black male more than I am worried about being received as an Asian male. Some of my perception comes from how I am perceived in America, which has followed me abroad. But I’ve found that abroad, people assume that Black males sell drugs or are into illegal activity. I feel like I’m always trying to prove that I’m an educated, well-spoken person. I also have a lot of tattoos, which some cultures aren’t open to. So physically I can appear intimidating to East Asians.
Traveling While Asian
And even when I tell people I’m Asian, I have to prove my background. It’s not until I speak a few words in Korean or start showing pictures of my family that people are like ahhhhh. But once they find out I am Asian, there’s a sense of belonging like oh wow he’s actually one of us. In East Asia, I find people are a bit more reserved and often ask what I’m mixed with or where I’m from. It’s not until I tell them that I’m Korean that they feel a bit more comfortable. In Southeast and Central Asia, I find people always speak to me, ask me where I’m from, ask about my religion, and are in general more friendly.
Traveling While Blasian
Being biracial I always feel like the minority no matter where I am because I rarely meet other Black and Asian (Blasian) mixes. But visiting Japan, I met so many Blasians, who were born and raised in Japan. I’ve found that anywhere there’s a military base in Asia there’s a bunch of mixed breeds like me. Meeting these people that were Black and Asian, but born and raised in Asia has been so interesting to me. For example, I met a Nigerian and Chinese girl in Beijing who didn’t identify as Black at all because her father died at a very young age. Her whole life, all she knew was being Chinese, so she only identified with that ethnicity. Connecting with other Blasians has been eye opening and has allowed me to realize there are other people like me.
Traveling While American
Some other common stereotypes I’ve had while traveling had more to do with me being American, than me being Asian. People often have stigmas about tourists, especially American tourists who go places and disrespect monuments or cultures for the sake of photos or just out of ignorance. Asian people are very traditional so it’s valuable to find out important customs in any place that you plan on visiting.
Tips While Traveling Around Asia
For me traveling is like stepping into a completely different world, you never know what to expect. The unpredictability is what makes it all fun and it also gives so much insight on cultures that you would not ever learn about through formal education. Traveling is a like a never-ending class.
For example, before coming to Asia I never knew:
- It is impolite to have your feet facing Buddha. This isn’t something that was taught in school.
- In Sri Lanka, I interacted with monks. I had no idea that monks couldn’t get married or have children.
- When people see beautiful photos of Maldives, they hardly think about the locals. Maldives is an Islamic country, therefore it’s super strict, especially for women. Most people that travel there stay on private islands, so they can drink and wear bathing suits. I went to one island on the Maldives where the women weren’t allowed to wear bikinis. Everyone was wearing scuba diving suits.
- In America, telling someone they’re overweight or fat is considered extremely rude or insensitive. In Asia, it isn’t considered an insult at all. While working in China, my boss called all the foreigners fat to our faces often. It was lowkey hilarious. Thus, if an Asian person calls you fat, don’t take offense.
- Another thing I’ve learned in Asia about Muslims are women aren’t allowed to shake men’s hands.
- Also, NEVER wear your shoes in an Asian person’s house. It’s considered extremely rude and this goes for every country I’ve been to in Asia. Most Asians have indoor and outdoor shoes. They don’t like trekking through their homes with outdoor shoes. So if you are ever in an Asian person’s house take off your shoes immediately.
It’s important not to forget that being Asian is more than just being Chinese. People don’t think that Southeast Asians or people from the Middle East are Asian. They forget that Indians, Sri Lankans, Indonesians, Iraqis, and Iranian people are all Asian. So the narrative that all Asians look alike is really crazy. Hollywood and the media have whitewashed Asians for decades, but Asians come in all complexions. Just because the media portrays Asians as light, know there are plenty of dark Asians out there who should also be represented. I’ve seen some Asians who are just as dark, if not darker than some Africans. Just like any POC, Asians come in all shades and colors.
There’s also more to Asia than Buddha, anime, egg rolls (which aren’t even Asian) and chopsticks. Society’s portrayal of Asia is very farfetched. The only true way you could understand what I mean is by traveling to this side. And when I say travel, I don’t mean spending a day in Bangkok, a day in Singapore & a day in Ho Chi Mihn City. I mean actually immersing yourself in the country, speaking with locals, respecting the customs and not expecting Western things from Asia because it’s completely different.
If you’re ever in Asia, more specifically Kuala Lumpur, hit me up! I’m always down to give advice, take you to local shit & turn up.
About The Author
Cedric is an expat from Atlanta, Georgia living in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. As an an advocate for education with a background in Film & Education, he recently started The CedInTheCity Scholarship, which will help send minority college students on study abroad. He also hosts group trips so follow click the social media details below to see how you can join a trip or support a student abroad!