The Nelson A. Rockefeller Center for Public Policy and the Social Sciences

Ethan Hong '23 RGLP Reflection: It's an Asian, It's an American, It's Ethan Hong

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I am 20 years old. I am a 20-year-old male. I am a 20-year-old male from California. I am an agnostic, upper-middle-class, second-generation, 20-year-old Asian American who was raised in Irvine, California. There’s a nearly infinite number of descriptors and experiences which have shaped me, and by extension, my culture and beliefs. To summarize them all in a single sentence would be a disservice to my uniqueness and the same holds true for all people.

 Being the son of first-generation Chinese and Thai immigrants, my culture exists in a state of limbo. Both my parents imparted traditional lessons to me from their respective cultures, yet they have also formed a progressive mindset after living in the U.S. for many decades. Having shared no common languages aside from English, my mom and dad raised my brother and me in a unilingual household where we were mostly encouraged to form our own opinions and identity. As a result, my friends also had a large influence over my culture, the majority of which were second or third-generation Asian immigrants. 

 Beyond parents and peers, culture is often shaped by relatives and extended family. Unfortunately, for myself and many other immigrants/children of immigrants, the vast majority of my relatives are overseas in Thailand and China. Because of this, I grew up without any consistent interaction with them, and as I grew older, the cultural disparities between us became greater and more evident. Simple language barriers posed a significant threat to communication, but even when we could understand each other, our cultural beliefs and backgrounds often caused us to have vastly different views.

 As an extension of geographical and cultural differences, I developed different religious views than my relatives. China, and especially Thailand, have strong underlying religious beliefs. Thailand, for example, has a strong Buddhist culture which is shared and practiced by the majority of its people. While I agree with and practice many Buddhist teachings such as mindfulness and pacifism, my exposure to other religions in the U.S., such as Christianity, has given me a diverse outlook. This, in addition to my parents’ encouragement to pursue our own beliefs, have led me to form an agnostic view while selectively adopting teachings from various religions.

 So… who is Ethan Hong? A second-generation Asian American Immigrant? An agnostic, 20-year-old male from California? An odd mix of traditional Asian and progressive values? Yes and no. Yes, they are all identifiers which myself and others use or relate to, but none of them can give a holistic view of who I am. Culture underlies everything we do, say, and even think, making it that much more important to recognize and accept your own and others’ cultures.

Written by Ethan Hong, a member of the Spring 2021 Cohort of the Rockefeller Global Leadership Program

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