Everyone asks where I’m from and if I actually come from America since I look so different from the rest of the group. People shout it from across the street as I’m walking by. On average I get reminded five-ten times a day (more on days that I meet new people). It’s done without malicious intent, but it’s aggravating. Don’t get me wrong, I’m asked this in the United States as well, but it happens so infrequently that I can usually brush it off.
But it’s absolutely eating me alive here.
“Where are you from?” “Are you from China?” “Hey Japanese” “Psssssssssssssssssssssssssst China” (the “pssst” sound is made to get someone’s attention)
Most of it is done out of curiousity and ignorance (usually not willful).
“Korean mama.” “Are you really American?” “From China.” “Hey China.” “You are Japanese.”
In other words: Why are you not like the others?
It’s happened without failure in every single location. The majority of it is unprompted shouts at me from across the street (like cat-calling). It happens much more frequently when I’m not walking near the others.
It’s incredibly frustrating for me. It’s not done with any malicious intent; they are curious. I feel like I owe them an explanation, so I go through the long process of explaining that my great-grandparents and grandparents immigrated from China and Japan, that my parents were both born in the United States, and it’s a phenomenon that happens pretty often in the United States so the US is not all white people. I’ve been told that I don’t have to go through that whole explanation each time, but I feel like that would be rude. They’re just curious and asking a question.
But why do I have to explain my lineage? Why do I have to recount my family history? Ben, Conor, and Wendy (who are all white) don’t have to.
It’s a burden that I receive for being born as a minority. I’m tired of constantly explaining why I’m American.
“Can you teach me how to fight?” “Show me the videos of people fighting in China.”
They’re referring to Kung Fu movies. I laugh and brush it off, but it happens SO often.
I can’t help but dread any day where we meet more than a few people, because I know that I’ll have to explain my existence to everyone we meet and “prove” that I’m actually American.
It’s not just subtly racist remarks either. People are outright racist too. One teacher constantly demonstates for me to open my eyes wider whenever I see them. They’d take their thumb and index finger, put it near their eyes, and spread them. It’s like the slanty/chinky eyes gesture, but opposite.
Another teacher here has seen Japanese people bow a lot, and now takes that knowledge and asks me to bow for everyone. “Here, meet Michelle. She can bow for you.” Then he turns to me and demands that I bow for them.
These statements are especially painful because of the connotations at home and the histories behind these stereotypes in the United States. One of the stereotypes about Asian Americans is the myth of the perpetual foreigner. You never hear white people being asked “where are you actually from?” in the states.
It’s tough because the pathfinders discuss their concerns at a meeting every few weeks. I mentioned the racism thing. Everyone was silent. It’s an experience they’ve probably never had and probably never will have, and it easily happens over 100 times a month for me. They try to head off the questions by answering that we’re all American, but it’s usually met with “even her?” while gesturing to me. There’s not really much that can be done about it either.
I find myself noticing my asian-ness all the time. I talk about it all the time because of it. I think it’s because I’m constantly being reminded that I’m “other”, I’m not white, I don’t “look” American, and I’m not seen as one of them.