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.
6 thoughts on “15 Favorite Comments On Being Asian American”
That’s such a great experience!! It’s so different being in a room and being the one minority, but learning from it and taking it as an eye-opening experience with an open mind!
I grew up in a town that was 99.1% white (and I’m white). I went to NYC for college where you get every kind of diversity. It wasn’t until I did a volunteer project on campus where I was a minority! I was the only white person in a room of 15 people. Very interesting. Also many of my classmates were immigrants so they would ask me where I was from. But I’m 5th generation American on both sides with ancestors coming from Germany, Ireland, England, France, etc. so I’m really really American. And then they would be shocked I didn’t speak 2+ languages like all of them. It was completely new to me but he most fabulous and eye opening experience!! I learned so much about different cultures, religions, and lifestyles in college. Thanks for sharing this article!! My new boyfriend is half Asian and I’m sure he will get a lot of these comments when I take him to my hometown!!
The comments that really bother me aren’t even asking about where I’m from or if I’m this Asian, that Asian, or whatever Asian country they come up with. The comments that really bother me are ones about Vietnamese culture and Vietnamese food! It’s so rude and closed-minded of someone to make comments such as “that’s disgusting, I can’t believe you would eat that” to someone about food that they genuinely love and food that tells the story of a culture!
I usually try and ignore a few of the comments, especially if they’re just people on the street who just wanted to say something. If I’m in a conversation and it comes up, I definitely try to enlighten people about the different cultures and different races. What I’ve learned is to not be “too upset” because sometimes these questions or statements actually come out of curiosity. People just need to learn how to phrase their questions in a less rude manner haha
These are absolutely appalling and so incredibly distasteful, I can’t imaging anyone saying these. It almost sounds like satire, it’s sad that it is true. How do you typically react? I don’t think I would handle it well.
Loved reading this entire comment! I’d love to meet up if we’re both in the states at the same time, Pennsylvania is not too far away from me! (:
I’ve definitely heard that in many Asian countries, such as Korea, China, Japan and Vietnam, the population is extremely homogenous so seeing a “white person” is totally different to them! Omg, I definitely had no idea about the “happy ending” fetish for white people, that’s hilarious hahaha! Kindof sad, but kind of funny to think about it the other way around!
I’d love to visit Korea one day and experience the culture, first hand! The dream is to take an extended “vacation” (lol) around Asia and explore all of these countries and eat all of the delicious Asian food that I’ve missed so much in Spain!
This made me laugh SO HARD. I was actually raised not too far from you (in PA!), but it was so NOT diverse for Asians (blacks and whites, yes, Asians, I can count on my hand all the Asians I met outside of nail salons and Chinese food joints in my town). I was also adopted by white parents, so as far as being “white-washed” goes, I have no cultural ties to the Asian continent beyond what I’ve studied myself.
That said I’m in Korea now, and I won’t lie, but it’s enormously satisfying watching my non-Asian friends struggle with feeling like zoo animals. Korea is notoriously homogeneous and very open about pointing and staring. The “wae-guk-in” (foreigner) thing is pretty funny and common to hear for them. And they’re always asked where they’re from and some Koreans have their own “happy ending” fetish when it comes to white people. Pretty much if we want better racial understanding from white Americans, they should all visit a homogeneous country for a long while so they understand how American minorities feel day to day.
Also I will say, the guessing the country name doesn’t always happen with people who aren’t Asian. I’ve been asked by every Asian-Asian I’ve met while living here if I’m x, y, or z… And when I say I’m American, it leads to them asking where I’m actually from. HA! I don’t take too much offense from it, but I also was actually born in China, so it’s not like I’m a few generations removed or even mixed! But yeah, I’ve been asked if I’m Filipino, Thai, Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese, and Korean multiple times by those very ethnicity, and I definitely look Chinese-American haha.
ALSO HOW DOES SOMEONE NOT LIKE VIETNAMESE FOOD?!
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