Q: What ethnicity are you?
A: I’m Native American- my tribe is Chickasaw- and Cantonese, which is a branch of Chinese, and then I’m also Irish and Dutch.
Q: How did your ethnicity influence your childhood?
A: I really didn’t do much with my Irish and Dutch side growing up. My grandmother would try to teach me Irish culture, so I could connect to my Irish side, by giving me jewelry and explaining what all the pendants [meant].
In terms of being Native-American, I didn’t do much with that until high school when I got my official tribe number. Mainly, [being Native American] gives me scholarships. I get a clothing grant every year, and then in college, I might get a laptop and some books, so it’s really helpful.
Then with my Chinese side, I really did more with that than any of my other ethnicities, because [even though] we grew up kind of separated from my mom’s side of the family, we would always go to Cantonese school every Saturday, and I would try to learn the language. We would always go over to my aunt’s house and celebrate Chinese New Year and Mid-Autumn festival, and try to catch on to the culture. But it would still be a mix of being American and Chinese.
Q: Did you notice racial issues as a kid? Did it affect you in any way?
A: I did notice. I knew I was a mixed race, so I’d joke and call myself Wasian. When I was younger, I went to a preschool-kindergarden school around Alum Rock, and I was the only Asian kid in the entire school. Some kids made fun of me for that because I “had no eyes when I smile.” In Chinese school, I would be the only white kid. When we moved to this area in the middle of kindergarten, I found that there were more diverse kids around so I thought, “hey, this is pretty cool!” Personally, I’ve never been against any race, I just thought it was awesome if we could all get along.
Q: When you were growing up, did you ever notice any racism?
A: In middle school and even in high school, people would joke about race. They’d say things like, “Oh, you’re asian. You’re automatically going to get an A,” or if you get a B then, “Oh, you’re a B-sian”.
Especially when I started driving, people would say, “Oh you drive like an asian lady” or when I go really fast on turns, then people say, “Oh you drive like a crazy redneck!”
I know that they’re jokes and they’re supposed to be funny, but it’s these sort of things that make stereotypes. Personally, I’m not offended by these things but I think that, especially now, when we’re all [high school] seniors, we have to be careful about what we say. Some people may be going to a very different environment and it might be scary because some people who may be part of the majority here will be part of the minority wherever they go.
Q: Do you have any unique experiences in being mixed race?
A: One time, after Chinese school, I was in an Asian market with my mom and brother, and this lady came up to my mom and said, in Cantonese, “I see your son, and I can tell how he’s related to you, because I know you married a white man, but where did you get your Mexican daughter?”
And my mom went, “Excuse me?”
And the woman goes on saying, “Yeah, she’s so dark and Hispanic, how do you communicate with her?” She was being really nosy and insulting at the same time, and my mom got really upset, so my mom finally said, “Okay, we’re leaving now.” And we just left.
Q: Have you ever noticed racism affecting others at Tino?
A: Very subtly, yeah. I have some white friends and they would talk about how sometimes they would be in an honors class and they would feel so inferior because they would get some condescending comments, such as “Oh you don’t understand because you’re white, and we’re Asian, so we study harder.”
I actually had a friend who dropped out of a class because she felt that way. She said she was capable of being in the honors class academically, but she didn’t really like how the environment was like a clique.
Q: How do you think we can get past this problem?
A: I feel like academics have a lot to do with it [in this area] because a lot of Asian cultures want to excel academically. That’s why I like to focus on more than just academics, like sports and everything, and I think that made it easier for me to understand other people of other races. So I would just tell people to try to understand the person themselves and let the personality, not what they look like or where they come from, speak for them. I feel like once you are away from home or in a different location, it doesn’t matter what your background is, it matters what kind of person you are at the moment. So try to communicate to the person that you are talking to, not where they are from or what they look like.