[This piece won Second Prize in The Diversity Story Cultural Writing Competition - Middle School]
BY ALINA GAO
In Asian culture family is everything. People construct their lives around pleasing their parents. But why do we have to choose between that and finding peace with ourselves?
Asian people have always been seen as placid and polite, a minority race that no one really pays attention to. We’re stuck in this weird place between “privileged” and “discriminated.” We don’t have the benefits of being white but the racism against us isn’t as refuted as the racism against Black people. White people don’t need a revolution because they already have everything and Black people have a revolution, but Asian people are fine with this in-between. We’re fine with the hate crimes, as long as it’s not as bad as the police brutality and our children go to a good university. This apathy has resulted in me being isolated and confused about my race and sexuality.
The stereotypes forced upon us may seem good, but if you’ve ever been given high expectations and a general sense of “I don’t believe in you but you better succeed in everything you do,” then you know it’s stressful and can really mess you up. The expectation to be smart and over achieving has destroyed me until everything I’m doing seems to be for someone else rather than myself. Chinese people have taken this model minority myth and embodied it. If you believe someone is something, you’ll start finding pieces of evidence that supports your belief. That’s what white people have done. I feel as if there’s an expectation of me that everyone has - teachers, friends, strangers - and when I don’t live up to it they’re disappointed. There are so many stereotypes, and they’re only true because people say they’re true. They ignore the fact that Asians are not only Chinese, Japanese, Korean, and Indian. They also ignore the fact that not all Asians have a driving need to succeed, or the ability. People lump all Asian people into one category and slap on a label that is harmful and untrue.
Sometimes I feel like I don’t deserve to be Asian or considered a person of colour, because I’ve barely experienced anything like racism. But the truth is that racism has just been normalized. It doesn’t matter how “small” the acts of discrimination against me are, they are still valid. It’s not just the big acts of racism. It’s also the small kind, the side glances, the whispered comments that impact people.
Colorization, the fox eye trend, anything that shames a race for something they can’t control counts as racism. We all have to work together to fight for a better, more accepting, more diverse world.
“I wish your eyes were bigger” is a common phrase said to Chinese children by their parents. “Stay out of the sun, preserve your pale skin!” was often said to me before having a bottle of sunscreen shoved into my hand and a sun hat slapped onto me. When people (family friends) said “you were so tan as a child!”, it always felt like an off-hand insult.
Once, my parent’s friend said upon seeing me “ni zhan pan le!”, which translates to “you got fatter”. My parents said it was a compliment, but at this point I had lived all my life in Canada and therefore my beauty standards were that of a typical skinny white girl, so that comment was devastating. Chinese and western beauty standards do not match. You have to choose whether you want to be pretty to these white people or your relatives.
These white beauty standards are harmful to all racial minorities - these phrases of “open your eyes!” or “you should bleach your skin” are too common. My sister told me that kids in her class used to call her “flatface”. No one deserves to feel like they’re ugly just because they don’t fit a standard that’s impossible for them to fit.
When I was six, a friend asked me, “Why don’t you open your eyes?”
She opened her eyes exaggeratedly.
“What? I am… opening my eyes… I can see…?” I opened my eyes as wide as possible and she said.
“Yeah! Like that!”
I looked into the classroom mirror and just saw my eyes exaggeratedly stretched, and I felt an intense sense of fake.
These series of events have led to me trying to reject my culture when I should be trying to embrace it. Being Asian means having high expectations from everyone, being told to be quiet, being ignored and judged by your own family. Asian people don’t deserve to have racism against them normalized, and Black people don’t deserve to be compared to another minority. No one should be tied down by stereotypes that restrain who they truly are.