asian worries

by - 8/06/2017 07:54:00 pm

I remember the moment my race hit me. The details are hazy, but I remember the conversation went along these lines:

"Hey, Jo, are you busy tonight?"
"I've got a lot to catch up on, so probably."
"Too busy studying?"

Oh, I thought at the time. I'm that person. I'm that Asian.

It was true – I was studying for a middle school test which, in retrospect, probably wasn't worth the effort. I like going out when the night compels me and that day it did, but loyalty to good study habits kept me behind the desk 'til sunset.

I never thought this kind of personality trait would coincide with the Asian stereotype: I just liked to finish things as soon as possible, whether it be a book, film or essay paper. But it did, and it was  double-sided. On the one hand this sort of behaviour showed hard work, preserverance and strong work ethic. The other hand...well, it's enough to put every Asian under scrutiny. Are you a hard-working student or dead-eyed drone? What extracurriculers do you do – assuming you do any at all? These microscopic details take on a new meaning if you're Asian. They are the tipping points that push the stereotype today.

So I began to wonder how others saw me, especially adults. Sometimes I thought I saw myself through their eyes: if a teacher walks in and sees the Asian kid with glasses, the first question on their mind is probably not "What are they like as a person?" It'll be something about their intelligence or aptitude, which isn't even racist, just the way society molds us.

How could I tell? Well, I would hope I was just projecting my own thoughts, but it felt a little bit like this: imagine you're watching a movie you love. It's the same deal – you're in love, you've expended your laughter but you still smile at the jokes, you get delighted at noticing something you missed the first time around. Then you watch that movie with someone who has a different taste. And it's different this time. You see the movie through their eyes. The joke you found funny suddenly seems a little crude. The once-endearing on-screen couple makes you want to avert your eyes or sip your soda can – anything to fill the self-aware silence.

This perspective had me worried. Things that made me me, actually just made me Asian. Asian cliché. A walking Asian.

But I was also not that Asian. My immigrant backstory wasn't just my past, I would still help my parents with insurance, taxes, work emails and general forms. My parents didn't force me to take piano, I'd been self-taught ever since I was ten. I didn't skip extracurriculars so I could focus on academia, I did it because I was still learning what I wanted out of life, including what activities I should spend my time on. And my study habits weren't forced rituals. I had been running my own system of daily tasks since I was a child – just like any determined student would.

An interviewer, teacher, adult, acquaintance will see the meek Asian with their eyes facing the desk, head bowed to parents and fingers gripping the No. 2 pencil. But I know my own independence, and I have faith in the strength of my identity to change people's stereotypes.

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  1. That was a beautiful post Jo, honestly I can't agree more because as a kid self identity was a huge issue and I come from a multicultural family. I always thought I had to change myself, just in case people thought this or that of if people were creepy monsters that would eat me if I did something wrong. But the monsters, I had self fabricated and would only be as horrible as I made them. I realized it's more important to be myself, since I was doing nothing wrong, and stop worrying about interpretations. It set me free...

    Again beautiful post, you have an incredible talent with your words! <3

    Anna |

  2. YASS. I feel like a lot of people have preconceived notions about me, just because I'm Asian and I happen to go to a very STEM-heavy school. My work ethic isn't because I'm Asian; it's just part of who I am, and by living my life, I show people who I truly am. But it's not up to me what they think; they can either pay attention or not.

    Wonderful post! Very relevant, and made me think :)

  3. This is good. It's so good to get an inside look into an Asian's perspective on all this - I know the stereotype of course, but I've only ever heard it from an outsider's point of view. And I like how differentiate at the end - stereotype or not, you're still you. You go, girl.

    (And on a side note, isn't it silly the things we stereotype others for?! I mean, I wear glasses, and prioritize study, and play piano too.)

    I so appreciate your genuineness in blogging, Jo. You're an inspiration.

  4. I can relate to this post about stereotypes. I am both white and Latina which can make things interesting when someone is trying to plop me into a category. Does this person dance to Spanish music and skip class or does she get Starbucks every morning because she has money? Stereotypes are some of the most uncomfortable things because they are never truly 100% true.

    Most. The word most is a word that I can relate back to stereotypes. Hear me out. When it comes to stereotyping people into categories most people think of categories they have seen on t.v. or maybe hear on the radio, or listened to their friends talk about, or even seen on a meme. When it comes to race a large perfect of people can easily fit into the stereotype but what lots of people forget is not all people are the same. Most people are very different to what you think they will be. Most the time stereotypes are wrong but sometimes they are right. (There isn't anything wrong with being able to fit into the stereotype)

    As for you! Keep being yourself if you fit into the stereotype cool and if you don't cool! There is nothing wrong with either or even fitting into both. Coming to terms with this however is smart! Something I wouldn't have taken the time to think about but thanks to you I have.

    1. percent not perfect... darn typos


    One of the things you ought to know: my calculus class is filled of predominantly white people, and I'm one of the only few Asians in there. It annoys me so much because people assume that I am the walking Asian stereotype who does end up studying 24/7 (I may end up spending a good deal of the day studying but I don't study EVERY WAKING MINUTE) and eats rice every single day, though there are meals where we don't need to have rice. People really need to see past that and see past thick glasses. *sigh*

    xoxo Abigail Lennah | ups & downs

  6. yeaaaaaah. YES. Love this post.

    Like, honestly, I don't know what most people think about my ethnicity, but I do know there's a lot of stereotypes about it. And I don't necessarily want to fit in that stereotype, but, y'know, just do me. stereoptying is so real though HA. But also in a sense I think it depends on the person, and what they've experienced in their life.

    But then again I live in America which is crazy about being whoever you want to be so yeah idk


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