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The Wildcat Tribune

Learning to take pride in my background in the face of ignorance

Amanda Su, Student Life Editor

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A few weeks ago, I decided to leave the small sheltered town of San Ramon and made my way to the city of Los Angeles for the first time with the Wildcat Tribune to attend a national journalism conference. I had spent hours packing articles I wanted to show to fellow student journalists and sets of pens so I could scribble down everything I learned.

And in the end, although I did learn about reporting, leadership and design, more significantly, I learned that in the midst of my scramble to make new friends and meet new people, not everyone wanted wanted to make friends with me.

The first day at the conference, I had the pleasure of being situated in a cramped elevator with several of my classmates as well as some other students from other schools. Right as one of the boys from a different school on the elevator was about to step out, he says to me, “Have a nice day” in an exaggerated, purposefully mocking Chinese accent. It took me a while to comprehend what had just happened and as I looked around and saw others snickering, I felt defeatedly alone.

The next day, as I was walking down to breakfast with my friends, a man, who was not Chinese, was biking down the street. As he passed by, he tried to speak intentionally bad Chinese to us in a taunting manner. Relentlessly heckling and bothering us with multiple “Ni Hao’s” and then he biked off laughing. 

And later that evening, when our whole class went to tour Hollywood, one of the street performers was yelling at a group of Chinese tourists, myself, and my other Asian classmates, since we just happened to all have the same skin color. “Ni Hao! Ni hao! Money money! Xie Xie! Xie Xie!” Then he proceeded to say, “You don’t want to see me? Go back to China. I don’t like China. I like America. In China there’s just Chinese people.” Then he laughed.

People could easily tell me that the comments I experienced were definitely not as racist and offensive as some of the things other people experience on a daily basis and that I should just “suck it up.” Which is true and I recognize that. But as a high school girl who had worn rose colored glasses her entire life, it was a huge culture shock for me to go from the suburban town of San Ramon to Los Angeles and immediately come face to face with these kinds of jokes and have people laugh right in my face after commenting something so blatantly offensive and rude. 

The thing is, technically I could have said to those people in perfect English, “I am an American citizen. I speak English. I’m not an ‘uneducated’ immigrant so I’m not really the subject of your joke.” I didn’t say it because I was scared of taking on people twice my size. But I also believed deep down that they weren’t really making fun of me. When I first encountered these people, I was more annoyed at the fact that they automatically stereotyped me and assumed I was an immigrant. I don’t have a Chinese accent. I don’t speak Chinese in public. I wasn’t born in China. The joke wasn’t about me. Instead of feeling angry about them daring to make fun of my race and culture, I instead felt embarrassed and humiliated about them assuming I was something that I was sure I wasn’t. I don’t deserve to be the victim of their “Chinese” joke because I am technically American. 

Yet as I thought about calling my parents for comfort, I was overcome with guilt. At 3 a.m. the next morning, in a state of tears and delirium, I concluded undoubtedly: I’m not an immigrant. But my parents are. And I am who my parents made me.

I am proud to be Chinese and proud to be associated with its culture and with the hard work of my parents. I come from a respectable family. Both my parents have at least graduate school level degrees; my dad in particular has a P.h.D in Computer Science from UC Berkeley. Both my parents work very respectable jobs in the field of Computer Science and my dad is also currently a professor at UC Davis. Every single day, they work 24/7 to provide me with the best education possible.

Yet I still remember a story my dad told me from his childhood while he and his family were still poor. Last year when I had to interview him for my freshman year English project on the “American Dream” he said, “When I was young, most people in China were pretty poor, including my family. One thing I still remember is one time my grandpa and I went to a small market and he bought a few meat buns with the little money we had. I was so hungry so I started to eat. After I finished a couple, I just noticed that my grandpa watching me, smiling. He wasn’t eating anything and sacrificed his meal for the day just so I could have more.”

My parents went from essentially living in poverty in China to living in one of the most affluent neighborhoods in California. I recognize I was born into privilege. I also understand that my parents worked to get me that privilege. I was so hasty to think after experiencing these comments “I’m not an immigrant. They aren’t making fun of me. I can just ignore them.” I immediately rejected the “Chinese” part of myself to convince myself that those racist jokes didn’t apply to me. But after further contemplation, my anger became less about how I felt stereotyped as an uneducated immigrant and more about how easy it was for people to think that being an immigrant was something to make fun of.

Sadly, the world will always have ignorant people. There’s only so much I can do about the mentality of others, but there’s something I can adjust about my own. Knowing that “although I am not an immigrant, it’s a part of who I am” gave me strength and the knowledge that I should take pride in the culture that my parents brought to America and raised me with.

Because in reality, those comments didn’t tear me down. They strengthened me. If it hadn’t been for the prejudice I faced, I would never have been reminded that the same blood that my parents shed while running to school in shoes they made of cloth also runs through my veins. So I will continue to work hard and honor them.

Through this experience, I learned to continue to do what I love, even if others try to convince me I can’t succeed or don’t deserve to, and continue to have confidence in my ability to succeed, not in spite of my culture, but because of it.

It’s easy for us as American-born citizens to reject the “immigrant” part of us in the face of racism since we feel the need to disassociate ourselves from “those people” the jokes are directed towards.

However, I will never never forget the sacrifices my immigrant parents have made for me to give me the privileges I have today. Because behind my privilege as a citizen in this country, is the sweat and blood of my parents. 

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The official student news site of Dougherty Valley High School.
Learning to take pride in my background in the face of ignorance