“Excuse me? Aren’t you a Millennial, too?” I thought to myself when this 33-year-old man wrote me off as a Millennial simply because I didn’t know the musician he had just mentioned.
Our date still went on quite pleasantly after that tiny hiccup, as we exchanged thoughts on our careers, the election, drugs, and so on. He was passionate about music and played multiple instruments himself, just like every other guy I’ve met this year. He showed me a couple of YouTube videos catering to my preference for electronic music and light shows, and persistently quizzed me on whether I knew this DJ or that singer. I blinked, and said no with a smile to each artist he mentioned. He rolled his eyes slightly as he dismissed me once more, “you’re such a Millennial! Do you even know who Bob Dylan is?!”
There, you did not just make that comment again and throw Bob Dylan at me as if I was born yesterday.
I stared at him and fired back like a true Millennial, “you can test me on a million things about American pop culture and I won’t know most of them, because I grew up with an Asian cultural background. This is a matter of cultural upbringing, which is entirely irrelevant to being a Millennial, so your comment is rather offensive.”
Perhaps he was appalled that this tiny, 24-year-old Asian girl called him out on his condescension, and above all, his ethnocentric ignorance. He looked embarrassed and quietly admitted, “you’re right” after few seconds of silence, and quickly changed the topic.
To be fair, he wasn’t the first person who made similar comment about my unawareness of American musicians, comedians, actors, etc. However, he was utterly wrong on two accounts:
Everyone knows something you don’t know. I never go around asking Americans if they know the singer who sang the theme song for Spirited Away, and then discredit them as culturally ignorant.
The term “Millennial” is misused. Being a Millennial is not the equivalent of being uninformed — it’s quite the opposite.
I had spent my first 17 years of life growing up in Hong Kong, under a rigid education system where we basically had to recite every page of a textbook to be considered a good student. Yes, we did learn English in school, but no, we did not read any novels that Americans read in middle school and high school — our English lessons merely consisted of grammar, grammar, and more grammar. We studied Chinese history, Chinese literature and poems that are much older than the United States itself. We probably memorized the timeline of World War I and II, but that was as far as school taught us for the Western Hemisphere. In our leisure time, we watched Japanese anime and listened to local pop music. For boy bands, we were a lot more into Westlife, who are almost completely unheard of in the U.S., than Backstreet Boys. There was a lot to catch up in terms of American culture when I first moved to New York; in fact, I find myself still trying to catch up even after 7 years of living in the Big Apple, but that’s only because I came from a drastically different cultural background, not because I am an “uncultured Millennial” like this man implied.
And so what if I am ‘such a Millennial?’ Are Millennials uneducated, uncultured, and lazy? Quite the contrary, we are a rebellious generation who are confident, self-expressive, liberal, upbeat and open to change.
Despite lower average income and higher job volatility, we are the most educated and most innovative generation. Millennials embrace diversity, challenge conventional social structure, and create new ways of doing things every day. We could be narcissistic and self-absorbed, but don’t we live in a society where individualism is praised over and over again?
I might be just as uncertain as other 20-somethings about my purpose in life, but I am proud to be a Millennial who has the capacity to question and resent labels that are falsely asserted to us. Yes, I am such a Millennial, therefore I don’t need someone else to affirm my identity on my behalf.