Asian American students share their cultural struggles

Natalie Phan, social media manager & web editor

Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, Asian Americans have reported more cases of racism and discrimination. The Asian Pacific Policy and Planning Council found that between March and June, 2,031 Asians have reported cases of discrimination. But being cast as the boogeyman isn’t a new role for Asian Americans.
The Yellow Peril plagued Americans of the 19th and 20th centuries. Chinese Americans during the Cold War faced the brutal realities of the “red scare.” Asian Americans have long been the recipients of American jokes and insults. They have been the recipients of stereotypes they never asked for. They have been long seen as bad drivers, seductive dragon ladies, or tiger moms. For Asian American students, there’s a new title: academic overachiever.

Kapaun Mt. Carmel’s Asian American student population wants everyone to know that they’re more than that, especially sophomore Cecilia Nguyen.

“I’m not smart because I’m Asian. I’m smart because I study. I feel like that stereotype just diminishes the hard work Asians actually put in,” Nguyen said.

Since childhood, Nguyen has faced countless different stereotypes and racist encounters.
“One time this kid sat next to me on the computer. He googled Asians eating dogs and started laughing at the pictures. I wasn’t fazed by it, but this was one out of the many moments of racism I see in school because of how normalized racism against Asians is.”

Because of COVID-19, Asians and Asian Americans have experienced a new form of racism. Like many Asians, sophomore and Filipina Sage Goco has had coronavirus-related concerns about racial targeting. Even a small trip to the grocery store with her small group of Asian friends worried her.

“I feel like racism towards Asians is such a normalized thing now,” Goco said. “A lot of Asians, including myself shrug it off, or take it like a joke, but in reality, it’s kind of hurtful seeing how common racism is.”

“We’re not necessarily numb to these things. From this pandemic alone, I have heard of situations from Asian exchange students and from fellow classmates. I’ve heard things about how we caused COVID-19, or have heard people telling some of my friends to go back to their own country,” Goco said.

But in Goco’s case, her worries are often replaced by relief. Her trip to the grocery store ended with a non-Asian woman treating her and her friends with kindness.

Sophomore Havily Vu knows firsthand the hurt racism can bring. She was on her way to leave a roller rink, but as she was just a few feet away from the door, a child, only about 10 years old, appeared. He yelled to her, “Hey! Do you have corona?” and chuckled to his friends.

Vu was mortified. “I didn’t think things like this occurred in real life. That was definitely the first time in a while I’ve received such a comment,” Vu said. “The other things I’ve heard is [sic] ‘Do you eat dog?’, ‘Can you say something (usually their name) in Asian for me?’, ‘Are you Chinese/Japanese/Korean/etc.’, ‘You’re Vietnamese? I thought you were Asian?,’ ‘Ching chong!’”

“The ignorance is shocking, but I’ve heard them multiple times so I’ve gotten used to such things. Thankfully, I haven’t heard any of these since elementary schools, excluding the last one. That one was in eighth grade,” Vu said.
But for many Asian American teenagers, like Vu, racism isn’t the most difficult experience; instead, it can be walking the tightrope of being “too Asian” or “not Asian enough.”

“I can only speak the basics of Vietnamese. This really affects my life in a negative way. My entire life I have been unable to communicate with my grandparents, and it’s heartbreaking. Being surrounded by family (like cousins) that are fluent have made me feel almost like an ‘inferior Asian,’” Vu said.

“Being Asian American has surprisingly affected my life greatly. I often find myself to be confused in class discussions about family lifestyle. It was eye opening as a child to hear about how others lived.” Vu said. “I would be shocked to hear that my friends were able to wear shoes in the house, didn’t own a rice cooker or didn’t know how to use chopsticks. Little things like that made any cultural differences evident.”

Sophomore Lexie Wilbert is half Caucasian and half Filipino. The confusion between cultures is real for her.

“Sometimes it can be a bit difficult to bring both cultures together. I remember one of my cousins on my Caucasian side attended a Filipino event, and they were so confused,” said Wilbert. “However, I wouldn’t expect them to completely understand a whole different tradition. Sometimes my Caucasian cousins/family will question me about the difference in cultures, but I’d like to see it in a way of them being curious.”