Recently, Stephanie befriended a group of smart and sophisticated 15 year old adoptees. She has learned a lot about what life is like for them growing up Chinese in America. Here’s a recent Q&A session she had with one fifteen-year old adoptee named Zoe.
1. Do you speak Chinese?
No, I do not speak Chinese. I took some lessons, through FCC (Families with Children from China) as a child, but stopped because I didn’t like it. When I started high school, I was offered the course but I decided to continue my education in the Spanish language. If my school didn’t cut our Chinese program, I would have transferred into the class. I guess, as a child, I felt that along with the language, I was forced to do the (Chinese) dance classes as well. I used to be shy and hated performing on Chinese New Year, resulting in faulty associations with the language. Honestly, if I wasn’t so against the classes I took as a child, I might have taken Chinese last year and continued.
2. Do you speak another language?
Yes, I speak some Spanish. I am currently in Spanish two in school and next school year I will be in Spanish three.
3. Are there any women in the media that you identify with? Asian women?
There are many women in the media that I like but none that I identify with. Many Asians in American media aren’t prevalent so I can’t even make a list of them off the top of my head. I like Lucy Liu, because the roles she chooses to play aren’t all sexed up and portraying Asian women to be nymphomaniacs. I think that is something many Americans see Asian women to be, we are never seen as “prudes”. I look up to other Asians in my life who, like me, are breaking stereotypes daily.
4. Do you feel more Chinese or American? Or both?
It depends on one’s definition of “Chinese” or “American.” I guess I feel more Chinese when I do well at school and am handy with electronics. I feel more American when I can list all of America’s top 100 pop songs of the day and don’t do well in school. Then there are the times when I feel like a Chinese person who is very Americanized. This is because I’m never going to be an “Oriental” Chinese girl. I’m also not going to be the stereotypical “perfect American girl” who has blonde hair and blue eyes. I’m always going to be a mix even if it’s not a racial mix.
5. Do you ever feel racism in school? By who?
Of course! I feel like most comments made to me have race in mind. I think there are always going to be expectations of me based on what I look like on the outside. I don’t see my teachers as racist as my peers, but I do feel like they don’t understand what racism is. For instance, my English teacher proclaiming, “racism seems to not be as prevalent in New York City.” I also will admit that I don’t help the situation. Sometimes, to lighten the mood, I’ll make fun of myself and throw in a racist joke. For example, if a kid makes fun of me for getting a bad grade in math, I would most likely respond with, “why? Because I’m Asian I need to get good grades?” Allowing for them to believe I have no problem with the insult they just served me.
6. What are the Asian stereotypes that you can’t stand?
Here’s the stereotype list that are most relevant to me: That we’re stellar in mathematics and science, we can fix any computer-related equipment, we can play violin/piano, have impaired vision, eat dogs when we go home and that we are automatically amazing at sexual activities.
7. Do you think other girls of color (i.e. Hispanics and blacks) think of you as a person of color?
No, not at all, I think they see me as a Caucasian person, especially black girls. Their race was incredibly discriminated against, thus feeling like they are on the completely opposite side of the race spectrum. Hispanics are closer to the black than white side of this “scale.” If you were to put Asians onto the scale, we would be the closest race to the white people.
8.What are the biggest misconceptions about your life – i.e. Being adopted from China? What do people just assume?
That I “don’t really count” when there are conversations about China or Asia. Most people don’t know that I’m adopted from just looking at me, how could they? I’m most certainly not wearing a sign around my neck proclaiming that I’m adopted. I remember that in eighth grade, I had this uncomfortable conversation, where a girl asked me my nameat lunch, and then I told her. “My name is Zoe,” and she responded with a simple. “What’s your actual name?” As if it was unimaginable that there would be a Chinese girl without a name that was hard to pronounce.
9. In school, do you learn about China?
Honestly, not at all, we just get textbook definitions. In 3rd grade, it was the year we explored China, making pamphlets for different areas of China. I think that is when I learned the most about my country in school. In 7th grade I was taught about the exclusion act and read a few articles about Angle Island. I learn most about my home country from documentaries that my father has shown me.
10. Do your parents try to teach you about your race/ culture/ background?
Yes, they do. My father shows me documentaries on Asia and my mother sends me online articles that relate to me in some way. They aren’t the kind of parents that are very strict about me learning the culture of China. They do help me when I need it, for example: in first grade I made a panda diorama and both my parents helped me to research and really learn about pandas and their relationship to China.
11.How do you learn about your birth culture?
Through my parents and my own research, also, units in school about China.
12.What movies and books taught you about what Chinese means?
-I read all of Laurence Yep’s books which opened my eyes to how traditional Chinese families function.
- Documentaries and movies on China, such as: Big Bird in China