I never thought that being Asian American would be such a big deal. Growing up in the Washington, D.C. area, I’ve grown up with a very diverse group of people all my life. In schools, we would learn about different cultures, races, ethnicities, and religions! While growing up, I always thought that everywhere else in the United States was as diverse as my hometown. I soon learned that I was very wrong!
Attending college at James Madison University taught me how wrong I was, in reference to diversity. Although I have a deep love for my alma mater, the campus itself did not have a lot of ethnic diversity. I started meeting people who grew up in very different social settings and areas than I had, meeting people who were a little ignorant to different cultures and to different races. Moving to Europe, I knew I’d have some sort of culture shock in regards to diversity. I never thought it’d be so drastic that so many people I encountered would tell me that I’m not really an American. Here are my 15 favorite comments I’ve received on being Asian American while in Europe and back home in the United States. I hope y’all get a kick out of it, as much as I did! *
no sarcasm, here!*
- “Where are you from?”
I have a love/hate relationship with this question. It’s like, you’re kindof curious and then it’s like you’re not curious but more of intrigued. This question usually leads to the next question listed, which usually leads to lots of explaining if the person who is asking doesn’t know how to correctly ask what’s your ethnicity.
- “No, where are you REALLY from?”
Again, this person probably doesn’t know how to correctly ask what your ethnicity is. It isn’t that hard! Also this question is kindof rude. I wouldn’t ever ask a person “WHERE ARE YOU REALLY FROM?!” if they’ve just told me they’re from *insert place here*.
No, not every Asian person you meet is Chinese.
No, not every Asian person you meet is Japanese. Also, yelling these two phrases to me extremely loudly is very strange, especially from an Asian person who doesn’t speak either of these languages. Also, yelling these two phrases at me in a very odd setting (like that one time I was walking down the street to a class and someone rolled down the window and yelled “nihao”) makes me very confused and I kindof feel harassed!
- “You’re American? You don’t look like him *points to my best friend who’s white*.”
Not all “Americans” are white. Also, America is not just the United States. The “Americas” are made up of: The United States, Canada, Central America and South America. So, what does a typical “American” look like?
- “Wait, I know where you’re REALLY from *proceeds to start naming countries in Asia*.”
As much as I appreciate your efforts to play this guessing game with me, you’re wasting my time!
- “Your family bombed Pearl Harbour!”
Actually, my family didn’t bomb Pearl Harbour, and EVEN MORE ACTUALLY, my family is not from Japan! But, I’m glad that you know World War II facts, I guess?
- *bows* “Isn’t that how they say hello in your country?”
I can see where you were trying to be respectful with this, but to be honest, it’s coming off as very condescending and rude.
- “You MUST know karate or tae-kwon-do!”
No, sadly, I don’t know karate or tae-kwon-do. Sorry to burst your bubble!
- *pulls eyes back to make them tiny slits*
This one is probably my favorite. It’s not even saying anything but it’s definitely a comment in itself. Y’all, you don’t need to remind me that I have smaller eyes than the average person. I’ve had these eyes on my face my entire life and it’s not very insulting (if that’s the vibe you’re going for) because I really love my eye shape and think it’s one of my best physical features! If you’re not trying to insult me and point out the very obvious feature that my eyes are different, I beat you to the punch and have known this since I was a wee little youngin’.
- “What’s a Chinese person doing here? They don’t belong here!”
I heard this the first day of work at my high school. It really caught me off guard because it came off as something super hostile and rude. The kids didn’t know I could understand them, but imagine their faces when I walked into the class and their teacher introduced them to me as their Auxiliar for the year! Hehehe, who’s laughing now?!
- *points to me and calls over other classmates* “LOOK! It’s a Chinese person!”
This happened once while I was teaching a class of three year olds in my primary school’s infant section. In the middle of class, I started noticing a group of little kids making a group in the bathroom door (since it’s shared with the four year olds) and one of the little boys kept pointing at me and saying in Spanish to his classmates “Look! Look! It’s a Chinese person! Come here, look!”. This left me feeling SUPER uncomfortable because they were all pointing at me like I was a zoo animal or something. I know, they’re four year olds and they probably don’t know better, but still!
- “You are SO exotic…”
Exotic sounds like an animal… or like an exotic piece of fruit…
- “You HAVE to be Chinese, no? Thailand? Japanese?”
I don’t HAVE to be anything? And Thailand is a country, not an ethnicity. One star for trying!
- “Speak English, we’re in the United States.”
Actually, did you know that the United States doesn’t have an official language? Unlike Spain, where the official language is Spanish, Germany where the language is German, and so forth, the United States does not have English registered as their official language. It is the most common language spoken, our government politics are in English, but according to the Wikipedia page, the United States doesn’t have an official language. You’re welcome, you learned something new today!
And because I couldn’t stop at just 15 of my favorite comments, here are two extra that really just irk me or make me feel extremely uncomfortable.
- “You are such a sexy asian…”
I will not fulfil your “happy ending” fetishes with a full body massage. Also, this is just creepy and awkward and I feel pretty violated. This definitely comes off like a back-handed compliment! Am I supposed to feel special or something because you think I’m a “sexy” asian compared to the other asians? Are other asians not sexy and I’m like a rare one that is? So many questions…
- NUMEROUS COMMENTS ABOUT HOW DISGUSTING AND SMELLY VIETNAMESE FOOD IS
There is nothing that makes me more upset than when someone says an ignorant comment about a different culture’s food. I don’t care if the food smells bad, smells weird, looks weird or whatever. Food is a huge part of someone’s culture! It describes a lot about their history, their land, their traditions, etc. If you are so closed-minded and won’t even try food from someone else’s culture because it looks weird, smells funny, or you think it’s disgusting, I’m not sure if we can be friends…
I am always aware to continuously have an open-mind for everything and everyone. Everyone has a unique story to their personality, ethnicity, race, etc. Who are we to judge from what they look like? And how rude is it to assume something about someone based on their appearance? Food for thought, my dear friends.