For a long time, I would make self-deprecating jokes about my ethnicity. It was probably the worst in sixth grade, because that's when my focus shifted from just having friends to being popular. I wanted to be liked so bad that I was willing to do anything. And when you see results, you form a habit. My habit was constantly making fun of my Asian heritage.
It was because I saw results. When I was with friends, I would take it into my own hands to make a racist joke before someone else did. I remember vividly my mom was driving me and a few friends to lunch, and I had literally done research the night before and found a racist rap about Chinese people. I learned it, and showed it to my friends in the car, with my mom there. I was laughing, and my friends were laughing. It made me so happy. So fulfilled that something I had done had made them laugh. I remember my mom asking me, "what are you watching?" and me brushing it off. I wish now that she had just told me then about how I was just hurting myself.
I don't think I fully gained confidence since I entered high school. Actually, I still struggle with it sometimes. Part of it is because I grew up in a small, predominantly white town, so many of my classmates are white. It's a similar situation for many other Asian-American teens out there, and I wasn't aware of that.
Throughout middle school, I sat back and took in the subtle insults that were directed towards the only Chinese girl in the class. Classmates would ask me, "do you have a life other than studying?" I even had a teacher who would ask me if my parents would let me have dinner if I got a bad grade on his next test. Now, I realize that this was absolutely unacceptable, but I just took it all in because I was used to it.
My advice to my younger self? See the beauty in being unique. Your culture makes you who you are. Anyone who can't see that doesn't deserve your attention.
This being said, I am nowhere close to being 100% confident in my culture. I still find myself wishing I wasn't occasionally. I hope we can continue to embrace our own cultures together.
Author: Carina Sun
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