Phillip Cheng grew up in the Midwest and now makes his home in New York City. He recently talked to Huffington Post about growing up both Asian and gay in the Midwest. Here are a few excerpts.
What was your life at home like growing up? Can you share some of your earlier memories?
Phillip (Illinois): I grew up outside of St. Louis, Missouri ― in a suburb that was technically in Illinois but considered to be in the St. Louis metropolitan area. We lived at the end of this street in one of the more modest houses. It was mainly white families and elderly people. I had a foot firmly planted on each side, culturally. I was very much immersed in the culture of Chinese food because my mom cooked it regularly. But I also ate American food at friends’ houses and, of course, things like McDonald’s. And I spoke Mandarin with parents, but I now jokingly call it Chinglish.
What did your school look like in terms of demographics?
Phillip (Illinois): I was one of two Asian kids in elementary school. And I had to have an English tutor. In elementary school, it was the first time I was in “white America.” And then I went to a high school of 2,600 kids, and I remember pretty distinctly there were only three or four Asian kids.
What was considered “normal” while you were growing up? Did you feel like you fit into that mold?
Phillip (Illinois): In terms of race, the norm was to be white. In terms of sexuality, the norm was to be heterosexual. The deepest time of feeling isolated was around the age of 14 or 15. I buried myself, keeping myself as busy as possible. There was nobody else who was Asian who could really understand that sense of otherness. In terms of sexual identity, it’s overcoming a lot of stigmas being labeled a certain way.
I was a conductor for my marching band, in show choir, in every theater production, on speech and debate team. I didn’t have much time. But the moments I did have were sitting in parking lots before I would go home. I’d kind of wallow in a sense of ‘What am I doing?’ I felt frustrated. It was more this sense of frustration because I didn’t know who to reach out to or connect with.
You can read more of this interview at Two Asian-Americans On Growing Up In The Midwest vs. Chinatown