Growing Up Asian in a Small Town

Mormon Barn


Those are my boys at the picturesque Mormon barns near Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming. Can you imagine living there? Well, I lived not too far from there are a child.

Okay, it was actually Idaho Falls, Idaho, about two hours away from this location. Last week, our family took a road trip to Yellowstone National Park and on our way, we took a quick stop by my old stomping grounds. I was obsessed with finding my childhood home, remembering the familiar streets and marveling at how the empty fields that used to blend in with our backyard — where I used to wander for hours finding obsidian arrowheads and old horseshoes — had been built over with suburban homes.


Let’s see what you look like after riding in a minivan full of screaming kids for two days


You didn’t know that about me, did you?

“You only lived there for two years,” my husband reminded me, as we drove around trying to find the small barley farm my parents once owned as an investment. See, the photo of my boys at the Mormon barns isn’t that much of a stretch! I think he was trying to hint that I was obsessing about something that was a short time, a long time ago.

I *think* this is our old farm.

But I always wonder how much my time in a relatively rural part of the country influenced who I am today. My family moved to the Bay Area at the end of my fourth grade year. Even at nine-years old, I experienced a bit of culture shock. Never had there been more than one or two other Asians at my school. I felt like the country mouse, in my Lee jeans when the other girls (fourth grade, mind you) wore Dolphin shorts with their butt cheeks hanging out. I thought Donny Osmond was a little bit rock and roll, while the other kids were listening to Journey. I sometimes wonder how I would have turned out if my family had stayed in Idaho instead of moving to California.

Are you an Asian American living  in a small town? What was it like for your family?


  1. says

    Even if it was “only” 2 years, during your childhood that is a big chunk of your life. I grew up in the Midwest so I can relate to feeling out of place because I was one of the few Asians in my school (if you could my siblings, there’s 3 of us then).

  2. says

    Grace, I can relate well! We were the only Asians in our small Long Island town, surrounded by potato fields, where we lived until I was in 6th grade. Those early experience definitely influence one’s sense of self and comfort zones. But hopefully not fashion choices LOL :)

  3. says

    I grew up in the suburbs of Chicago, but even so, my sister & I were still the only Asians in our grade school. I’m hopeful that my kids will have a different experience.

  4. says

    Some of my upbringing is mentioned in lst few paragraphs here where I grew up in a German-Mennonite region in southwestern Ontario….100 kms. west of Toronto.

    In retrospect I appreciated growing up in an area of Canada that was not predominantly British-Anglo dominant. For awhile I assumed other Canadian areas had Mennonites (Old Order and contemporary), German clubs, etc. But no, other areas, historically/culturally aren’t as diverse/interesting.

    It was abit isolating at times to grow up as one of the rare Asian-Canadians in high school. Out of 2,000 students in my high school, 10 were…of which half were my siblings! Same numbers for blacks.

    Yes, moving to Toronto was a wonderful shock…to blend in with many Asian Canadians on the street. This is when one realizes the difference I brought of where I grew up….Oktoberfest is the biggest in Canada in Kitchener-Waterloo outside of Germany. Older streets have German names, I grew up knowing bratwurst and addition to Chinese cuisine.

    • says

      Interesting to hear about the cultural makeup of that part of Canada. Have you seen the documentary “One Big Hapa Family”? It explains how the internment of Japanese-Canadians during WWII created communities of Japanese in inland areas, and that led to more intermarriage.

  5. says

    I grew up in the suburbs of a big city (Detroit), but I was pretty sure during most of my childhood that my father and my dentist were the only Asian men in the state of Michigan. That certainly influenced the way I related to my father’s heritage growing up. I didn’t feel out of place most of the time but it felt really strange to know that people tended to look at me and see an Asian girl when I felt so much more like an “ordinary” Caucasian child of my mom.

    • says

      Annabelle, I also lived in Michigan as a young child– but in Ann Arbor– so there were a decent amount of Asians there. Or maybe it was just that we knew every Asian at the University. That’s interesting what you say about how other people perceived you as an Asian, but you felt like a Caucasian. I wonder if my kids are in the same predicament, seeing as how their father is Caucasian, they grow up in a predominantly white culture, and being a second generation Taiwanese American, Taiwanese heritage is something I have to actively seek to bring into our lives.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  6. says

    I suspect the fact that my white mother was my primary caregiver fed into that too, and the cultural gap inherent to the fact that my father didn’t arrive in the US until five years before I was born. There were a lot of factors that made my mother and her side of the family just easier to understand!

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