Monday, March 14, 2011

On Being "American"

On a daily basis, I find myself having to argue with a Chinese local that I truly am an American.

"But you don't look like an American.  You look like us.  Like an Asian."

Pushing my heavy sighs aside, I try to explain that America is a diverse place where there are all sorts of different people.  "In fact," I remind them, "people of Asian, African, and Latin descent have been in American longer than you've been alive.  Not to mention the real native Americans.  So really, 'Americans' don't look any certain way."  Usually, they're confused because "Americans" are all supposed to look like Cameron Diaz or Julia Roberts or this young woman here:

and move on with their day convinced that I'm just nuts and all Americans still look like a moving Eddie Bauer advertisement.  On occasion, I'll meet someone who is truly perplexed by this whole idea that an entire country couldn't be populated by a bunch of people who share similar physical characteristics.  It takes a while to explain to them that most Americans don't live the way Ross and Rachel do on Friends, and that you can't depend on television or movies to determine what you believe about an entire country full of people.  (Same goes for the Americans who assume that all Chinese know kung fu.)

You can imagine how upsetting it is to see a video like this circulating the net when I spend hours explaining to my students that not all Americans are racist (though many still are), that somehow we manage to find a way to live together and respect- or even appreciate- our differences, and that things like being polite or non-confrontational aren't solely traits of Chinese culture.  It's not worth it to go into the many ways in which this young woman is misinformed in her thinking and in need of some serious diversity training.  I know we've still got a long way to go, but one hopes for something far greater from the educated youth of America, especially in a place as diverse as LA.

As a teacher, my goal is to broaden the scope of my students' understanding of an ever-shrinking world.  As an American, my goal is to break a stereotype about who I am and what I am not.  Both are difficult here, and it's so disheartening to see how it's still such an uphill battle back home.  With great hope, we shake it off and press on. 

C'mon America.  You're better than this.

1 comment:

  1. Yes, mine too. Not to be passed over are all the snide remarks given to those of us with strong European roots. For example, my grandfather was Irish, my Gran was English-Canadian and yet directly descended from John and John Quincy Adams through her mother's line.

    When all is said and done, you and I are indeed Americans. It's a lovely land to be from too. Those small-minded souls who spout off their ignorant prejudices, I believe, are swiftly becoming the minority and no longer the majority. Let's hope so anyway, as they do indeed give the rest of us a bad (and wrong) image to the rest of the world.