“You’re American? You don’t look like one…”

In Culture, Monologue/Dialogue on March 7, 2009 at 9:55 pm

When I was an exchange student in Hong Kong two years ago, I learned that in Asia, some people (usually the older generation) assume that to be “American” is to be white.

In Hong Kong, I chatted with some elderly Chinese and told them I was an exchange student from the U.S.   “But you don’t look American,” they protested.  I explained that my parents were ethnic Chinese and I was born in America.  “You’re Chinese, then,” they corrected me.  “Not American.”

I encountered similar responses on the subway in Seoul, Korea.  A few elderly Koreans viewed my Chinese American friend and me with curiosity because we were chatting in English.  “Where are you from?” they asked. 

For the first few inquiries, we said we were from America.  But like in Hong Kong, we got puzzled looks and “No, you couldn’t be” responses.   Finally we gave up and simply said, “We’re from Hong Kong.”  The  confusion ceased.

We felt a tad guilty about taking the easy way out.  We were American, after all.  Isn’t it worth the extra time and effort to let folks know that people of Asian descent live (and are born) in the U.S.?

Check out this blog post by Tony Shen on ModelMinority.com.  Shen, a Chinese American, was denied an English teacher position in Taiwan because he didn’t look “white” or “Western” enough.  Looks like Asian Americans face job discrimination on both sides of the Pacific Ocean.

— posted by Debbie Chong

  1. To be an American is not to be just ONE thing, eg, european caucasian looking. We are an international country. Peoples from around the world since the beginning have lived and been born here.

    To be American goes much deeper than just what’s on the exterior.

    Just shows you the other nations are at least as misinformed about our country as they think we are of theirs!

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