Tag: race relations

PSA: Not all ‘Asians’ look the same. You don’t know me!

So, I get recognised and remembered a lot. I know. You’re thinking I must be a big deal. People everywhere tell me they know me from somewhere.

“Oh,” I’ll say in an airy tone, “I get that all the time…”

But seriously. I do get it all the time.

And the reason is not that glamourous.

It’s because I’m…

ASIAN.

And a whole bunch of people seem to think ‘we’ all look the same. Yes. That.

I’m always probably related to someone. Or the SPITTING IMAGE of someone’s best friend (ahem – I think their Asian friend needs to get better friends who pay more attention to them). Or didn’t I come into the store the other day for that thing? Nope. Nope. Nope. Wasn’t me.

No. It was definitely you! You bought the thingy with the other thingies and we talked about stuff and things!  

Um. No it wasn’t. I didn’t do it. I have an alibi.

Pretty sure it was you. 

Nope.

Let’s agree to disagree. I’ll just stare at you like you’ve got it wrong until you feel uncomfortable and leave, OK? 

Um. OK.

Unless there’s some crazy doppelgänger of mine out there, I’d say it’s not just some crazy coincidence. Unlike that amazing Twinsters doco (you can find it on Netflix), which made me secretly fantasise that I did indeed have a twin I didn’t know about. How wild would that be???

Years ago, a mutual ‘friend’ confused me with another of my friends (who is also adopted from Korea but looks not much like me). We are still not impressed.

Did you know that Chinese people look different from Thai people, who look different from Japanese people, who look different from Indonesian people, who look different from Korean people (and that’s not even covering anywhere near all of the regions and countries)? Yes. That’s right. We are all different. And even then, our looks might not dictate our culture (as in my case as an adoptee). Also, just like ‘white/Western looking’ people, we are all as unique and as similar as anyone else – who would have thought.  ‘Asian’ is not a nationality, y’all!

I am not going to intimately understand the life of your Chinese sister in law. Or your Filipino aunty by marriage. Unless, you know, I’ve actually met them.

Yes, I am aware of the Gangnam Style dance, along with the rest of the Western world. No. I will not do it.

It can honestly be as simple as treating each person as an individual. Getting to know them. Seeing them for who they are (and listening when they tell us).  I think it’s simply ignorance that stops people from being able to get past the ‘they all look the same’ concept.

Expose yourselves to people of all different races and nationalities. Learn about all of the world’s cultures and show an interest in those who defy the stereotypes. Let people tell you about themselves and really listen. Your life will get way more awesome.

~ PSA Over ~

Peace out! ✌️

This video is seriously my life 😂

Asian faces and my girl crush.

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Less than a week before we depart for our once in a lifetime family holiday to Korea (where I was born and adopted from) and Japan for the first time, I have been soaking up just about anything Korea related – news, TV documentaries, anecdotes from friends etc. It’s like I’ve got some crazy radar for it all of a sudden.

Of course, I was excited to find out that the show Sunday Night was going to feature Dami Im* (Australia’s 2013 Korean-Australian X Factor winner) revisiting her home country. It was so great to see footage of places I might see. The hustle and bustle of Seoul and Dami’s take on the Korean culture. Not to mention the ominous DMZ (demilitarised zone) between South Korea and North Korea. A place I still can’t decide on whether I have the guts to visit.

It is here that I must make a big confession. This ‘alternative’ music lover (who secretly thinks she’s too cool for a lot of pop music) has a ginormous girl crush on Dami. Since she stepped onto the stage for her first X Factor audition (a show I love to hate), I have been in awe of her and so so excited. Each time I see her face on the TV screen or in my social media feeds, I feel so happy inside. Like giddy, almost.

Why?

Because she is just what I needed when I was a little girl. Growing up, a Korean face in a Western world filled with the ‘white’ ideal of beauty, I often felt inferior. I didn’t see Asian faces in the Western pop culture world. Except the occasional Lucy Liu in Charlie’s Angels and other bit parts. Yeah, I knew Asian girls could be ‘pretty’ but just not as pretty as white girls. The more ‘white’ an Asian girl looked, the more she seemed to be accepted…and well, I just looked totally Asian.

I encountered both casual and overt racism throughout my childhood and while it never broke my spirit, it did considerably dent my self image. The teen me would never have dreamed that one day a Korean Australian could one day be voted for by so many Australians that they might win the title of a nationally televised singing competition. She appeared each week on that stage wearing amazing costuming and couture fashion. Styled and so so pretty. Most of all, her talent spoke for her.

She hasn’t had the surgery to achieve more “Western” eyes. She wears her hair shorter like me. Her lipstick gets stuck on her teeth. She’s a little gummy when she grins (hehe hope she wouldn’t mind me saying that). Just like me.

I have only just turned 30 and so much has changed even since I was a little girl. Dami would never have seemed like a possibility back then. Maybe there were people I’ve forgotten or didn’t notice at the time (apologies to anyone who did try to pave the way) but they never made an impact on me for whatever reasons at the time.

I would see the occasional guest star on Aussie shows, but the token Asian story lines were always dismal and then the actor/actress would just fade into obscurity in the blink of an eye.

Now I see beautiful Asian faces reading the news. I see American shows like Hawaii Five O (filled with attractive and ridiculously ageless Korean American faces) and Elementary (I do love me some Lucy Liu). I see Eurasian faces all over the place. Not only does that mean my parents’ generation did a lot of interracial bonking (haha ew) but it signals a cultural change. I feel SO SO happy for my Little Mister that while he grows up, he will see so many mixed race faces in the media that he may never doubt (like really truly) that he is awesome. That what he looks like or where his parents are from does not make him any less attractive or accepted by mainstream Australia (the ones who aren’t ignorant bigots – every society has them).

See, I grew up with lots of friends. I knew that the majority of people are not racist idiots. I just didn’t think people fully believed that I could be as attractive as a white girl. We were all brainwashed by what we saw in the media and the realms of pop culture. I felt that very few boys found that I compared to my attractive white friends. I would compensate by putting my walls up and staying in the friend zone.

So…Dami is a pretty big deal to me. She is also the first Asian Australian to win such a competition here (hope I’ve got my facts right). She is making history.

I loved what her and Dannii Minogue (her mentor and now friend) said about how to stand out from a population of around 50 million people in Korea. Go to Australia and win X-Factor, Dami laughed. It made me realise just how much I’d prefer to stand out here than to blend in over there. I have no chance of singing on X Factor (I sound like a strangled cat), but I know I get my chances to shine in life and that people tend to take notice, when I have an interesting back story (however many curses that blessing can sometimes bring) and a slightly different face (although – as I’ve mentioned that may all be changing). What a positive spin on it. Something to remember when being different gets me down a little.

So yes. Dami turns me into an embarrassingly emotional fan girl. And this is why. So don’t judge me. OK?

 

*Apologies if this link expires (it includes footage of the interview)

Sometimes you just have to laugh.

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Being an intercultural/international adoptee has its challenges sometimes. People are never quite sure where you fit into the scheme of things. Are you Asian? Are you Australian? Are you somewhere in between? But how can that be? Why does she not look like her parents? Is she related by blood to her brother? WHAT IS THAT CHICK’S DEAL?

I think it can be human nature to want to categorise people into a nice neat picture in our minds, so that everything can make sense and we can go on with our day. Funny humans. And I’m just talking about the first five minutes in which we meet someone!!

I think that being ‘different’ in the way that I am has taught me to try harder not to make snap judgements or to at least keep an open enough mind (I am not a perfect person myself and still very human). I know what it’s like to be judged incorrectly based on a quick glance! It can be very frustrating when someone sees (and hears) what they want to. It’s actually quite hilarious how people are so determined to stick to their original idea of you. Gosh, they struggle as I throw them broken stereotype after broken stereotype!

I have had people of both sides of the fence (Asian people and those of other races and cultures) do this! I have had people swear black and blue that I have an Asian accent, that my name MUST be of Asian origin (it’s so not) and once I was quite shocked to find that I was collecting a custom made set of venetian blinds under a weird, invented Asian mangling of my actual name (which is Mr Unprepared’s very non Asian surname). This was all after I had taken great pains to spell it correctly for the lady behind the counter…It really is true that people see what they want to see – what a limited way to view the world!

I can tell people as many times as I like that I was adopted into an Aussie family (read: white/Anglo) at the tender age of five months old and they will still be obsessed with my “Asian-ness”. I’ll still be asked questions about my culture and my Asian family. I usually give up at that point haha. I don’t think I was born into an Asian vacuum and grew up in my adoptive (read: real) family as this little chopstick using, rice munching, child piano prodigy while everyone else just went on being Aussie around me!!! And no, those aren’t my views of what ‘real’ Asian people are like – I am just joking, using the silly stereotypes that are out there to prove my point.

I used to get very angry and hurt when things like this happened. I hated being different. I would cry over it. I would analyse it for days. I would take it very personally. It would even be hard to laugh about (although I would give it a good crack).

Now I must be older and wiser, because although I can despair at the state of peoples’ ignorance in this world we exist in, I realise that it says so much more about them than it does about me. SO much more. I feel lucky to have a front row view of what life can be like when you’re forced to think outside the box. When you embrace it and choose it. I have been known to throw a witty comeback or two in my time when someone’s really sh*tting me to tears (usually those who are overtly racist and don’t mind me knowing about the fact that I’d never be able to change their minds), but I also see that I have a great opportunity to educate those who might mean well, but have NO idea what they’re talking about! I can talk to them about my story (they’re nosy and curious enough that I know they’ll listen), share my history, show them that I am not what they first perceived me to be. I can make them think. They might share the story with their other less than enlightened friends or family, “Hey, you never know if a person is adopted or something…I once met this chick who…”

I’ve also started to laugh more. Not just putting on a brave face laughing, but genuine, OH THIS IS GOLD, laughs. Sometimes even laughs that come from a loving place (even if I sort of think someone is a bit of an idiot). Oh, bless. This poor person is digging a hole for themselves. I think I’d better lift them out before it gets too embarrassing for them. Poor love. I don’t mean that in a patronising way (at least I hope it’s not), but more in a compassionate way. They don’t know any better and who knows what has happened in their lives to shelter them from more…progressive points of view. It would be mean of me to judge them straight up too (I can save that for later haha).

Here are some FAQs/events I’ve experienced…

“Are you teaching him your language?”

Often, it’s someone speaking with respect and awe, because in their minds they have made up a story where I myself am bilingual and I am amazing and my child is lucky because he will grow to be bilingual too. All based on the fact that I am Asian in appearance. I think they’re always a little disappointed when I set them straight and let them know I am just as single-lingual (made that word up) as they claim to be.

I’m just a boring English speaker. Boo.

“What is he a mix of?”

People are naturally curious about the Little Mister’s appearance. He is one gorgeous bi-racial kid (who I never think of as such because he’s just our kid and being of a different race to Mr Unprepared never enters the equation either – we’re just a couple). People who are with someone of another race are curious about what their own future children might look like, those who aren’t exposed to bi-racial relationships are just curious. There is also the stereotyped belief that mixed race children are the most attractive, so there is a huge expectation before they’re born. When I was pregnant, I kept joking, “What if he comes out unattractive? That’ll disappoint the masses!”

I get that. I was even curious haha.

It’s just weird when people refer to my son as if he is simply a mixed breeding project. A genetic experiment.

“What’s he a mix of? What’s the dad?” (no kidding – direct quote)

Um…he’s not a dog! I so wish I’d thought faster the last time this happened. I would have said, “He’s a labradoodle.”

“Is your husband Asian too?”

I don’t know why this is important to people! I don’t know why, but some people believe that Asian people only spend time with other Asian people, socially or romantically. I am sure that culturally, ‘real’ Asians (aka not me haha) may be drawn together based on common backgrounds etc but that is not everyone! You can’t generalise like that!

I don’t even know how it is still a novelty that people of different races should be attracted to each other. I did not grow up “Asian”, so why would I automatically seek out an Asian person? Not saying there’s anything wrong with that or that other Asian adopted people haven’t done so (I wouldn’t know either way and don’t mind nor care – that’s their business).

I think some people really want things to ‘make sense’. They need to be able to categorise me. Knowing what race I’m married to seems to be a part of their ‘sorting’ process. Putting together a picture.

I would really hope that race would be the last thing people would want to know about my relationship, but oh well…

Also…NONE OF YOUR BUSINESS, STRANGER I JUST MET AT THE SHOPS!

“She speaks good English.”

This is often meant as a huuuuge compliment. I have had it said to my face often, but the occasion that took the cake was at a Subway sandwich chain. The sandwich artist was making up Mr Unprepared’s and my sandwiches separately (we are both a bit particular). We left the store and Mr Unprepared said, “Wow. I was waiting for you to start going off in there. I can’t believe you took what she said so well!”

I was all like, “Wait…what?”

I had been so obsessed with my yummy lunch that I hadn’t heard the lady say to him, “She speaks good English, doesn’t she!”

I laughed at first and joked about what I would have said or done if I had heard her comment. I then stewed a bit. She had told my husband I spoke good English. Not me. Like I was not worthy of being spoken to directly – like my husband was my keeper. That old stereotype about submissive Asian wives flown over as some sort of mail order (I know that sounds presumptuous of me but several other events have verified my suspicions over time). Like, even though I knew ‘good English’, I wasn’t going to understand a simple comment about my language skills. What the…?

That is my pet hate of a stereotype above any other. Mostly because it places me below others in my own society. Also, HE IS NOT MY TRANSLATOR.

I’ll have you know, I topped English a couple of years throughout high school…even against all those white, Aussie kids (hahaha).

“The pressure from your parents to perform well at uni must be difficult.”

OK, so this only happened once. It shocked me. It was in a counselling unit I was studying at uni. We were learning through doing. We were role playing out real counselling sessions with our classmates, in order to practice and learn important skills.

We were supposed to be practicing active listening skills and being open minded to our ‘client’s’ situations. I had chosen my ‘issue’ for the day to be about struggling to juggle a FIFO husband and my university studies, because I felt that when Mr Unprepared was home, life got so busy and I felt like I wasn’t finding the time to dedicate to my assignments and readings. I had outlined my situation and my feelings in depth (as I was prompted to do) and when it came time for her to show she had taken in what I’d said, she said, “I can see how it must be hard to meet the expectations of your parents with your academic life…”

WAIT…HOLD UP…WHAT?!

I hadn’t mentioned my parents even once. They were not any part of the issue. I was a married adult living in my own home with my husband and juggling my own independent life. Which I had just spent ages describing.

Not every parent of an Asian person is a “tiger” parent, nor is every parent of an Asian person Asian (I’m proof haha)!!!! Nor is every Asian parent all up in their adult kids’ grilles, I imagine!! Nor is every non Asian parent NOT all up in their adult children’s grilles, by the way!

Needless to say, I quietly let my superior know that this had occurred in a session. I really hope my classmate was given a learning opportunity at that time. I hope it helps this person to be a better counsellor as they continue in their career. I do really wish I’d gently confronted her directly afterwards, but I was a bit younger and more chicken sh*t back then.

Being adopted is my unique situation that is often misunderstood, but I bet there isn’t a human being out there who hasn’t at some point had a snap judgement made about them by someone who they do not know. I think we should all try to be a little more open minded and to remember that we don’t know all of someone’s story – maybe we should wait and listen to it, as opposed to telling the other person what their story is because we imagined it that way!

I know I’m trying to live this each and every day and I hope I’m succeeding for the most part!

What stuff has someone got wrong about you before?