Staff Column: Don’t hate, appreciate

Anna Lang

Growing up, my peers frequently said to me things like “your eyes are so squinty” or “you’re smart because you’re Asian.” I don’t know why they feel the need to comment on these things, the first being genetics and completely discarding the fact the second might have to do with hard work.

People still feel the need to comment on my ethnicity, but it’s more them trying to relate, such as “I love Asian food.” Either that, or they make a joke, like when I’m with a group of friends, and they see a person of Asian heritage and ask “is that your uncle (cousin, aunt, etc)?”

What’s wrong with these statements? It lumps together all Asian cultures, not acknowledging that they are distinct, with different histories and traditions.

I’ll admit I don’t know everything about my heritage, but I do know that Korean food is vastly different than the food you can order at K’s Oriental. I also know that the Korean language is distinct from the gibberish that people tend to spew when they’re imitating the “Asian” language.

I asked a friend of mine, who is of Chinese descent, what she thought about racism toward Asian-Americans.

“I just don’t get affected by it anymore,” she told me. “It happens all the time. That’s just stupid and stereotypical, but I’m used to it, so I just don’t respond.”

I don’t want to minimize the struggles of other races, I just want to point out that Asians have also struggled with racism and tough odds.

My mom moved to the United States when she was very young. In Korea (South, because I have been asked from which Korea she moved), she was poor. I remember her telling me she had to dig through trash cans to find food.

In the U.S., her situation was much better, but she told me how kids would make fun of her because she couldn’t speak English, and call her “snake eyes.” Once her English skills improved, she had to make phone calls and run errands for her mom – my grandmother – because people couldn’t understand her English.

In a report published by AAPI Nexus in 2012, Asian American teenagers were bullied at a higher proportion than their peers.

I sometimes think that people forget that Asians are a minority in the United States, making up 5.6 percent of the population, according to the 2010 Census.

Racism toward Asian Americans is different than racism toward other minorities. It’s more subtle; there’s more of an “oh, it’s just a joke” attitude.

And for a while, I did laugh at the “jokes.” I went along with the rude comments because it was easier than arguing with people and acknowledging that their remarks hurt.

Maybe these remarks hurt because I’m not 100 percent Asian, I’m actually half. Most people don’t realize this because I “look” Asian, but these remarks completely disregarded half of my ancestry.

But I think these remarks hurt because they made me feel insecure about myself. Sure, “squinty eyes” is a fact, but it’s one that was said in a snotty tone, that made me feel like I was ugly. I was so insecure about my looks, because people would always comment on the “Asianness” of them in a negative tone.

I felt weird being labeled as “smart” because it wasn’t because I worked hard. It was because of my race.

So I ask you to withhold your stereotypical comments to Asian Americans. Instead, ask them their story, or before calling them Asian, ask them specifically where they are from.

I promise, it’s not offensive. It’s actually appreciated.