Even such a simple question as “where is he from” elicits different answers from Asians and Westerners. A Westerner will tell you that one is “from” the culture he is born and raised in while an Asian will tell you that he is “from” wherever his ancestors hails. Far from being just an interesting cognitive exercise in understanding anthers’ perspective, this difference in values brings up practical issues as well. With an increasing number of children being born to parents of mixed nationalities, their own national identities come into question.

In Western thinking, you belong to whichever culture you were born and raised in. Occasional, individuals will have cause to question their identity if they spent a portion of their upbringing in one country and a portion in the other, but the majority of the population in the West identifies themselves as belonging to the country they were born in. Wentworth for instance, who was born in the USA to two Taiwanese immigrants, is as American as the second amendment.

In Asian thinking, you belong to whatever culture your ancestors hail from. If your grandparents on both sides emigrated to the USA from China, then you are Chinese. Plain and simple. This is the very argument for Jeremy Lin being Taiwanese, and the reason why the Americans and the Taiwanese just aren’t going to see eye to eye on this issue.

While I have no skin in this game (pun intended), there is an increasingly large population of people who do: those born to one or two parents of mixed nationalities. A child born in USA to two Taiwanese immigrants is not only identified as American so long as he is raised there, but he is eligible for American citizenship status. The inverse is not true. A child born to American parents in and raised in Taiwan is still legally and socially “foreign”. Being born and raised in Taiwan, he is still “foreign” to the USA as well. This frequently leads to identity crisis’s and social problems in school. Even mixed race children have difficulty fitting in socially. Which culture the child himself identifies with is entirely disregarded (I once heard a local arguing with a mixed race boy that he is not Taiwanese).

While I am admittedly biased, I fing that the Asian perspective on national identity has some very obvious, logical flaws. For instance, most Taiwanese will get offended if you call them Chinese but few of them are any more than 3 generations removed from China. I, for example, am identified by the Taiwanese as American even after explaining that I am a 3rd generation immigrant to USA (race plays a large role in which category they place me). If I had a daughter by a Taiwanese, she would be half Taiwanese, half American (not half Irish). Presenting these cases to a local is guaranteed to elicit one of two responses: “that’s different” or “you think too much!”.

Debating with an Asian about the national identity of any given individual is an exercise in futility (Jermeny Lin comes to mind) because in order to have any intelligent argument on the subject, both of you would have to agree on what makes up ones national identity in the first place. While most of us are best off just dropping the subject, this is likely to be an important social issue in the coming generations.