Recognize me more than just my nationality


Race and culture are huge parts of me that impact many of my daily decisions and actions. However, sometimes they become the only thing that people care about. Photo credit: Christine Park

By Xinyan Fu, Columnist

As a person who enjoys meeting new people, I hate introducing myself. To be more specific, I hate telling people where I’m from while doing self-introductions because some people are only interested in the fact that I am from China and will start asking me tons of questions about my home country.

Don’t get me wrong, I love telling people about my culture. But sometimes people treat me like an expert of Chinese culture who knows absolutely everything that’s happening in China, and sometimes, they forget that I’m more than just Chinese. In my last job interview, I answered questions mostly related to China, as if all of my experiences at Emerson matter less than my nationality and my skin color.

Race and culture are huge parts of myself that impact many of my daily life decisions and actions. However, it sometimes annoys me when people seem to not care about anything else.

The first time I felt objectified as an Asian occurred the summer before I first came to Emerson, when I met a guy on Facebook who messaged me after I posted something in the accepted student group. I thought he was just trying to be friendly, so we talked during the summer. But later, after the orientation, I found out that he was messaging all of my East Asian friends, trying to befriend and even flirt with them. He even created a WeChat account, which is pretty odd since WeChat is a social media app whose users are mostly Chinese or foreigners who live in China. I started to question if he wanted to be friends with me just because I’m East Asian, and for no other reason.

Another example occurred very recently, during a casual night after coming back from the laundry room. While I was waiting outside for my roommate to get the door for me, one of my neighbors opened their door. He glanced at me, turned back, and with a voice loud enough for me to hear, told the people in his room there is “a Chinese girl” outside. I felt very offended because it was totally out of the blue. Instead of asking my name and why I’m standing there at 9 p.m. with all my laundry, he chose to describe me as “a Chinese girl,” as if I am nothing else.

I’m tired of these generalizations because I’m more than just a Chinese girl. I’m Chinese, but there is so much more to me than just Chinese food and pandas. I’m also Hakka, known as “guest families” in Mandarin, which is an ethnic branch from Han Chinese. I’m a daughter and a sister; I’m a student, a traveler, a writer, and a graphic designer. As much as I love informing people about interesting facts regarding China and Chinese culture, I’m tired of people overemphasizing my nationality.

Such generalizations don’t just happen to me. Around two weeks ago, my friend and I walked by P.F. Chang’s, an Asian restaurant in City Place, and we noticed a dish on the menu called “Asian Mac and Cheese.” Both of us burst into laughter at the same time. What even is “Asian Mac and Cheese?” Asia, the largest and most populous continent on earth, a continent typically divided into five main regions with 48 countries, is too big to simply have one Mac and Cheese.

I wish people could see the individual side of me more often. I understand that many people are trying to be respectful and woke by centering on their small-talk questions around another’s race and ethnicity. However, when putting race or cultural background as the dominant aspect of one person, it is an objectification that groups together each person from the same race or ethnicity as a part of their race or ethnicity. In other words, perceiving me merely as Asian or Chinese denies my existence as an individual. It is another subtle form of racism.

Nevertheless, I’m not suggesting that we should ignore race or ethnicity, because over-emphasizing one’s individuality could also deny the significance of race since it often results in obscuring and maintaining racism. My race and ethnicity should still be a part of me, but not everything about me. Every race is defined by the people, but every person is defined more than just their race.

I hope that one day, I can be perceived as “Xinyan, a girl from China who enjoys writing,” instead of “a Chinese girl, named Xinyan, who likes writing.”