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The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Don’t assume my ethnicity


Experiences as an Asian American woman

During my first semester at St. Joe’s, I asked my roommate, “When you were looking for a roommate, did it matter to you that I’m Asian?”

“No, why would it?” she replied. My roommate had a good point. It didn’t matter if I was Asian or not.

This internalized fear of judgment because of my ethnicity all began when I was added to the “SJU Class of 2022” Facebook page. Almost everyone who posted on the page was a white student. 

I came to St. Joe’s with an awareness of the lack of diversity. In my first post to the Facebook group I said, “I’m Vietnamese and Chinese, and would love to meet other Asians who are attending SJU.”

I reached out to a handful of students who had similar interests as me, but whenever someone didn’t message me back, I felt like it was because they saw my picture, realized that I’m Asian and decided they didn’t want to room with someone who looked like me. 

Perhaps these internalized fears aren’t true. However, my previous experiences with microaggressions force me to always be aware of any xenophobic remarks and actions that are targeted against me. 

When I was about 10 years old, I remember I was shopping at the mall and looking at baby clothes for my twin cousins, when a white woman called me a “b—-” out of nowhere.

I was genuinely confused until I heard her turn to her daughter and say “Oh don’t worry, she wouldn’t understand me anyways.” 

This white woman felt like it was necessary to call me a b—- because I supposedly got in her way while I was looking at clothes and taking them off the rack. Not only that, but she assumed that I didn’t speak English because I’m Asian.

At such a young age, I couldn’t even believe that I had encountered a racist individual. I couldn’t even find the right words to explain what happened so I began to cry to my parents. My tears caught the attention of one of the employees. Luckily, the employee who came to check in on the situation was an Asian woman. While I fumbled with words to tell her what happened, the Asian woman seemed to already understand what was going on and she forced the white woman and her daughter to leave the store.

This happened almost 10 years ago and I still think about that encounter. I remember she left in a rage and I was left completely shattered. When I got home that night, I remember that I promised myself that I would fight against racism and I would not stand to have another person experience what I had experienced.

That white woman made me feel angry that people actually believe ridiculous stereotypes. In her mind, all Asian people don’t speak English, therefore, it is completely justified for her to call people whatever expletive she wants. This is completely ignorant and wrong on so many levels.

People often make assumptions based on how I look. The first thing that comes to most people’s minds when they think about an Asian person is someone who is Chinese. However, being Asian includes people from over 40 countries. Not all people who look Asian are Chinese, and not all people who look Asian are actually born in an Asian country. I am Vietnamese and Chinese, and I would prefer if people asked about my ethnicity rather than assuming what my ethnicity is.

I am Vietnamese and Chinese, and I would prefer if people asked about my ethnicity rather than assuming what my ethnicity is.

I used to work at a sushi restaurant in my hometown and I had an older white man say “xie xie” to me on the way out, which means “thank you” in Chinese. This completely frustrated me because he assumed my ethnicity and he believed that saying “xie xie” to me was more appropriate than just saying “thank you.” It’s remarks like these that are becoming normalized and we must fight against this to condemn this type of behavior.

When I was in high school, I was told by my one friend that I “look white.” Even though I was thoroughly confused on why she thought that, at the time, I took it as a compliment because all I wanted to do was fit in with my white peers. However, looking back on that conversation, I wish I would have told her “No, I am not white I am Vietnamese and Chinese and it is completely inappropriate to assume someone’s race and ethnicity based on how they look.”

We cannot strip away people’s culture, identity and ethnicity all because of how they look. Even if you apologize for assuming someone’s ethnicity, I can promise you that they will not forget that encounter. At least in my experience, I think that it’s appropriate to ask about someone’s ethnicity.

Most people are proud to share that information because that’s usually a big part of who they are. Take those opportunities to learn something new about someone. Everyone has a different experience, even within their own culture. And those who are open and willing to learn don’t just have a better understanding of the people around them, but they have a better understanding of the world.


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