Being yellow in a white, white world

The other day, a man in an oversized camouflage jacket walked past me. He was pushing a baby in a stroller and puffing on a cigarette before he looked me square in the eyes and said, “fucking Chinese.”

Any other day, I probably would have cried, or at the very least shot him the finger, but that day I had no energy. So, I just kept walking.

When I was a little kid, I never noticed that I was different. I had gone to the same public school since I was four years old and all my friends and classmates were white. Since they had grown up with me, they were used to my different eyes, my coarse hair and the fact that I ate canton chow mein for lunch while they ate their Lunchables.

For the most part, I was just like them.

It wasn’t until high school that I fully realized how much of a minority I was. My high school was tiny with only about 500 students, and for the better half of my high school years, I was the only Asian student. I started going to parties and meeting people from other schools, but these people hadn’t grown up with me – to them, I wasn’t just Rachel, but I became Asian Rachel.

Luckily, it didn’t bother me too much. I’ve always been a proud person and my race is just another thing I can embrace about myself. I love being Chinese. I love my culture, my quirky family, our food. I love that I can get drunk after one shot, and that I’ve never had to shave in my life. There’s nothing about my ethnicity that I would change, and if in another life I got the opportunity to pick my race, I would always choose to be Chinese.

Unfortunately, this overpowering sense of pride also leads to a fierce sensitivity regarding my race. You can tease me about anything: my slightly large feet, my love affair with writing essays, my little Buddha belly, but you cannot say anything about my ethnicity. I just can’t take these jokes. And what surprised me most about coming to Laurier Brantford is that people love telling them.

There was a guy on my floor who used to joke that, unless you were white, you weren’t a “real person.” There’s another who loves saying my name in a “Chinese” accent. I pretend to laugh, but I’m holding back tears and the urge to punch them all in the throats.

This conflict of emotions – being both proud and sensitive – has caused me to be hypervigilant. I’m always cautious when people are around me, and I am almost always aware that they could say something racist. For instance, if a stranger is walking by, I’ll typically put my head down so they won’t see me. Or, if I have sunglasses in my purse, I’ll put them on so I won’t get heckled for my “slanty eyes.”

It’s not an ideal way to live, but I deal with it because I am too in love with being Chinese to hear someone make a mockery of it.

Now, I’ll admit that I’ve gotten way more love in my lifetime than I’ve gotten hateful remarks, but even that can be a little odd. Some people – mostly men – love Asians way too much (“Hey Rachel! I have yellow fever. Wanna give me my yellow belt?”).

No, I don’t.

I am both Rachel Phan and Poon May May. I am the product of two proud Chinese people who accept the fact that my mangled Chinese has turned into a hybrid of Chinese and English (“Chinglish”). I may not be good at math, but I’m still a damn good student. I eat tongue and duck hearts, but not cats and dogs. I was born in Canada in a predominantly white town and I feel just as Canadian as I do Chinese.

And yes, I get giddy whenever I see another Asian on campus.

I’m different and I know that, but it’s part of who I am. And I like me.

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