The Thorny Issue of Race

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “Asian girl”? (I refer here to East-Asia as opposed to the middle east, like India). Small, demure, sweet, submissive? To an extent, you’d be right. I know lots of Asian girls like that. However, in Lausanne alone I have befriended so far three other girls who smash the stereotype to smithereens. They are the most outgoing people I’ve met here, yet all three are even more Asian than me: they have all either spent most of their lives in Asian countries, and/or speak an Asian language fluently. I can boast neither of these qualities, but being undeniably Asian in appearance, I’d probably get lumped into the same category.

Here, in this little community of international students, everyone inevitably asks where everyone else is from. My response is, of course, England. For anyone not from England or America there’s always a slight pause, then, “et tes origines?” -and originally? Can I legitimately claim to be Chinese? I don’t think so; so I say, “mes parents sont chinois” – my parents are Chinese.

It is an unfair stereotype, yet concurrently there is no denying that there is a tendency for Asian girls who hail from Asian countries (as opposed to being born and bred in the west like myself) to be bashful and reticent. There is an equally unfair stereotype in the East that western girls (European and American) are brazen and sexually promiscuous; similarly, there is no denying that there are girls like that. Where do the stereotypes end and the reality begin?

I find it ironic and hilarious that my Asian friends are the boldest girls I’ve met so far here. For me personally it doesn’t help that I’m a kind of giant in Asian terms, even without my heels on. During a phonetics class, I managed to slow everything down when everyone was chanting their nationality – e.g. “j’suis suisse“, “j’suis russe“, “j’suis bresilien“. When it came to my turn…”euh…j’suis…anglaise et chinoise?” What was I supposed to say? It felt a bit ridiculous to call myself English, when I have an unmistakably Chinese face, but it was a phonetics class, all about accent, so I couldn’t really say “Chinese” because I can’t speak it. Crise d’identité anyone?

One could argue that, in the global village we now live in where lines of nationality are being blurred and everyone is mixing more and more, people like I are at the spearhead of a new, truly international humanity. Nevertheless it can often be an uncomfortable place to be in, neither here nor there. It sometimes feels as if there is a pre-conception placed upon me, and whichever way I go I will be judged on how much or little I conform to that received idea.

So the stereotype might live on, buoyed by the fulfilment of it more or less by the majority of Asian girls. But, with the help of a few friends, I’m certainly seeing this perspective change in the faces of the Europeans I encounter. We may look sweet, but we’re leading the revolution and re-evaluation of what it means to be Asian. We’re far from promiscuous, aggressive or offensive, but I wonder sometimes if people might not think I’m/we’re just absolutely mad. Well, we wouldn’t want to be any other way.

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One thought on “The Thorny Issue of Race

  1. Pingback: Stereotype Me! | The Fondue Files

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