May is Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month.
To wrap up the month, I wanted to share a little list of instances that I, as an Asian-American and/or as a Chinese-American* flinch in preparation of hearing the phrase: “you would“. This started a rather… lighthearted list. But as I wrote, I felt a lot of bitterness growing inside of me. I started writing this May 1. It’s May 19 and I’m straight up angry.
I want to make it clear that this is not meant to be taken in any way, exactly. But I hate flinching when I hear someone say “you would” and knowing that the rest of that sentence goes “… because you’re Asian“.
- Ordering an Asian/”Oriental”-inspired dish at an extremely un-Asian restaurant. I don’t think my Asian-ness is what makes Applebee’s Oriental chicken salad so delicious, it’s that yummy dressing. Less common (although unfortunately not unheard of) is teasing Italian-Americans for eating pasta or Mexican-Americans for eating burritos.
- Owning anything panda-related. Pandas are universally accepted as being adorable creatures; my being Asian has nothing to do with that. They have a very scientifically-proven-to-be-cute head-size-to-body-size ratio regardless of my ethnicity. Would I own fewer panda things if I wasn’t Chinese? Maybe. Are there some non-Asian people who own more panda things than some Asian people? Of course, pandas are adorable.
- Introducing someone to a group of Asian people. Yes, I have Asian friends. No, not all of my friends are Asian, but so what if they were? I don’t really see as many instances of people getting a hard time for having all white friends or all black friends or all Latino friends.
That is, of course, unless they’re Asian and have all white/black/Latino friends. I don’t think that an Asian person having Asian friends is really comment-worthy, and yet…
- Telling someone I play piano. You know what, I will admit that I have a difficult time finding an Asian person who doesn’t and has never played piano. However, for all of the non-Asian people that also play piano, this really shouldn’t be as much of a “you would”, or WORSE, an “of course you would“ kind of situation.
- Bringing Asian cuisine leftovers for lunch. I don’t understand. You’re bringing leftovers, I’m bringing leftovers. You’re eating pasta, I’m eating fried rice. Your family made lasagna, mine went out and had noodles leftover. Why wouldn’t we? Yes, I would. I don’t understand the need to have to comment on this at all, we should both be allowed to bring fried rice or pasta or sandwiches for lunch without getting sass about it.
- Watching Mulan. Sure, you can comment on my Disney obsession (it isn’t a problem, go away) but I don’t see why watching Mulan has to merit some sassy comment about me wanting to watch the only Asian Disney protagonist. Am I supposed to watch everything BUT Mulan? That doesn’t seem quite right to me. Never mind the multiple layers of feelings I have about Mulan, from how excited I was that my dreams of being a Disney face character became closer to reality when the movie was released to how disappointed I am that Mulan was designed to not be pretty so that she could pass off as a man in the movie.
- Bringing SPF 50 or higher to an outdoor event. It seems that it’s only socially acceptable to take sun protection seriously if you burn easily and/or if you are a pale redhead with freckles. So if I don’t burn within 10 minutes, my dedication to SPF is a joke and due to my Asian-ness? While it may have been my Chinese family that initially influenced me to not let myself get severely tanned every summer, any dermatologist or cosmetician can tell you that sun protection is really important. Skin cancer is no joke, and if you’re going to be so vain as to do your makeup before heading to beach, I’d recommend sunscreen so that your beauty upkeep doesn’t get more difficult as you get older.
- Taking photos of my food. I try not to do this very often, because I personally find the practice to be obnoxious. Just because there is an entire blog dedicated to this embarrassment, it doesn’t mean that I do it because I’m Asian or that it warrants comment because I am Asian. Look around, there are people of all races and creeds photographing their food. I often don’t even get to share it, I just have a hard time remember what I ate somewhere.
- Speaking Chinese to my parents on the phone. Don’t. You. Dare. People speak to their parents in their parents’ native language. Or in a language that they and their parents learned and agreed to speak to each other. It is not your place to judge or joke because I’m Chinese that I speak Chinese to my parents. I don’t and wouldn’t give you hard time about the fact that you don’t know any other language but English, or that your parents wish you could speak Portuguese to them or your grandparents but you can’t.
*Sometimes, these situations arise specifically because I’m Chinese. Sometimes, the microaggressions happen because someone can barely be bothered to see past my being Asian, let alone that I’m Chinese.
…I am a little more defensive in this post than I normally am in my blogs.
Because after all this time, I am really tired of defending myself over these really… LITTLE THINGS. I can’t even list any more because I started getting pretty upset thinking about all the times that people give me a hard time for… being Asian-American?
I think the worst is when this comes from other Asian-Americans, though. It’ll come from a “whitewashed” friend, who laughs at the fact that I’m on the executive board for the Asian American Student Union or that I carry my sunbrella outside even after I’ve come home from China.
I’m really tired of these microaggressions in the form of the phrase “you would“. It is one of the more offensive ones to me. It carries with it the stench of someone who thinks that they’re able to put me neatly into their “Asian person” box. That these behaviors, while often are not specific to Asians or Asian-Americans, make me an other from you. Or, as I get the impression from my Asian friends who commit these microaggressions, or they will outright tell me, that I embarrass you.
I am sorry that you are ashamed of certain qualities that are associated with Asians. It happens to me, as well. I’ll shake my head seeing someone wearing one of these (because I know that behind that visor is a middle-aged Asian woman; I have not been wrong yet):
But I don’t deserve to be given a hard time about these things.
I don’t deserve to want to order some Asian-inspired dish at a very un-Asian restaurant and deny myself the joy (or the hard lesson to learn, in some cases) of ordering orange chicken at a cowboy-themed restaurant.
I don’t deserve to say no to buying a panda plushie because I know you’ll be there, doing that “of course you would” exhalation through your nose, which you are looking down at me.
I don’t deserve to get nervous about introducing someone to my friends, stopping to count and oh crap, did I accidentally hang out with only Asian people today? and having my mind race about the kind of impression you have of me because God forbid my friends look a little more like me than the average student at our school.
I don’t deserve to be embarrassed about spending years learning piano, an instrument I asked my parents to let me learn because I loved it and before I realized that almost every single one of my other Asian friends was already learning it or picking it up at the same time.
I don’t deserve to get laughed at in a school cafeteria, a rough place as it stands, for not having this de facto standard school lunch of a sandwich, a bag of chips, and a Capri Sun, which was apparently the North Face, leggings, and Uggs of grade school. I am grateful that I have a lunch to bring, I am grateful that my parents made me a delicious dinner and that there was so much I could bring it in for lunch the next day. I don’t deserve to be pushing that gratitude aside for superficial concerns like having a “cool” lunch.
I don’t deserve to be forced to suppress my love for Mulan, my dream of becoming a face character, my excitement at being represented in a Disney animated movie, that Mulan is considered a Disney princess even though she’s not really a princess. I will not stand here and tell you that she is mine more than she is yours, but you cannot sit there and tell me that she cannot be mine as well as yours because that is simply wrong.
I don’t deserve to feel awkward about not wanting to get sunburned. I know the facts about sun damage. It’s serious business and melanoma is no joke. You spend a lot of time on your face, so you probably know what the effects of sun damage are as far as aging. But unless I’m a ginger (and I take issue with how you’re treating our redheaded friends), and I don’t immediately get painfully burned in the sun, I should just be okay with getting burned? You burned sitting on a rooftop bar; I don’t think I’m ridiculous for wearing sunscreen.
I don’t deserve to have my race brought up when I take photos of my food. I also don’t deserve to hear my race being used as an insult if you decide to, in one fell swoop, laugh at the expense of a non-Asian friend who is also photographing his/her food. My ethnicity is not the punchline to this joke.
I. Do not. Deserve. To believe it’s necessary to speak to my parents in English when they’re speaking to me in Chinese. To speak Mandarin in hushed, embarrassed tones while covering my mouth so as to reduce the possibility that my communicating with my parents might trigger some kind of response from other people.
I don’t deserve to flinch and expect to hear you say “you would” to any of these things.