The same innocence I carried as a six-year-old follows me today, at age 16.
At six years old, you would’ve seen me playing with Barbies, wearing rainbow shirts and horizontally striped skirts, and enjoying my naivety. Today, I still look the same, despite puberty and a dramatic style change from rainbow shirts. My Vietnamese skin is still pale, and my child-like smile remains the same. I get unicorn ponchos as gifts from my family members, even as a senior in high school, and I often receive things in pink, probably because of the Barbies I used to play with.
Today, my older relatives (and older people in general) speak to me as if I was six, except that my Vietnamese was slightly better when I was six. Usually, after finding out I’ve spent the majority of my life in an American education system, they’ll immediately switch their register, speak a combination of Vietnamese and English, and act as if I am the same naive six-year-old. My family simply looks at me like I am that six-year-old. Except I’m not the same anymore. The same pale skin I have, the child-like smile I embrace, and the youthful features I own no longer define who I am, what I know, and what I’ve experienced.
I’ve adapted to different viewpoints on stigmatized topics as a result of American schools and culture. While my first instinct would be “I don’t need to talk about this right now,” I’d probably circle back to the conversation, trying to defy the delicate standpoint I am upheld to as an Asian girl. I’ve spent a vast portion of my time in school facing the “innocent ” remarks. “Shut up, go back to doing calculus homework.” The stereotypical perception of me, spending all of my time quietly working on calculus and having no sense of awareness of the world, isn’t who I should be, nor should it be the view that my relatives have on me either. It strips away my social autonomy — because I have to be quiet and polite for the western perspective, I am back in my child-like state.
For the youthful appearances as East Asian Americans (and Southeast Asian Americans, to an extent), why should it be our countenances that be the determiner of our received registers? With the influx of anime and K-Pop, we Asians , a group of collective ethnicities, are confined to one label: adorable. What my ethnicity reinforces is gilded — my “cuteness” may look golden from the western perspective, but the reality is that I am undervalued because of the “weakness” that is associated with the small, pale, Asian girl stereotype, and it’s tiring.
I’m tired. I’m tired of feeling like I have to prove something to the greater population — that I am more than the submissive “Madame Butterfly,” or the sexually alluring “Dragon Lady” seen on TV. I’m tired of feeling like my entire existence is catering to the Western narrative of seeing me as anything but a normal human. Lastly, I’m tired of feeling like the only conversations I have with my family members is akin to someone speaking to a toddler.
Editors: Leandra S.
Photo Credits: Jing Li / Pew Research