Dear College Freshmen
I was first seen for the color of my skin, and for the first time, I understood what it meant to be a minority. Here's what happened next.
By Sara Utsugi
Last year, I took a class that challenged us to reflect on how our “eye-dentity” can impact our identity. In other words, we were encouraged to look at how the way people see us affects their perception of our identities. I go into it more in the article, but I really struggled with identity and self acceptance when I first came to Chapman. Maybe some of you can relate and struggled with accepting or finding yourself when you first went to college or a new school. Personally, I had to go through stages of shock, acceptance and defiance while establishing my redefinition of my “eye-dentity.”
I do not want this to be a rant on how it is difficult to be an Asian American because it’s not difficult to be an Asian American. It can just be really, really irritating. I can’t count the amount of times people came up to me and began speaking Japanese or Chinese, expecting a response in my “native tongue” and instead received a confused “hi” back. The bad driving joke, comments on how all Asians look the same and questions on why I don't speak Japanese have all been said or asked to me...but only within the last three years when I moved to California for college.
Growing up in Hawaii, I never felt like a minority. I was just another average Asian girl who looked the same as every other average Asian girl walking around. I lived in a flipped world where minorities joked about white people, and everyone thought that was the norm. If I had to guess, my school that I attended from K-12 was around 95% Asian, and we had our laughs making fun of the “dumb haoles” whose obnoxious touristy clothes and red sunburned skin made them stand out against the locals.
I never disliked being Asian, but people always told me there was no Asian in me. They told me I was such a mainlander--I even talked like one. Because of this, I never found my identity in being Japanese. If anything, I overlooked my ethnicity as being a defining trait of mine. Even though my blood, eyes, hair and skin said I was definitely Asian, to me I was just an outspoken, creative, strong willed girl. That’s why when I came to the mainland, I experienced major culture shock when suddenly, even though I didn’t feel any different from the people around me, I was treated, looked at and talked to differently.
When people saw my skin, they told themselves that I was shy and passive. They assumed I’d be good at math, socially awkward, sensitive and sweet. If you know me, you know that I am not shy or submissive at all. I’m extremely competitive and outspoken about my opinions when called for. I enjoy public speaking and will happily take over the dinner conversation if the opportunity arises. To further stray from the stereotype, I hate math. I mean, I am currently a Communication major. What kind of “good Asian” is a Communication major?...I digress.
Although I knew that I was not any of those stereotypes, as I said earlier, I knew I was being treated, looked at and talked to differently because of my “eye-dentity.” The sad truth is that I began placing my “eye-dentity” onto my identity. The first semester of my freshmen year, I never raised my hand in the classroom. People didn’t know who I was, and when I gave a kick-ass presentation, everyone wondered where I came from because during class, I shrunk to the corners and kept my hand down.
I was hesitant to become close to my white teammates because they were so much louder, taller and well, whiter than me. When we’d go out as a group, I wasn’t distinguished from Kaitlyn, being that we were the only two Asian girls. Outsiders could never tell us apart, and we were told we looked exactly the same even though Kaitlyn is two inches taller and 3 skin tones darker than me. Convinced it was normal to be undistinguished, I began introducing myself as “one of the asian girls on the volleyball team” before even saying my name.
You are not their stereotype. Whether that be the dumb blonde, awkward science nerd, submissive Asian or anything in between. You define yourself. You write the script. Let yours speak volumes, shatter ceilings and spark courage in others to do likewise. As always, I wish you the best from behind the screen.