Wednesday, September 26, 2007

All Asians Look the Same

Every year (often several times per year) my students realize that my last name is unusual, for them, anyway. It always starts with one kid proclaiming, out of nowhere, "Mrs. Fuji, you're Chinese!!!??" To which I respond, "No, I'm not Chinese." Then the kids all yell at me about my name and what it means. "Is your husband Chinese???"

"No, my husband is not Chinese. He is Japanese."

"Japanese!? Does he like chicken fried rice?!"

"Can he make chicken fried rice!?"

"Yeah, can he? I like pork fried rice!"

This goes on for a while. I explain that Mr. Fuji is Japanese American, and while he does enjoy chicken or pork fried rice, and knows how to make it, that is not Japanese, that's Chinese. Then they want to know if he speaks Japanese and how long has he lived in Chicago, etc etc. I have to tell them that he is from Philadelphia and does not speak Japanese.

That amazes them. I explain that it's just like them -- many of them are from descended from Africans, but I don't expect them to know any African languages. That sort of helps.

The conversation usually ends with someone saying, "But he does like fried rice, right?" I sigh, "Yes, he likes fried rice."

But yesterday one of my freshmen proclaimed, "All Asians look alike." Then he said, "I've been to Chinatown like 30 times -- I know what I'm talking about!"

I tried to tell him that that statement was offensive and he needed to realize that. And that not all Asians look the same. And that if I said "All you black people look the same" that would be offensive. That we need to respect everyone's differences, blah blah blah.

He was not getting it. Then he wanted to know why Mexicans got mad when you call them Puerto Ricans, and vice versa. I tried to explain that it's the same sort of deal -- people want others to respect their ethnicity and not make assumptions, and so on. He was not convinced.

Maybe I'll try to come up with some sort of primer on how to tell your Asians apart! Maybe Mr. Fuji and my friend Butternugget can help me.

The fact that this conversation took all class period probably won't do anything to raise our test scores. Hey, it was a teachable moment. I take them where I can get them.

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