This is more extreme than what I’ve had to grapple with, but it’s definitely in the same zone. It’s honestly taken me decades — and only recently — to realize that I am not a white American. I had always thought of myself as basically white, your “typical” American, but so many people have asked and continue to ask me the standard mixed-race kid question: “So, what are you?”
Which they would not be asking if they looked at me and just thought “some white American dude”.
But, honestly, I have no strong ties to my Indian heritage — I grew up with my German-immigrant mom in the suburban Midwest. I’ll (now) proudly proclaim I’m Punjabi, but then I’ll go to an Indian restaurant and everyone will look to me for guidance and I’ll have no idea what I’m talking about. (Heck, even Indian and Pakistani people I meet look at me kind of funny. “You’re Indian? I had no idea.”)
It’s just bizarre. I was raised on network TV, comic books, D&D, pizza, Star Trek, and rock n’ roll. I speak one language. Seems pretty white American to me.
When I was in high school, I remember a vague conversation with my AP US History teacher. He was making some sort of big deal (for reasons I forget) about two other students being first-generation Americans — both of them white as snow with parents from Northern Europe. I wasn’t familiar enough with the phrase to point out that I was also a first-generation American. But I guess somehow I didn’t read as a candidate for that category.