Miami is considered one of the most diverse cities in the United States. Coming here, I expected to add to this diversity but when I look around, I feel more alone than I have in a while. I don’t see many Asians. In fact, doing further research about this, I found that Miami-Dade County has less than two percent of Asians.
I hardly ever think about being Asian-American, or an Asian. But over the past six weeks here, I’ve received far too many reminders that myself and other Asians and Asian-Americans are “outsiders.”
I often laugh along with fellow Asians and Asian-Americans laughing at stereotypes and reclaiming our narrative but it stops becoming funny when I get the same statements from non-Asians. For instance, a few weeks back, I laughed when I saw a Facebook post about the South Korean soccer players swapping jerseys so that their opponents would be thrown off. The head coach said “… it is very difficult for Westerners to distinguish between Asians, and that’s why we did that.” The next day at work, after that morning’s World Cup soccer match, someone came to me yelling, “You guys won!” But Korea didn’t play; it was Japan. I didn’t know what to say. I laughed awkwardly.
These wrong assumptions don’t stop at my work, they follow me on my commute to and from work and in my daily life around Miami. Just this week, I’ve been approached by strangers who said hello to me in different Asian languages that I don’t understand. I’ve learned that Asians are usually referred to, in Spanish, as “chinita,” which means Chinese female. I’ve never had this frequent experience of Asians being lumped into one entity.
This narrative sadly follows me into my DukeEngage group of seemingly educated and socially-aware young students. At the beginning of the program, a student told me that she was surprised to see an Asian in a program focused on immigrant communities. I wasn’t sure what to make out of this then. But again, earlier this week, my friends in the program and I were talking about study-abroad opportunities at Duke. One student asked if I was planning to study abroad and I told her that I wasn’t too sure. Another student, quick to “come to my defense,” explained to the rest of the group that I was technically studying abroad since I am in the States and my family now lives in Korea. I had to remind this student and the rest of the group that I was born in America and that English is my first language.
I’ve brushed off these comments with a laughter, but I was upset and am still upset. I wasn’t sure of how to deal with these problems, but maybe I should confront people about my discomforts. None of these instances happened out of malice. People were unaware. Maybe I can use these experiences as an opportunity to inform them.
I’ve never been a fan of confronting people, but I think it gives me the perfect opportunity to get out of my comfort zone.