COLUMN: Identity shapes identity politics

My dad and I are very similar — both in personality and physical traits.

We both enjoy long car rides with rolled down windows, the Sunday morning Beatles’ radio tunes, authentic Mexican food and spontaneous travels. We even share the same almond eye shape and the quirky sense of humor that makes my mother cringe.

One of our few differences is that my dad is a staunch Republican. It was a fact stuffed into my little brain when I was about six years old, around the time of Ronald Reagan’s funeral. I recall being told admirable stories of these American presidents my dad lived under. They were heroes, he told me, as he praised Bush’s display of American strength.

I was aware that my dad did not vote for former president Barack Obama when I watched that historical inauguration. Politics was just politics, I thought, an adult thing I didn’t have to deal or disagree with until I was a lot older.

I dealt with it sooner than I expected — through a conflict of identity.

My family was Catholic; I grew up with a subconscious stigma surrounding any sexuality that deviated from heterosexual norms and was raised to be critical of abortion and reproductive rights.

Although I did not identify as bisexual until last year (which led to further qualms about the Church and social conservatism), I had been hanging onto a different “bi” label my entire life: bicultural.

The Asian American struggle is one told time and time again, but it is difficult to identify with, unless you have experienced firsthand the inexplicable identity crisis caused by two contrasting cultural expectations. It is an intersectional struggle, as a female caught in between the lines of traditional Asian womanhood and America’s third-wave feminism.

Although studies have shown that individuals are likely to identify with their family’s political perspectives, it is markedly different when my identity as a bisexual Asian American woman is neglected and unrecognized by my dad’s political alignment.

Politics becomes a separate personal narrative when it comes to differences within a family’s political alignment; it reveals the disparity in identity with the ones you are closest to.

My dad is one of the thousands of boat people who fled the Communist Viet Cong regime in Vietnam during the foreign war that tore the fabric of American patriotism in the 1960s. He indebted himself to the Republican regime that interfered in his civil war, and despite their loss, my dad remains loyal to the anti-Communist, religious and fiscally conservative cause to this day.

We are the model of a traditional, church-going nuclear family: My mother stays at home, my father is the breadwinner,and I am the hardworking college student — albeit my socially liberal stances and bicultural crisis create a stark contrast to the values my parents hold dear.

I know I won’t ever come out to my parents about my political or lifestyle differences because I know that they can’t understand. They don’t understand my agnostic religious views, my bisexuality or my choice to not “settle down” until my mid-30s.

My identity as a first-generation Asian American lies in a completely different realm from theirs, and though we share overlapping struggles with assimilation and cultural expectations, my liberal outlook is a product of an environment my parents have never experienced.

I grew up in an inclusive society that embraced the outliers of social norms. I was taught tolerance and I began to recognize prevalent social issues at the same age my dad was forced to escape from a dictatorial government.

This is the point where our childhood experiences diverged — how our complicated identity separates itself from the modern identity politics.

Terry Nguyen is a freshman majoring in journalism and political science. She is also the lifestyle editor of the Daily Trojan. Her column, “Fémmoirs,” runs every other Monday.