Friday, September 30, 2011

A Chinese Unicorn


If you remember, one of my absolute pet peeves is being noticed solely for the fact that I am Asian. In my opinion, it does not matter one bit that I am Chinese. Sure, I may appear different than the majority Caucasian and African American population here, but I have much more attachments to America than I do with Taiwan. I grew up in an extremely diverse community in California where we had a great melting pot of all ethnicities. These kids in Texas, however, have not. 

Side note: Did you know that "melting pot" is not what we should try to achieve in America? Instead, we should see ourselves as a "mosaic" or "salad bowl." A melting pot assumes that every culture melds together into one, while a mosaic allows each culture to maintain their own uniqueness and qualities, but still compliments other cultures. I be college edumacated, yo!

These are the phrases I heard the first ten minutes I entered the third grade classroom I was subbing for on Tuesday:

"It's an Asian one!"
"Are you from China?"
"Can you read Chinese?" 
"Do you speak Chinese?"
"You can speak Chinese, but you can't read or write it?"
"Are you Korean?" 
"Are you Japanese?"
"Why did you move here?"
"Say my name in Chinese!"
"Say your name in Chinese!"
"Say 'table' in Chinese!"
"What does 'chaaaoooo' mean?!"
"Say hello in Chinese!"

And all their teacher could tell them was, "You need to ask her to say things. Don't tell her to." 

I am so unaccustomed to this behavior and am not quite sure what to say to them, especially since they are so young. When I would enter a classroom in California, the questions I expected to get were, "How old are you?" and "Are you married?" I did tell them that I actually grew up in California and that me being Chinese should not matter at all. I think that flew right over their heads though.

By the way, the kid that asked, "What does 'chaaaoooo' mean?!"was really getting me angry because I thought he was just making stereotypical noises. But later he asked, "Does 'twei' mean push?" and I realized that he was actually asking me legitimate questions. 

Something similar happened with my fifth period Language Arts class yesterday. Immediately upon seeing me, this loudmouthed Vietnamese boy shouted, "Yes! We have an Asian sub! We always get either a man or an old woman. This is much better!" And when he found out that I was Chinese he said, "Chinese? Even better!"

I got a few more questions asking me why I moved here and they were surprised to hear that I grew up in California. They asked me about my first name and said that it was pretty. One girl said, "Ni hao" to me and I just smiled. She was obviously very impressed with herself. I asked her and her friend straight up why it is such a big deal that I am Chinese. They said that they rarely see Asian people and Chinese people are especially unique. Another girl shouted, "I love Korean people!"

To get an idea of the Asian population here, there were four Asian students in the six periods I subbed for yesterday. 

I really don't know why I am so sensitive over this matter. It's not that I hate being Chinese (although I do find a lot of Chinese people incredibly rude and condescending). I just hate that my skin color and eye shape is such a dominating factor in how people perceive me. Does that make sense? I actually turned down a job as a high school math substitute because I wanted to steer away from that particular stereotype. I think that is quite sad. 

What do you think? Am I overreacting? All I know is that I am so thankful I grew up with diversity and I hope our children will be able to do the same.

2 comments:

Mimi and CC Cabana said...

That's great that you are subbing! Sounds like you have a lot to teach those Texan kids! Dorothy, you are not in CA anymore! I feel the same way about being Asian--it's a part of who I am, but it's not all of who I am. I grew up in MD, and there was way less diversity there than in CA. I got more than my share of racially motivated teasing.

But then, a few weeks ago, I was letting my daughter out at a curb for her guitar lesson. There was no place to park, so I just stopped in front of the music store so she could hop out. While she was gathering her guitar and books, a meter maid came up behind me and started beeping her horn at me, to make me hurry up and move my car. An old guy was standing at the street corner nearby, waiting for the street light to change, and he yelled out disparagingly to the meter maid, "Huh, they think they're still in China!" His comment made me LIVID--I literally saw red. If it weren't for the fact that my daughter was there and that the meter maid was continuing to honk at me, I would have gotten out of the car and given that man a verbal lashing. But I had to drive on, since I didn't want to get a ticket.

I did circle back around the block to see if I could find that man, but I couldn't. If I had found him, I would have told him that I probably speak English twice as well as he does, have way more education, and definitely better manners.

Anyway, all that to say, people of all kinds can be clueless. Hopefully, we can help educate them about diversity. What a great opportunity you have to do just that.

Min said...

Ugh, Mimi. I would be so furious as well! I can't believe that there is still such insensitivity and pure stupidity in this day and age. I'm definitely going to have to figure out something to say the next time as it is bound to happen again. It doesn't help that their teacher does not do anything about it!