Why Do We Still Treat Asian-Americans as Foreigners?

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One of the things I have continued to notice is how people seem to constantly look at Asian-Americans as foreigners, ignoring them as American citizens.

Questions such as ‘Where are you from?”, “Where were you born?”, usually come before more racist questions such as ‘Do you eat dog/cat?”, “Did your parents own a Chinese food shop?”, and “Do you like sushi?”

The problem with questions such as these is that people tend to put emphasis on someone else’s Asian ethnicity, completely tossing aside the idea that they may have been born in raised in America, or even that their parents may have been born in America. The idea that if someone is other than white or African American must be a foreigner can have negative repercussions on people, especially those who uphold specific cultures and customs.

For example, Indians who choose to wear traditional Indian clothing, such as saris or kurta-pajama may be looked at as foreigners unwilling to “adapt” to American culture, instead of people who are choosing to wear clothing specific to their ethnicity.

Other Asian-Americans may have a cluster of inappropriate comments and generalizations made about them, comments that destroy the cultural differences between them. This is why questions such as “Do your parents own a Chinese food shop” can be offensive- it’s not that there is anything wrong with owning a Chinese food shop, or denying that Asians can own Chinese food shops- it’s the idea that you are associating being Asian-American with stereotypes, refusing to see the differences between Asian cultures in favor of a more homogenized view.

On the other side of the spectrum is the exotification and constant “need-to-know”- that is, people who treat Asian-Americans as if their ethnicity is a game, something to guess and figure out. The funny thing is, if someone were to go up to someone white and go “What is your ethnicity? Where are your ancestors from?”, they would receive odd looks.

The exotification and appropriation of Eastern cultures has a long and dirty history, as is plundering from Eastern spiritual practices in order to “spice up” Western ones. Practices such as yoga, Eastern forms of meditation, yoga, and even martial arts have all been appropriated in the West, presented here as a new form of exotic spirituality/ exercise that’s fine for everyone to do! Cultural appropriation benefits only those who are doing the appropriating, as spiritual practices that were once held sacred or of high importance in their original context are now watered down to merely an excercise done by girls in sweats or an after school activity for kids.

The exotification of Eastern countries and people is also a huge problem, as many Asian-Americans face issues regarding those who view Asian women through a hyper-sexualized lense, one in which Asian women serve only as exotic sexual conquests. Men who state how much they love Asian women are only continuing the racism against them the idea that somehow, being Asian is to be one specific type of person, with no distinction between multiple Asian cultures.

And what about those Asian-Americans who don’t practice cultural specific things? A lot of times they have their ethnicity stripped from them, as if now, since they aren’t doing anything to further “alienate” themselves from American culture, that that now makes them fully American? Why does it seem that we expect Asians to always do/ act a specific way, while it is not the same with other cultures and ethnicities? (Most) people understand that not all Black’s eat fried chicken and watermelon before washing it down with orange soda- so why does the idea that all Asian-Americans must always eat rice and fish and wash it down with tea? Why is that they are always expected to maintain stereotypes and assumptions that may Americans still have about them?

Because America still sees Asian-Americans as being  foreign, and the idea that of course a foreigner would just maintain all their foreign cultures instead embracing American culture is a prevalent one. We need to stop seeing Asian-Americans as being any different from any other Americans, while understanding that they may have a different culture from us, wear different clothing, enjoy different foods, or just simply do different things. We need to understand that you can see race and understand and accept their differences without alienating and exotifying them.

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