Image from Pexels.

Image from Pexels.

I can easily say that I live in a pretty homogeneous part of America. It is the typical suburban community with nice houses that have well-manicured lawns. There are also some farms in the vicinity and the occasional clump of trees. It’s a cute, little area that’s kind of in the middle of nowhere, but isn’t entirely isolated. There aren’t very many people who look like me in the area. Not many Asians in the region. I’m not complaining; it’s just that sometimes it can be a tad lonely sometimes.

I realized that I was different at a pretty young age. I remember that when I told my classmates that I was born in Missouri, they immediately asked if that was a part of China. I didn’t really take it to heart back then, especially since we were in first grade and hadn’t properly learned the geography of the United States. I was also often asked if I could speak “China” (of course, I can totally speak a country). They asked me if I ate with chopsticks or why I didn’t wear traditional Chinese clothing. I started noticing that I was very different from my peers. I had trouble fitting in.

The largest difference was definitely our parents’ approaches to our academic achievement. I was always so jealous of my non-Asian friends. Many of my friends would be content with an 88% on a math test, while I would tear up over a 96%. I ended up getting a lot of comments about how I was very overdramatic crying over anything that wasn’t a three-digit percentage (looking back, it was a little much… actually a lot much). My friends would receive praise for a straight A report card, while I would merely get a nod and a “That’s expected. Make sure you do it again.” With Chinese culture (as many people know, especially with all the stereotypes with “Asian nerds”), parents put a lot of emphasis on grades and academic achievement. They rarely praise children because they don’t want them to have inflated egos. This difference between Chinese culture and American culture created some difficulties for me. I am seen as an overachiever who only cares about her grades. People don’t even bother to ask me to hangout anymore because they I’ll decline because I need time to study or something (not the case, I usually spend my free time reading or on the internet).

Another disparity is the whole thing with food. I often get questions like “Do you eat lo mein every night?” “Can you make General Tsao’s chicken for me?” I’m glad that people are so interested in Chinese food, but it can be uncomfortable. It seems that people think that it’s necessary for me to eat rice with chopsticks every night. Sure I can get my mom to make some authentic Chinese food, just don’t ask all the time.

The fact that I speak another language fluently is fascinating to some of my peers. However, it can be pretty awkward being asked to teach people how to say “I hate math class” all the time. Sometimes, I’m treated like a trick animal. It’s always “say this” or “say that.” Perhaps because of the homogenous nature of my area, it’s rare to have people speak other languages. This is going to sound demeaning but it’s pretty easy to find videos of people speaking foreign languages on the internet, you know?

Racist jokes. Those are the worst. They don’t happen often. I remember when we were studying China in my AP Comparative Government class, one student would often make racist jokes about how all the Chinese politicians looked the same. He even made a joke about Asian women being poor drivers. Well, excuse me. I don’t particularly take offense to them because I usually give people that benefit of the doubt that they don’t realize that they may be racist. However, I did go on a huge tirade in my head about his racist remarks. They will be shared with him if he ever makes comments similar to those again.
You know, maybe I just overreact to simple questions or comments that some people think I shouldn’t be offended or irritated by. Maybe I should just accept them. However, I feel that due to the multicultural nature of America, it’s important to respect other ethnicities and cultures. People shouldn’t be drawing stereotypes and making racist comments that pertain to someone’s ethnicity. Sure, I’m different, but maybe you should use that opportunity to learn more about the unique culture that I come from.

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the author

Jenny Zhang is a freshman at the University of Pennsylvania, who is thinking about majoring in economics (but that is definitely not set in stone). She has many talents such as falling asleep anywhere at any time (this can be verified by her roommate) and procrastinating. Jenny likes to spend a lot of her time on YouTube watching baby videos and obsessing over anything Jeremy Lin-related while eating various forms of food that are high in sugar and/or fat. She is currently trying to learn how to play Ultimate Frisbee to avoid the Freshman 15 and attempting to perfect her street-crossing techniques. Her spirit animal is a panda. You can follow her on Twitter @JenKnee_Z

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  1. Happy on December 21, 2013

    This is an amazing article Jenny. I can tell this all really came from the heart, and it shows.

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