Saturday, April 03, 2010


Growing up adopted by white parents, I never understood that I was Asian American, that I was racially Chinese. Instead, I was a visitor to Chinese culture. It was something to be studied and learned about. Being Asian American wasn't my identity.

In his article, Adopted Asian Americans, C. N. Le writes "many adoptive parents were open to cultural exploration, but not racial exploration -- "Asian-ness" was seen almost like a commodified culture, rather than a racial identity."

It wasn't until college when I was doing research for a paper about international adoption that I even realized there was a stereotype that Asian women are seen as exotic flowers catering to men's sexual fantasies. Didn't even really start exploring my personal views about yellow fever until I moved to Seattle.

As a child, I never explored my racial identity. When my brother and I at the skating rink or on the school bus were made fun of, I just explained it away as kids being kids, mean and stupid, focusing their insults on things that made us different. Everyone had something different to be made fun of glasses, hairdos, slanted eyes, flat noses. I was just like any other kid who had something unique about them, fuel for the insult fire. I considered my Asian features as a physical feature. I didn't understand how those Asian features gave people fuel to make stereotypical assumptions about me.

As an adult I was forced to start understanding my racial identity in relation to the world, in relation to me.

Are people dating me because they have yellow fever? What are people's first impressions of me because of the color of my skin: submissive, quiet spoken, unemotional, stoic, nerdy, anti-social, socially inept? Or is it really my personality, does my personality actually re-affirm the stereotypes?

At the Tree House the other night, we talked about stereotypes.

The Chinese female students told me the following stereotypes:

Americans are very open.
Africans are strong.
Japanese women obey their husbands.
Japanese men work a lot.
Korean women are beautiful.

Chinese women are traditional, only want to find a good husband, and believe their children are always right and will defend them no matter what.

Chinese men are the responsible bread winners of the family and are required to support everyone. They are jealous and control their wives social activities forbidding them from talking and socializing with other men.

I was surprised that the stereotypes listed were not the stereotypes that Americans have about Asian people. It was eye-opening. I wonder if Chinese people make assumptions about me from their point of view about Chinese women or with a viewpoint that I am Chinese American and therefore maybe different, maybe an open traditional woman?

Then somehow we got onto the topic of gay marriage. According to the Chinese students, in America it is legal for gay people to marry. One girl explained that many Chinese people believe that a person's family, background, and social circumstances caused the person to be gay. It is not genetic. She said, "I'm trying to find the scientific evidence that it is genetic, but can't."

Conversations definitely lead to insight about a different culture.

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