April 30, 2010

Snapshots in Diversity: Special Series- DEBORAH

In honor of Cultural Diversity Month this month I asked a few bloggers to share about their cultures. One of these bloggers was Deborah of Books, Movies, and Chinese Food. She has written a funny and poignant post to wrap up the series, so please read and leave a comment with any comments or questions you may have. Discussion is good! Thank you so much, Deborah, for sharing with us!

~I get this question all the time "So where are you from?" I reply "Well I live in No. Va now, I grew up in Hampton Roads, but I was born in Roanoke, VA". Their response is "No, I mean where are you REALLY from?" I reply again "um...the US?" The response to that is "No, what is your background, your ancestors?" It's like they're not satisfied until I admit that my family is not from the US. I also have been told I speak really good English. Um...why wouldn't I?

So to satisfy anyone out there who has been asking, my mother is from Malaysia but her family is Chinese. My father is from Burma (Myanmar) and is part of the Chin ethnic group. We call ourselves Burmese-Chinese but I guess technically we are CHIN-ese heh heh. I get asked all the time though if I'm Filipino or Vietnamese. If my picture showed up in one of those "Guess What Asian They Are" quizzes, no one would guess me.

Growing up Asian American has been difficult at times. I was one of the very few AA kids in my grade, and throughout my entire 13 years in public school, I can remember probably less than 75 kids all together who were Asian. Therefore if you were Asian, you stood out. I would get teased constantly about my eyes, all the way up to middle school. People would come up to me and pull their eyes and go "Chinese, Japanese, Siamese" at me. I seriously do NOT get the point at that. So my eyes are a little bit more squintier than Caucasian eyes. It does not mean I see less than they do.

It's expected for an AA to major in two things in college - engineering or premed. I tried out the engineering route. Really. I wanted to be a chemical engineer. Unfortunately that did not work out too well. I'm now a history major. There aren't that many Asians in history. Both in my undergrad and grad courses (so far) I'm the only Asian. If you've seen The Joy Luck Club, my life was pretty much like that. Model minority was the perfect phrase to describe us. We had to do very well in school. We got grounded for getting B's, if you got an A-, you were lectured as to why you didn't get an A. Straight A's were never rewarded, they were expected. Which was why I totally envied the kids in my class who got money for getting just B's!!!

While this all may sound like I’m bothered by being Asian American, I’m not. I might have had problems while I was growing up but now I’m proud of my heritage and who I am. I really enjoy learning more about Asian history and culture and am looking forward one day to visiting China and Burma and experiencing my history firsthand. And also eating all that yummy food.

Snapshots in Diversity (c) is a special series running on Lost in Books through the end of April. Please be sure to bookmark the blog so you can catch the next wonderfully interesting personal essay/interview.


  1. Great post! My mother is first generation American and she can totally relate to The Joy Luck Club too.

  2. I grew up with a lot of AAs (in Southern California) but they were all just American born and raised. The only difference from the rest of us kids was that some of them had to go to Korean school in the summer. I think it's interesting to know what people's ethnic backgrounds are but don't like the generic "where are you from" question!

    Rebecca, you did a great job of finding people with diverse backgrounds and experiences. Thanks for running this feature!

  3. I spent part of my childhood on a naval base in Japan- most people were Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Malaysian or a mixture. Both whites and blacks were a minority and we had a host of different religions. Coming back to a small town in the States was a culture shock. Kids used to ask "Wait, if you just came from Japan, how come you're not Japanese?"
    What did they think-- you can only go to certain countries if you match the background?
    I live in the city now. Variety is just more familiar to me.

  4. People ask me where I'm from all the time, too. Because of my odd name. They usually think I'm from Russia or something, which is just weird.

  5. It's sad how prevalent stereotyping ethnic groups still is but you are proof that it happens. My son is in high school and was talking to one of his friends who is Asian and told him that if you are Asian everyone expects you to be really smart. Since he's dyslexic and struggles in school that expectation really weighs on him. Thank you for sharing your insights and experience with all of us!

  6. Excellent post! Thank you for sharing your experiences, Deborah.


  7. Thank you so much for your post Deborah! In my "day job," I work with college students and I will not shy away from the fact that this stereotype of math and science for those of Asian descent is totally and completely used ALL the time!! BUT, in my experiences, about half the time, the students are just like you and enjoy (and are good at) very opposite subjects! I'm curious to hear if you have any thoughts about how to combat this stereotype???


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