Everyone talks about how sweet and pure children are but let’s be honest for a second, little kids have the worst filter and they can say some of the most hurtful things. Asian kids who grew up outside of Asia have become numb to these inane and insensitive comments we get from our non-Asian classmates and teachers.
If you want to take a little trip down memory lane, here are 10 questions you’ve probably been asked on your first day of school.
1. “How do you say my name in your language?”
It’s always difficult having to break to your new classmates that “Becky” and “Joshua” don’t actually translate into anything in any other language. Sorry but the chances are, if you can find your name on a keychain in a souvenir shop, it most likely doesn’t hold a lot of meaning. The best answer you can give them in this situation is to pronounce their name in your native accent but that’s not what they wanted to hear.
2. “Are you Chinese or Japanese?” Or even worse, “What kind of Asian are you?”
Most schools don’t teach world geography until students are much older and in some cases, they might not teach it at all. So at this point the only Asian countries children know of are China (from watching Disney Channel specials on Chinese New Year) and Japan (because their parents ate sushi once) which doesn’t give us a lot of options to choose from. At least this question is better than being asked what kind of Asian you are.
3. “What does your name mean?”
As tempting as it is to pretend your name means something profound in your native tongue, at the end of the day, it probably doesn’t have any deep meaning to it at all. It’s like asking “what does Bethany mean?” Absolutely nothing, it’s just a name. But if you want to sound interesting, this was the best opportunity to fabricate some complex origin story.
4. “How do you say ‘bathroom’ in your language?”
Back in the good old days when poo jokes were considered the epitome of comedy, everyone wanted to know how to say “bathroom” in a foreign language. Whether it was an obligatory show-and-tell or introducing yourself in front of the entire class, this question always came up.
5. “How can you see properly with small eyes like that?”
The classic Asian eyes comment — this will not only follow you around in school but also into adult life as well. It’s hard to tell whether it’s a genuine question coming from a naïve child or an intentional racist jab but either way, it’s tiring to hear this over and over again.
This may seem like a harmless question to some but for many Asian kids, this would be their first time realizing their eyes were something they could be mocked for. To make matters worse, this question is often accompanied by offensive gestures of kids laughing and squinting their eyes.
6. “Do you have an easier name I can call you by?”
No Sarah, I don’t. My name is my name. So many Asian kids end up picking a western name just because it’s so exhausting trying to teach to your non-Asian teachers and classmates how to pronounce your foreign name. Whether it’s Kevin, Grace, Christie, or Jonathan, you now have to explain to your entire class during every attendance check to call you by your second name, not your real name.
7. “Do you really eat rice and noodles for every meal? I could never live like that.”
Do you eat pizza and unseasoned chicken for every meal? We don’t just eat white rice with absolutely nothing else but no one seems to get that. Just wait until they become adults and realize how many varieties of Asian foods there are out there. And no, we don’t eat rice and noodles for every meal. Ever been to an Asian bakery or café? It’s a hell of a lot better than your gluten-free, vegan cake from Whole Foods.
8. “Do you have (insert name of any tech device) in your country?”
For some reason, non-Asian children don’t seem to understand that Asian countries do indeed have modern technology. Yes, we have cars, computers, smart phones and everything else you have here. “I heard they don’t have technology in North Korea” is also a common one. They must think we still walk around in our kimonos and live in ancient buildings with no electricity.
9. “Can you speak Asian?”
Can you be a little bit more specific? Asia is a continent not a language but to be fair, many adults don’t even seem to understand this. Asian children end up having to educate their peers from day one. Having to correct people for common sense facts does get really old after a while.
10. “You must be really good at math. Am I right?”
Wonder what gave off this impression? It’s always concerning to see how young children manage to pick up on racial stereotypes so early on in life. Asian kids get asked if they’re good at math or want to become doctors from the very first day of school, is it so hard to believe we could be good at something else?
11. “Oh, do you know (insert Asian name here)?”
Other kids and teachers assume that you know every other Asian in the world just because you’re Asian. They’ll say things like, “Oh I had an Asian student in my class a few years ago, do you know him?” And they’ll definitely mistake you for another Asian kid even if the two of you look absolutely nothing alike.