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Forgetting I'm Asian


Some people forget their jackets on the Street. Others forget to turn in their problem sets on time. I forget that I’m Asian.

It may seem like a confusing confession, but with a last name like Dinovelli, it’s easier than you’d think. However, as an anxious freshman, worried about the difficulties of writing sem, it was the least of my concerns. Hurrying to the writing center one winter morning, I hoped to receive some sage advice to keep my essay from going the way of the Titanic. Unsurprisingly, I was the only one in the room early on a weekend morning. Writing my name on the sign-up list, I took a seat and waited my turn.


My solitude was brief. Soon after, another student entered the room, looked at the clipboard and sat down. Assuming I was not the only one taking advantage of the morning rush (or lack thereof), I paid little attention to her occasional stares. However, after a minute or two of silence, she approached, asking, “Hi, do you know a Ben Dinovelli? I’m supposed to have a meeting with him.” She was looking for me.

It wasn’t the first time, nor the last, but rather one of a myriad of instances where my name has presented itself as a source of confusion for others. As an Asian adopted by white parents, I am no stranger to the dreaded question: “I know where you’re from, but where are you really from?” Trust me, the awkwardness doesn’t go away with time.

Having been raised in a predominately white town by white parents, it’s easy for me to forget that my name and appearance do not naturally mix. After all, how many Asian-Italians have you met recently? When comments are made about Asians, it doesn’t always instantly click that sometimes I’m the one being referred to.

Throughout my life, I’ve always felt like a Red Sox fan with a Yankee jersey eternally glued to my chest, having been judged for and associated with my race despite my predominately white upbringing. I have been jokingly called a “Twinkie,” as if being called “basically white” could placate me. And I’m not the only one.

It seems that many Asian-American students at Princeton face a binary conflict between either embracing,or distancing,themselves from their “Asian” culture. Although rarely spoken aloud, being around large groups of other Asians is seen as a personal promotion of "Asian-ness." Some embrace their Asian-ness and surround themselves with large groups of other Asians, joining cultural campus groups, such as CSA, KASA and AASA. I found it embarrassing and tried to completely sever ties to my ethnicity; I hid behind a veil of racial blindness and said my race didn’t determine who I was.

As an incoming freshman, there was a pressure on campus to assimilate to the Princeton culture, which is historically and predominately white. As Asian American Studies advocate Frank Odo ’61 mentioned in a recent interview with The Daily Princetonian, one of the biggest challenges he faced on campus was trying to “fit in with a whole bunch of white guys.” While the racial composition of the campus has changed dramatically over the years, this mindset of trying to belong still exists.


The desire to fit in indirectly influenced the friends I made and the activities to which I committed myself. Although I didn’t count the number of Asians every time I sat down at a table, I felt weird being in a large group of Asians —as if by virtue of being there I was placing a large neon sign above my head. I feared being stereotyped. I feared being defined by my race. I feared that others would assume that I was someone I was not.

While most students at Princeton are not adopted, many, especially those from backgrounds that include other cultures, still have to choose how much they should integrate themselves when they come to campus. Unfortunately, for many this means choosing a side and thus abandoning some part of themselves in the process. Maybe I should be upset at myself for not embracing my “true” Asian culture, or maybe I should be more grateful for being an “honorary member” of Team White.

To be honest, I am still at a loss regarding how to express my identity. However, perhaps I don’t have to forget a part of myself in order to embrace the other. Maybe the two can be reconciled.

Benjamin Dinovelli is a sophomore from Mystic, Conn. He can be reached at

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