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Buddhadharma : Summer 2016
48 buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly summer 2 0 1 6 We’re Not Who You Think We Are D uring my undergraduate years, a budding interest in Buddhism prompted me to explore various Buddhist communities in the San Francisco Bay Area. At meditation centers where older white practitioners predominated, I regularly fielded compli- ments about my ability to speak the lan- guage I consider to be my native tongue: “Your English is so good; I can’t detect any accent at all!” I was further stymied by the frequent follow-up question, “Where are you from?” Hav- ing lived five years in my birthplace of Shanghai, six years in Pennsylvania, and seven in Washington State, then moved to the Bay Area for college after a gap year in Australia and Asia, I struggled for a suc- cinct answer. “I went to high school near Seattle” only triggered further questioning. Where was I really from? Cambodia? China? Japan? Korea? Thailand? Tibet? This was hardly the first time white Americans expected me to be a recent immigrant from Asia who spoke “accented” English, though another expectation was new to me: “Your parents must be Buddhist.” To the contrary: raised by atheist parents who lived through the tumultuous Cultural Revolution, I grew up associating religion with brainwashing cults. My Bay Area explorations also took me to Bud- dhist temples where the membership was primar- ily Asian, places where I spent much of the time listening to Mandarin and trying to decipher the Cantonese, Khmer, or Vietnamese around me. Here, nobody complimented my English, probably because many of them had children who spoke English as fluently as I did. Yet I rarely saw anyone between preschool and middle age at the temple services. I began to wonder, Where are all the other young adult Asian American Buddhists? Beyond the Stereotyping of “Two Buddhisms” Perusing popular and academic literature about American Buddhism, it became clear that I wasn’t the only person who had run into this problem. In a 2008 post on the group blog Dharma Folk, one of the writers remarked: “I don’t want to sound like the Angry Asian Man, but I’ve had a hard time finding articles about Asian American Buddhists.” In 2009 this writer founded Angry Asian Buddhist, a blog examining race, culture, and privilege in American Buddhism. According to a 2012 Pew Forum report, of the 1 to 1.3 percent of the U.S. adult population who identify as Buddhist, 67 to 69 percent are Asian tsukinomura-henley chenxing han examines the stereotypes that have marginalized Asian American Buddhists and reports on the rich diversity and depth of a new generation of practitioners.