04/30/2014 02:54 pm ET Updated Jun 30, 2014

The Asian American Conundrum

Dana Dela Cruz

I sucked in a breath of Hudson River air and met the gaze of Lady Liberty. An odd feeling bloomed inside my stomach: What did I look like in her copper-plated eyes? Compared to eighth-generation Americans, was I -- who was born amid jeepneys and rice paddies, who crossed an ocean and a language barrier to call America home -- was I, an immigrant, good enough? Was I eligible to enter the freedom-endorsing, opportunity-chasing, steak-loving brotherhood of Americans? Or was I merely an impostor in red, white and blue?

Like many of my fellow 1.5 generationals -- people who immigrated to America as children -- I wore my international origins both as a badge of honor and a blemish. I could not deny the pride I felt at the mention of my home country, nor could I deny the discomfort that arose when the topic of my nationality came up. I was tossed in a constant conundrum, a limbo of allegiances -- not fully American, but not fully Filipino. I watched Fourth of July fireworks wondering if I had the right to celebrate the holiday; I apologized to older relatives for not being able to communicate in our native language proficiently enough. I recited the Pledge of Allegiance daily with my classmates but was still subject to the immigrant jokes: "Were the seas rough when you rowed to America?" "We don't eat dogs here." "You can read English, right?"

But, luckily, I was blessed early on with a love of reading that helped me ignore any racial comments. During a childhood of vulnerability I was able to retreat into my fortress of books; Barnes and Noble was a safe haven for me. Fictional characters became my friends when I was too shy to make any of my own. And, naturally, books about Asian Americans fell into my hands: Fresh off the Boat by Melissa de la Cruz, Kira Kira by Cynthia Kadohata, Dragonwings by Laurence Yep, The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. Their characters, too, became my friends. They understood the clash of cultures that can be frustrating at times and downright humiliating at others, yet they still knew that their heritages were ultimately rewarding. As a child I could not have been more insecure about my origins, and these books provided me with the validation I needed.

My childhood resumed. I came out of my shell; my friends were no longer solely fictional. Growing up in arguably the most diverse part of the country, I met many people like me -- most of my closest friends are the children of immigrants, if not immigrants themselves. I have further realized through them that I am not alone in my confusion. Together, we lament the struggles that the 1.5-2nd generations face, we giggle at the cultural differences between our native countries and the U.S. and we spread awareness about our cultures and our rights. We eat dumplings and noodles and stir-fry; we eat cheeseburgers and French fries and baby-back ribs. We speak broken, amalgamated dialects of our native tongues combined with English. And, most importantly, we have slowly begun to recognize the importance of our biculturalism: as "in-betweeners," we serve as the bridge between Asia and America. We are the products of the marriage between two vastly different cultures; we are reminders to the world that human beings, despite the borders that divide us, are essentially the same. We are Asian American, we are together and we are proud.

So perhaps Lady Liberty didn't need to answer my question; internally, I already knew. Nonetheless, I swear that as I stood stagnant on Liberty Island, she responded to me. It could have been the wind, or it could have been the triple-digit heat getting to my head. But as I implored Lady Liberty to tell me whether I, too, could sing America, I spotted the most imperceptible of nods.