Reflecting on my anti-Asian bias
Who knew you could fail to accept yourself on such a subconscious level?
I’ve lived my entire life defiantly glaring back at people who told me my English was “surprisingly good” and assumed my home was in China instead of — as I duly informed them — in California. Over the years, I’d learned more graceful ways to respond to ignorant comments. But something that hadn’t changed was that if I ever met another kid of Asian descent, I had absolutely no preconception of whether they were Asian-American or born in Asia. And it didn’t matter, because this was America, where equality reigns. And I thought that was that.
It wasn’t until last summer, while doing research in Paris for MISTI, that I realized I had actively pre-judged someone else. My friends and I were crossing the Seine in the middle of a bridge on a warm evening, the Paris river scene abuzz with locals and tourists alike. We passed by another group of predominantly Asian teenagers who were speaking fluent French. I thought to myself, “Wow, their French is so good!” Then I thought to myself, “Why did I just think that?”
I could have told myself it was because there were so many other tourists around. I could have told myself that it was because I was uncomfortable with my own proficiency of French. But deep down, I knew it was an instinct. I was horrified to think that I was casting the same stereotype I so actively rejected in others. Why was it ingrained in me that the dual identity I had formed in America did not translate to countries in Europe?
I remember reading an article about how the American education system fed us unrelenting nationalism, which partially led to this current state of extreme ’MURICA patriotism. While I didn’t think that I had fallen for the “America is the best country in the world, end of story” trope, I guess it did have an effect on my perception of the world. It shocked me how unaware I was of the Asian diaspora outside of the United States.
Last spring, for my final project in a French class, I decided to research how the Chinese diaspora in Europe experienced racism. It opened my eyes a lot, from the biggest stories of hate crimes to their open protests. I came across an article about Francesco Wu, and I thought about how weird it felt to see an Italian first name next to a Chinese last name. But why is that so far removed from my English (and deeply Biblical) first name next to my Chinese last name? It really shouldn’t be.
I started to understand where the screaming white supremacists came from: this was uncomfortable, different, and I had never encountered it before. Obviously, it did not spark a fit of rage, but I was struck by how automatic my judgements were. Maybe we were brainwashed by all those European and American history classes.
In the past few years, actors from other English-speaking countries have entered the Hollywood scene, like Gemma Chan in Crazy Rich Asians or Yoson An and Xana Tang in Mulan (do not ask me how much I dislike this movie). Not to mention the enormously successful “subtle asian traits” Facebook group was started by Chinese-Australians. Their existence makes me actively ponder the fact that someone moved to England, New Zealand, or Australia to make their life and raise children there.
I grew up insulated in a diverse Californian town full of immigrants who had worked their entire lives to come to America. They believed it was the land of opportunity, a land of dreams where even the roads were paved in gold, so did I. To me, it was unfathomable to immigrate from China to another country. And yet, people did (and do!).
The more open-minded we are, the more opportunities we have to grow. As I slowly dismantle my American superiority complex, I’m sure I’ll find that there are always more avenues through which to consume ideas from different backgrounds.