Reflection: On Living Asian in a Caucasian World

Sorry for not getting to a post last night. Let’s just say that there’s a reason why I should have started on my Latin homework during the holiday.

Anyways. Today, I’m not going to mock/debunk anything. Instead I’m just going to muse on growing up living in a Caucasian world.

I grew up in a minority-majority community. My neighborhood was full of East Asians, my elementary school was majority East Asians, my section of the town that I grew up in was mostly East Asians and Latinos, etc.

It’s not like I wasn’t aware that white people existed. It’s just that all around me, Asian culture (and a small amount of Latino culture) was everywhere. As the Autumn Moon Festival in mid-September closed in every year, all of the Asian supermarkets near me (and there were so many!) had a display for mooncakes. Boxes and boxes of mooncakes, just sitting in a huge table covered in red cloth. Same thing for Chinese New Year: we’d have a display of traditional New Year goodies, and the banks would give out red envelopes for lai see. Mother and father and neighbors and family would give my brother and me lai see, because we were children and single, and we’d count up how much we got every year.

We spoke Cantonese at home. Where I grew up, many of the people I got to know knew how to speak another language: Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Spanish, etc. The idea of people speaking English-only at home was foreign to me, abnormal.

My friends and I would joke about Asian pressure to succeed. One of the recurring jokes we had was that A was Average and F was Funeral. You can imagine what we made up for the other letters. Doing well in school wasn’t just expected, it was the norm. If you didn’t do well in school, you shamed your parents and yourself.

I didn’t really see a lot of white people at school. White people were just there, just a glimmer of blue eyes and green eyes and curls and blonde hair and red hair and light brown hair and pale skin without the hint of yellow and freckles and whatnot. What I saw every day was a variety of people, the majority of them with a hint of yellow or a hint of brown, dark brown hair, dark brown eyes, hair straighter than arrows. This was normal to me.

Even then, though, in school we’d learn about the achievements of white people. We’d see white people in the media, in books, in pictures, on the movie screen, on the TV screen (when it’s not turned to one of the many Asian language channels that were on the air). Sometimes we’d see black people. Sometimes we’d see Latinos. Very rarely would we see Asians.

In history class, we touched on Asian-related history three times: yellow peril, the Japanese internment camps, and the bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima.

Yellow peril, because people were scared of all of the Chinese people, which led to the Chinese Exclusion act and the Gentlemen’s Agreement with Japan.

Japanese internment camps, because during World War 2, everyone was scared of the Japanese and thought that they weren’t real citizens and that they weren’t loyal to the United States. The 442nd Regimental Combat Team disproved it, of course, but YELLOW PEOPLE.

And the nuclear bombs, because that was what ended World War 2.

And that was it for an AP US history course.

At some point, I realized that Asians were invisible, or at least very well hidden.

Now, I knew Asians existed. I grew up Asian and I can see Asian people just by looking in the mirror.

But in the world of sitcoms and blockbusters, Asians were mostly non-existent. If an Asian showed up, for the most part either he was a kung-fu master, she was an Asian hooker, he was a wise asshole, she was a bimbo, he was UBER SMART, she was demure and submissive, he was a nerd, she was a Tiger Mom, and so on. There was usually just one Asian. All of them were stereotypes.

Even when the show’s set in a world where it’s half Asian, Asians don’t make up any part of the main cast.

Statistics? For the most part, statistics went like this: white (non-Hispanic), white (Hispanic), black (non-Hispanic), black (Hispanic). Or they’ll just have white, black, Hispanic. Sometimes they’ll have American Indian. It’s not often that Asian shows up, and when it does, it’s often left simply as “Asian/Pacific Islander”.

Books? Most books feature white protagonists. It’s difficult to find anyone who ISN’T white as a whole on the New York Times Bestseller List.

Marketing? Mostly to white people. If they make any mention of Asian culture at all, it’s about Panda Express (whitewashed “Chinese” food), it’s about how you can “learn secrets from the Orient”, it’s about “traditional Chinese medicine”, it’s about a mystical land far far away, about how we’re so backwards that we haven’t advanced one step ever since the Chinese came up with the compass and paper a few thousand years ago, how everyone should aspire to be more like the backwards Asians who haven’t caught up with the West yet. Asian culture isn’t normal, it’s so special and different from civilization that you have to want to aspire to be “exotic”.

Sushi is too weird when it has raw fish. Jasmine rice belongs into the international food aisle in the supermarket, alongside soy sauce, fish sauce, rice paper wrappers, Mama instant ramen, Hi Chew, Pocky, and sesame oil. And of course, that’s in competition with Hispanic and Greek and Indian and Italian imports.

Sex? Asian men are sexless. Asian women are a fetish to go after, something for the Mighty Whitey to impress and awe so that she’ll serve you and give you amazing blowjobs for the rest of your life. And they’re all the same, interchangeable.

That’s when you realize that you’re not white. And because you’re not white, you’re “special”—so special that you’re marginalized, a part of a single entity, a yellow blur instead of an individual face in the midst of yellows and browns.

Alienation is sort of inevitable. After a few years of this, you realize that you’re an other, you’re not normal, you’re exotic, you’re different from everyone else.

And that’s when you realize that the “we live in a post-racial world” thing is a lie.


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