It’s always a sensitive issue to write about race, culture, sexuality, gender and so forth. But, I just thought to do my self justice, it would be nice to let some of my interesting experiences over the nineteen years of life be shared in the digital world. I wanted to add some snippets of funny and also somewhat sad memories that trigger strange and stranger emotions. In efforts of privacy for these human beings, I am using the terms boys and girls. You catch my drift. Note: Please don’t take all the things I write in this article seriously. Seriously.
Please bear in mind that a lot of these memories do not affect me what so ever now – they are simply just memories that allow me to think about how we deal with different situations. I remember being the girl who wasn’t aware of the term racism as clearly yet. As a country girl, I was very often the only Asian girl in class, so naturally I should of expected some innocent level of racism from the boys and girls. However, they never seemed that innocent, such as a boy pulling fingers at me on the daily in primary school to sitting on the bus reminding me that I am Asian. I don’t know why I never cried about that, but only right now I’m realising how mean that was. Or rather, rude words used towards me or people assuming that saying konichiwa means that you must be Japanese. Or a boy holding a dead bird to your face saying Ching Chong explicitly to your face clarifies you are Chinese. Which I’m sure many Asians can relate to (possibly excluding the dead bird – poor little thing).
The most interesting memory I have was telling a boy I speak Mandarin at home, which was quite an entertaining one. I saw the boy reply saying ‘Then that means I speak Pineapple!’ Which is quite cute. That’s a funny memory. However, just like anywhere, unfortunately there will always be some form of discrimination, no matter how very subtle (with the exception of Pineapples of course). From how we should look like, how we should act and what we should do as a person. Sadly, everyday there are people who will still conform and put too much thought on how to please (or live) for others, rather than living their own lives. Gosh, I wish that the people who are afraid to be fully themselves can just be themselves. Capisce. Because, in my early teens I have been there, and it is no good to be someone you are not. An advice my father always emphasised to me and my Sister was to Be yourself. It’s the most beautiful person you can be.
Every time I go back to my cultural roots (family origin), I do have to admit I get a slight cultural shock each time. It is (and I am about to use this terminology) like a banana. There I said it. Not like a ripe old freckled one. I’m talking a fresh banana. I feel as if I am very different to woman my age there. It’s difficult to explain- and so I may leave it for some other time. Apart from entertaining memories of the teacher mixing my name up every Mathematics lesson with the Asian boy in class (who may I note we looked distinctively different) or Chinese girls (till today this happens strangely enough) talking behind my back (and lemme tell you these are strangers on the streets), not realising I speak Mandarin too. Anyhow, my most sensitive memory was back in high school, which is sadly one of the biggest reason why high school was not my forte. Hence, leaving at sixteen.
I remember being on a class trip, and we were prepared to go kayaking. The person in charge was placing us into groups. Until I was last he shouted, “..and the Asian girl, you come here”. The funny thing is my classmates were more offended for me than I was myself. Surely, in my head, I was simply thinking – Yes I am Asian and I am proud of it. There was one particular person at high school that was in my friendship group that made me feel like I was always left out and it got so badly to the point that I just didn’t quite know what to do. But with very careful observation, I realised she treated other people very friendly but always left me out (sadly this is so common through out high school). This is not directly related to race, but it was just interesting to observe how much people treat others differently for different reasons. I remember in primary school, I was placed in ESOL (English for Speakers Of Other Languages). I tried communicating to the teacher that I was fluent in English and that there was simply no need for me to learn English from scratch. She wouldn’t buy it. But after the first class with pictures of cats and dogs (no joke), I was pulled out of that class faster than you can say hippopotamus.
Another memory is the language: Mandarin. I truly respect those who can fluently speak, read and write it. But as a Kiwi that was born and raised in New Zealand, with parents from Taiwan, I still identify myself as a Kiwi. It’s very difficult for some people to understand, as well as receiving endless judgment for the fact that I cannot read and write in Chinese, and can only speak it some what conversation wise (I am more productive now I promise you that). Or other wise my skin is too tan. Which is just a trend thing I suppose considering white is the standard of beauty in many parts of Asia. I feel this may have happened to some of you on strange occasions – being spoken painfully slowly by a person who assumes you cannot speak English. This has got to be the most entertaining. Naturally, when I was younger, I was painfully shy. Instinctively, most people would just assume I was a shy kid right? But the case was that some adults thought my English was bad, but it was always entertaining when I answered back fluently with my Kiwi accent.
Ah, stereotypes. The thing is that’s just what they are. Stereotypes. There is no escaping them, but only finding the humour in them and also standing up for yourself, if you get in a messy situation. Let me emphasise that Mathematics is my weakness, and English, History and Music were my top subjects. However, most people assumed I was a natural in Maths and would ask for my help. With Classical Music, some people thought it was my parents that made me go into that specific area. But to be completely and fully honest with all my heart, I need to clarify that I made the decision 100%. From every single time I practiced to when I auditioned for university it was all my own decision. Of course, my parents encouraged me though and have supported me greatly. One thing my friends used to say around me regularly was ‘Why are Asians so smart?’. I didn’t know how to answer that. But in a sense -to answer this question- with huge generalisation, culturally we were taught to work very hard from a very young age.
It is expected that if you will be asked almost everytime at some point with a new encounter, the questions ‘Where are you from’, then with the answer, you may or may not get ‘No, where are you from‘, with experience I have gotten in the knack of simply saying I am from … but my parents are from … Certain situations such as living with my Boyfriend, moving out at sixteen, dropping out of university and more are not stereotypically Asian. There is a stereotype that in some sense is true but does not go for everyone. Many Asians, will live with their parents if they can, until they graduate and then become fully independent. From this huge article – all these strange and wonderful memories wrap up to the most entertaining and interesting experiences.
Oh the feeling of taking a huge breath of relief. This is a small snippet (I say small because we all have a gazillion memories that would take more than a page to write) of my minor to major experiences of racism. Please, if you feel the inspiration to do so, share below your most interesting experiences of simply being Asian.
There should be no discrimination against languages people speak, skin color, or religion.
And something completely unrelated, you’re never a crazy cat lady until you have over four cats. Maybe five. Or six who am I kidding.
Some Sources that triggered my inspiration to write this article.
Photo: Shu Qi