My Name is Dat, Beyond the Covering
A friend of mine once shared that they changed their name on dating apps from their Asian heritage name to a common westernize name to prompt more matches. Having a name that was “too” Asian could work against us in society as exotic or too different from the norm. I too soon changed my name on dating apps from Dat to Dan. What I didn’t realize was that creating such a cover would slowly eat away at my sense of self and make me lose track of my own identity.
Like many other immigrants, my family moved abroad to create a better life for me so that I could work towards the vision of the Asian American dream. Having come to the United States at the age of two and keeping my birth name, I was given the option to either be prideful of my own culture or put on a cover to fit into society. I chose the latter to embrace covering as the norm and it has led to me to losing track of myself time and time again. Am I Dat, Dot, or am I Dan? Am I Asian, or am I American?
What is covering? In Kenji Yoshino’s book, Covering, the Hidden Assault on our Civil Rights, he describes it as:
“To cover is to tone down a disfavored identity to fit into the mainstream.”
The purposeful community session I led last week was on the topic of The Story You Want to Tell, Covering. I did not think that I was the right person to lead the session and began reading Kenji’s book to prepare for the session. However, I got as far as page seven when I broke down in tears. I’ve backpacked to over 20 countries and have met so many inspiring individuals and lived through such a wide range of exciting experience. I used to believe that traveling was where I belonged as life at home didn’t seem as worthwhile. What does this have to do with covering?
Well, something changed after my recent transformation. I no longer missed traveling but couldn’t pinpoint the underlying reason. It was through reading Kenji’s book that the emotions came flooding in. I grew up timid and had a hard time fitting into mainstream culture. The traveling, experiencing new things, and hearing people’s stories helped me understand how to be liked by others.
The reality was that the more I traveled, the more I learned how to improve my cover and the more I lost sight of my own identity.
The tears I mentioned were not tears of pain. They were tears of liberation and accomplishment. I am Vietnamese. I am Asian American. I have every right to be proud of the Asian identity I've neglected until now. I’m proud of my culture. I’m proud of my journey coming to America as an immigrant in poverty to the success that I am. I’m proud of my non-English speaking single-parent dad for doing his best to raise me. My name is Dat and those that cannot accept me for who I am are not ready to have a place in my life.
My story leading me to where I am today is my own, but the act of putting on a cover is not.
The trend that stuck out in my discussion around covering was that every single one of us has had to put on a cover in one way or another to feel a sense of belonging. Each person has their own story that’s unique to themselves with none more important than others. Too long has society told us that we need to act a certain way to fit in.
Shame's biggest ally is not talking about it. We are as sick as our secrets. I recognize that I too have been a part of the problem and I hope that my journey in sharing my story to the world will help others find strength in their own story. We all have the opportunity to educate ourselves on covering, on unconscious bias, on privilege, and on allyship. We can all engage in allyship by creating a safe environment for people to remove their covers and live as they’d like in its fullest while maintaining the highest level of morals and ethics.