When people say, “All Asians look alike,” I honestly can’t blame them because, well, all Asians look alike to me too. In fact, freshman year I made my OL group ten times more awkward than it already was by mistakenly thinking I had already met one of the Asian girls in the group.
My OL leader had just picked me up from my dorm and introduced me to everyone. When the girl reached out her hand to shake mine, I waved her hand away and cheerfully said, “Oh, I just met you!”
The group fell into a deeper silence and maybe into a state of shock. Oh, crap. A terrible realization dawned on me — she wasn’t the same Asian girl that I had just met in my dorm building. She frowned and dropped her hand to her side.
“Well,” she said after a pause. “That was awkward.”
Needless to say, I was pretty quiet in my OL group for the rest of Orientation Week after that not-so-great first impression. Even level four ice breakers couldn’t save me now. Besides, everyone probably thought it was best to stay away from the weirdo of the group. And I never did see that girl again. I don’t even remember what she looks like.
After that embarrassing and awkward incident, I began to realize that the more Asians I met, the more they all began to look alike. Some random group of Asians that I met from one place or another would call out my name and wave excitedly. And I would only say, “Heeey … you … and you …” and wrack my brain to match a name with the face.
Perhaps it’s not the best excuse, but for what it’s worth, I was raised in a pretty white community. I knew about the general Asian stereotypes, but I never really witnessed or experienced any of them. In fact, one of my friends had to remind me that I was Asian, when I stupidly made the comment, “Well, there was only one other white girl there,” after coming back from an event.
It’s not that I’m ignorant of my own culture: I speak our language, I know our history and our traditions … and OK, I suck at reading and writing despite giving up my Saturdays in Chinese school for most of my life. Really, whose brain can store that much information? Mine obviously can’t. I’m just not used to being in a community composed of many Asians. Where I’m from, there simply are no other Asians. Or at least it seemed that way to me. Up until now, I never really had any Asian friends.
Around here and similar communities, it seems like all Asians have two degrees of separation, and it’s very easy to spot them in a group together. You see them take up an entire table in the dining halls, and you see them walk in a group from class to class. With that in mind, the common idea that “Asians only hang out with other Asians” seems to ring true. But why do Asians seem to have an unspoken agreement to only hang out with each other?
Most Asians will tell you that it’s because we all stand on common cultural ground; there are some things — from cultural “inside” jokes to traditions — that others just don’t understand. Due to similar upbringing, the argument goes, it’s easier to relate to each other. Or as Indian comedian Russell Peters would say, it’s easier to talk about the ass-whoopings we got from our parents last night, while all the white kids were just sent to their rooms.
Cultural barriers exist between all ethnicities, not just with Asians. Denying it would be like accepting Bill O’Reilly’s word as gold (hint: not very smart). Even I’ve had my moments of frustration when my friends couldn’t seem to understand why I followed certain “unreasonable” rules my parents laid down, why I ate that really strange-looking thing that has a weird texture or why I prefer using chopsticks over forks.
But if you only focus on the differences, could you ever really see the similarities? The emphasis on cultural barriers tends to blind us from everyone else, and in turn, everyone perceives us to be the “same.” Obviously, not all Asians look alike. But when Asians are clustered in a group all the time, without making much of an attempt to diversify, it’s hard not to think that all the individuals are merely interchangeable. I’m not saying other races don’t do the same thing, but it seems more prevalent with Asians — or maybe it just hits closer to home with me.
However, with all cultural differences aside, I think it’s fair to say that we, as people, tend to bond with others that share similar values as our own. We like people who share our sense of humor, ideology and perspectives — it’s just how it works. Some of my closest friends here at Cornell just so happen to be Asian (which is a first for me), but it’s definitely not because we sit around and gloat about the AZN Pride. It’s simply because we enjoy each other’s company just like any other friendship.
Sandie Cheng is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She may be reached at email@example.com. That One, Please appears alternate Wednesdays this semester.