Photo: eric molina
THE FOLLOWING LIST was constructed in consideration of all Northeast Asian, Southeast Asian, South Asian, Pacific Islander, and HAPA Americans, whether they were born here or earned naturalized citizenship through processes administered by the US of A. Like the Italians, we hold a grudge when a grudge is called for. Thus, it is advisable that one does NOT:
Assume we don’t get angry.
If Asian-American people don’t react angrily to a dick move that would throw anyone else into a fit, it’s because they have better things to do than acknowledge your existence. Or, they are conserving their energy while they calmly await the next best opportunity to screw you over the same way you thought it was okay to try to screw them over.
Say we’re cute when we’re angry.
Continue down this road of condescension, and you’ll soon learn what the not-cute version looks like. Consider yourself warned that damages may be bodily, psychological, emotional, financial, or legal in nature.
Ask us where we’re from, or say “you look half.”
Sadly, this tends to happen more to the ladies, but really, the offense can be experienced by both sexes of any sexuality, even in supposedly more cosmopolitan or educated city centers like San Francisco or New York City. Worse, such queries are often made under the auspices of flattery or admiring curiosity. Hence, even the calmest assertion that we are offended by these ludicrous questions is met with a whole lot of talk, ranging from “Wha-a-at? It’s because you’re beautiful and I want to know your origins,” to “I love Asians!” to “You should be proud of your origins,” to “Whatever, I’m not racist.”
Here is a hint, asshole: The only right thing to do if someone calls you out for being a moron in this special way is to S.T.F.U., bow your head, and desist all attempts to interact with the victim unless they for some reason approach you for conversation first.
And…”you look half?” Half what, ass hat? Such things aren’t even assumed about stray dogs on the street. When it comes to humans, better not ask “what” they are, or worse, tell them what you think they look like they are. We are all human. Period.
Still not convinced these questions and statements are completely unacceptable, especially when posed as conversation openers or pickup lines? Just repeat the scenarios in your head with a black person or a Hispanic person, or any kind of person other than Asian. You wouldn’t do it. No, you would not, and you have not ever, so don’t pretend. You don’t even have to explain why you wouldn’t do it to African Americans or Other Americans; just be consistent and don’t do it to us, either.
When indulged with an answer to the “Where are you from?” question, persist with “No, I mean where are you really from?”
If an Asian American tells you they’re from Boston or Minnesota or Humboldt County, that’s exactly what they mean, period, and you must wrap your head around that.
So before persisting in this matter, ask yourself why you’re so convinced we’re from somewhere else, and why you fail at finding the appropriate way to ask someone about their heritage or ancestry once you get to maybe know them better and grant them the plain fact that they are first and foremost as American as you are.
In a random setting, approach an Asian person you don’t know and shout out a phrase in any Asian language you guess they speak.
Read and internalize: This is just wrong. You WILL insult everyone you accost in this manner.
Ask an Asian American if they speak English.
We’re in America, so unless you hear someone speaking only in another language, the default assumption should be that we do speak English just as well as, if not better than, you do.
Ask if we like anime or Hello Kitty.
The answer is maybe or maybe not, but it’s awful to be asked it just because we are Asian American, since anime and Hello Kitty were conceptualized in a small area of Japan.
Dismiss us as bad drivers.
This is patently untrue. If you are in Southern California and say, “It’s true, though, little Asian ladies everywhere are terrible drivers,” it’s because you’re living in an area where there Asian people at all (versus somewhere where there are next to none), and because old people are bad drivers, second only to teenagers. Also, LA is full of crappy drivers of every race. None of these facts allows the conclusion that the drivers are bad because they are Asian.
If you were in Nebraska, you’d just be saying, “Old ladies are awful drivers,” and this would be getting closer to the truth. Even then, you wouldn’t take the trouble to say “Old white ladies are awful drivers.” See the point I’m trying to drive home?
Make casual jokes or references that are ultimately about serious wars and strife that occurred in Asia or among Asian people and not applicable to the present-day situation in which you misused these jokes or references.
Here are just a couple examples. Gold star to anyone who can think of another one on their own.
1. “Me so horny; me love you long time.”
You might know these words as a refrain to a shitty club song from the early ’90s, or as a common catcall made about Asian women who are assumed to be wanting sexual acts to be performed upon them. But the line is actually a quote uttered by prostitutes from the Stanley Kubrick film Full Metal Jacket; a stylized but not entirely inaccurate expose of the horrors of the Vietnam War. I think the actress, by the way, appears again later in a climactic moment of the film, eviscerated and lying at the feet of American soldiers, eyes rolling back into her head and begging for death by the bullet.
So yeah…these words relate back to a scene about women who were actually (and not too long ago) exploited in sexual slavery, raped, killed in the crossfire, and left with diseases and children, who in turn were left with diseases and without parents, food, or education in a war-ravaged region. Not sure what’s so funny or arousing about all this, even if you meant it as a joke about an Asian female who you think is a ho’ who wants your dick (probably not).
2. When eventual gold medalist Yuna Kim of South Korea and Mao Asada of Japan went head to head in the figure skating event of the 2010 Winter Olympics, the non-Asian American commentators casually talked about how there was a lot at stake because of historical tensions between South Korea and Japan. While it is fact that Japan colonized Korea, sexually enslaved its women, and tried to eradicate the country and its language less than a century ago, World War II was more recent and you’d never hear a sports news anchor alluding to Pearl Harbor or the Holocaust in a similar situation. I think every Korean American, Japanese American, and Asian American cringed in apology of our country’s ignorance in that moment. A lot of bad shit has happened everywhere around the world, but it belongs in history and in memory, and nowhere else, least of all a rink during an international athletic event.
Nod at any mention of parent-related stress and say knowingly, “Tiger Mother?”
The person who takes credit for this term is one Chinese American woman named Amy Chua, who — in writing the self-exhibiting Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother in an attempt to justify the strict and education-obsessed parenting method imposed by her own parents — enabled all non-Asian readers to feel validated in their groundless assumptions about what an Asian parent is like because they can use a two-word catchphrase to sum up these assumptions.
No one raised by Asian or international parents can deny that cultural elements didn’t color the experience of growing up in this country. But these experiences can NOT be reduced to, or even partially described by, the words “tiger mother” and their implications any more than non-Asian parents would be captured by the words “lackadaisical breeder of underachieving American sloths.” Besides, one should hope that being raised with high expectations for work ethic, respectful behavior, educational excellence, and professional success is not a patently Asian trait. Or else Amurrrca (where Asians are still in the minority and treated as such) really is in trouble.
Say there are “too many Asians” in our good colleges.
Asian Americans still make up under 7% of the population in the whole United States, and this handy fact sheet reveals where the ‘most Asian’ schools are. But we are still generally in the minority both in this nation and in all of its educational institutions. Don’t you think it’s bizarre that no one looks at the US or Harvard and says, “America’s 77.9% white?? Only 38% of Harvard is non-white (bearing in mind that even this percentage is inflated because white people are beginning to realize they don’t have to check off their demographic box on applications)?? There are too many white people up in here. Our nation and our top universities have a white problem. It’s not fair to anyone else.” No!
It’s insane to think that the presence of high-achieving Asian Americans in our nation’s schools is coined as an “Asian problem” and discussed as such. The only problem here is our looking at America’s brightest youth and singling them out for the way they look and saying there are too many of them on campus. Seriously, WTF??
Say we’re good at numbers.
Not always true. Well okay, we’ll take the compliment to our quantitative and financial aptitude, but leave the flip side, which is the latent assumption that we don’t also rock it out in literary feats, music, art, innovation, communication, and expansive thought. And video games.
Say “You look so Asian,” or “That’s so Asian,” or “You’re not really Asian.”
Lest the reader think I’m making this into an Asian-versus-Everyone-Else tirade, Asians do this to one another quite frequently, too! To these statements, I must say: Pardon my Asian, but what’s your fucking point?