First year staffer looks at racism from a different angle


People are constantly asking me “what” I am, and I’m beginning to feel like I’m on the verge of an existential crisis.

 I know to an outsider asking me about my race is an innocent question. It’s intended as a good natured question to gain deeper insight into my origin- or at least to be able to comfortably categorize me by my race. But I want to tell you, it is a little weird.

 I am of nearly equal parts Chinese- Portuguese- Filipino- Italian- French- Mexican descent, but many find my racial ambiguity disconcerting. I identify myself as being culturally Asian American for the sake of simplicity.

 My entire life people have asked me what I am, and not until I became an adult did I begin to see the implications of the question or my answer to it.

 In America we like to believe that we are “the melting pot.” The United States of America touts itself as the archetype for a racially diverse and unified country.

 We consider ourselves accepting of all minorities. But in my own life, I have seen society demonstrate again and again that equality is not extended to all minorities.

 I have been called an eggroll, a fortune cookie, and on occasion someone thinks it’s cute to call me a “geisha” despite the absence of any Japanese heritage in my blood or experience in ceremonial tea serving.

 Strangers routinely ask where my homeland is and how recently I’d immigrated despite my having been born in the U.S.

 Well intentioned strangers have complimented me on how well I have mastered the English language, going so far as to comment on how I “hardly have an accent at all,” when the only detectable accent is their own Midwestern drawl.

 Despite my status as what I refer to as being “racially ambiguous” I often find people assuming I have an Asian background based on my appearance. I am not offended by the assumption because culturally I do identify myself as Asian, however racially I am unwilling to negate the other seven races that make me who I am.

 The American fascination with an individual’s heritage is borne of the reality that, with the exception of Native  Americans, we are all immigrants in some way. It’s just some of us are externally more obviously not of European descent.

 I hate to pull the, “I’m an American,” card, but I am. I was born in the U.S. and therefore a citizen.

 Why is it that people think that it’s acceptable to question my presence here with jokes and the perpetuation of Asian stereotypes?

 If I was a more readily defended minority, would you be more cautious with the ways you address me? Would guys at the bar stop asking me to feign a Vietnamese accent, and repeat, “me so horny?”   

Maybe, maybe not.

 I have struggled with my racial identity for as long as I can remember. My identity cannot be broken down into individual boxes to be checked on generic government forms.
 My racial background is too complex to be demoted to nothing, a box designated to those of us that are “others.”

 What is the value in knowing my racial origin? I want to know what changes for people once armed with the knowledge of my heredity. Do I become a new entity in their eyes, saddled with the weight of stereotypes that have no pertinence in my life?
 I’m amused by the people who precede their inevitable inquiries with disclaimers that they mean no offense by asking where I come from. I’m not offended, simply puzzled.
What does any of it have to do with “what” I am?

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