Canwen Xu: I Am Not Your Asian Stereotype at TEDxBoise (Transcript)

Because for people who have lived in the places where I lived, white is the norm, and for me, white became the norm too. For my fourteenth birthday, I received the video game The Sims 3, which lets you create your own characters and control their lives. My fourteen-year-old self created the perfect little mainstream family, complete with a huge mansion and an enormous swimming pool.

I binge-played the game for about three months, then put it away and never really thought about it again, until a few weeks ago, when I came to a sudden realization. The family, that I had custom-designed, was white. The character that I had designed for myself, was white. Everyone I had designed was white. And the worst part was, this was by no means a conscious decision that I had made.

Never once did I think to myself that I could actually make the characters look like me. Without even thinking, white had become my norm too. The truth is, Asian Americans play a strange role in the American melting pot. We are the model minority .Society uses our success to pit us against other people of color as justification that racism doesn’t exist.

But does that mean for us, Asian Americans? It means that we are not quite similar enough to be accepted, but we aren’t different enough to be loathed. We are in a perpetually grey zone, and society isn’t quite sure what to do with us. So they group us by the color of our skin. They tell us that we must reject our own heritages, so we can fit in with the crowd. They tell us that our foreignness is the only identifying characteristic of us.

They strip away our identities one by one, until we are foreign, but not quite foreign, American but not quite American, individual, but only when there are no other people from our native country around I wish that I had always had the courage to speak out about these issues.

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But coming from one culture that avoids confrontation, and another that is divided over race, how do I overcome the pressure to keep the peace, while also staying true to who I am? And as much as I hate to admit it, often times I don’t speak out, because, if I do, it’s at the the risk of being told that I am too sensitive, or that I get offended too easily, or that it’s just not worth it.

But I would point, are people willing to admit that? Yes, race issues are controversial. But that’s precisely the reason why we need to talk about them.

I just turned eighteen, and there are still so many things that I don’t know about the world. But what I do know is that it’s hard to admit that you might be part of the problem, that, all of us might be part of the problem. So, instead of giving you a step-by-step guide on how to not be racist towards Asians, I will let you decide what to take from this talk. All I can do, is share my story. My name is Canwen, my favorite color is purple.

And I play the piano, but not so much the violin. I have two incredibly supportive, hardworking parents, and one very awesome ten-year-old brother. I love calculus more than anything, despise eating rice, and I’m a horrendous driver. But most of all, I am proud of who I am. A little bit American, a little bit Chinese, and a whole lot of both.

Thank you.

 

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