As an Asian woman speaking English with an accent in a Caucasian dominated society, how can I overcome the difficulties, unfairness, inequality, and discrimination in this society? Of course, there is no one right/good answer. Unfortunately and also inevitably, there have been incidences that occurred to me that I am certain would never have happened if I were not an “Asian woman”. That is to say that if I were an “Asian man” or a “non-Asian woman”, things would have worked out completely differently.
In many ways, I have dealt with this by trying to focus on my tasks and not let peripheral things around my tasks sidetrack me. In fact, this is by no means my unique way of dealing with difficult situations and challenges. Many Asian women have this quality of focusing on the “mission” at hand. I have seen it in many if not the majority of Asian women, including in my own family. To me, this quality of “focusing on the issue at hand and mentally pushing other noise out” can also be viewed as a trait of “inner strength”.
One need not look very far and long to see the undersurface perception of many in our society that Asian woman are pushovers and easy target for taking advantage of. Many expect Asian women to obey them, to serve them, or be subordinate. Why? I wondered for a long time on this issue and I have discussed this with many colleagues and friends. Some said it’s because of our names, names that are not possible to remember. Hmmm… Maybe. Some said that it’s because we bow too much, our culture of being respectful and humble. Hmmm… Still others said that these are just my own perceptions and mostly because of my introverted personality. Well, I am sure that it is as difficult for others to remember Asian names as it is for me to remember foreign names, but it will not be any reason for me to treat the others any different just because of this reason. I always feel that if I don’t request anyone else to change their names so I can remember them easier, I surely should not need to change my name (which I equate to my identity) so others can remember me better. Maybe I have been wrong. Regardless, “being respectful and humble absolutely cannot be wrong,” I am sure Confucius would have said.
Asian women, especially my generation and generations before me, have been influenced by societal and cultural expectations since the day they were born. “Girls should…”, “Women should…”, “Girls should not…”, “Women should not…” these are phrases that I heard all the time growing up. In fact, one of the most exciting reasons that finally made me decide to stay in this country and not return was that I realized all the people who could and would say those phrases to me were on the opposite side of the globe, and I didn’t have to see or hear them unless I chose to. However, little did I know that I was going to face another huge societal and cultural challenge for the years to come. In my recent trip to my high school reunion, I learned that many of my classmates are successful women in their respectful fields including business, education, advertise, publishing, medicine, writer, etc. Many of them came to the US for graduate education and returned to become very successful. I wonder how I might have been if I had returned to my home country. One thing for sure is that I would not have this desire of changing the world’s perception on Asian women if I didn’t stay.
It’s not possible for me to remember all the incidences that I was treated differently because of being an Asian woman. Some were so small that were forgotten immediately and some have been life-changing events. Of course, there are also many times that things work out favorably to me because of my Asian woman identity.
The bottom line is thus, are you willing to help changing this perception? And, if you are an “Asian woman”, what can you do to help change this perception?