Glancing around at the faces of Van Buren High School, one can probably imply that the predominant race here is white, typical of most schools of this size in Northwest Ohio. That doesn’t mean that there is an absolute absence of diversity, but it’s also a stretch to say that cultural variety is abundant.
I’m one of the very few minorities at Van Buren, and I never viewed this fact as a bad thing; the lack of racial minorities only comes with where we are located. But I always felt that there are some questions to address as far as what it’s like to be someone who isn’t white at Van Buren, and these questions were always something I hesitated to address on my part as well.
I’ve stuck out like a sore thumb since I was in elementary school. Despite being half white, the Japanese half of my ethnic background has made up most of my outward appearance. Since I was little, I was always known as the “tall Asian girl,” for I always towered over my peers due to an extremely early growth spurt. This was a kinder address than other names I was used to, like “Yao Ming” and “Godzilla.”
I can now laugh off these nicknames because I feel that I’ve outgrown the titles that were given to me at such a young age. Although I’d like to think that these names were granted to me out of my awkwardness rather than my race, they obviously imply the fact that I am Asian. Maybe this was just a cruel joke that kids play. But are racial minorities at Van Buren High School targeted for stereotyping?
“Without a doubt,” said senior Aaron Franklin, the only African-American student in the class. “It’s not to the point where people are mean about it, but they like to stay stuff because they think it’s funny.”
He referred to a stereotype that is often drawn about black people, and their supposed preference for drinking Kool-Aid and eating fried chicken.
“I mean, I don’t feel that anyone has to say that,” expressed Franklin. “Everyone likes Kool-Aid. Everyone likes fried chicken.”
Senior Esther Moon, a Korean-American, shared a similar sentiment that many racially stereotype for the sake of humor.
“I don’t think anyone’s been racist toward me,” said Moon, “but people say
stuff all the time, being stereotypical like, ‘Oh, you’re smart because you’re Asian,’ but no, that’s not true at all.”
Being half Asian myself, there is definitely an “expectation” of certain behaviors that comes with the ethnicity, which I’ll be the first to say that I do not live up to. I struggle in math, even as I am expected to be the human calculator. This speculation, however inaccurate it may be, is at least a somewhat positive one.
Franklin, often being criticized by his peers for not being “black enough,” had a lot to say in regards to the racially charged stereotypes against African-Americans.
“[Kids] look at people on TV, and people walking around in Toledo, and in Detroit, people shooting, people having guns, pants on their ankles,” said Franklin. “They want me to talk like them and carry around a gun. That’s their definition of a black person.”
He continued to say that if one sees a young African-American man walking around at night, conclusions would be drawn about him causing trouble.
But not everyone minds the humor or stereotypes associated with being a minority. Senior Ivan Quezada said he doesn’t get offended by the jokes his friends make about his Mexican background.
“I don’t think anyone should get offended,” he said. “You can tell me a joke like, ‘Hey, how was picking tomatoes this morning?’ and I would respond like, ‘It was hard work, man.’ Laugh it off.”
I feel that I’m on the same boat with this one. My friends joke about me being Asian often, but I accept their humor because their intentions are not to hurt me. But if a stranger approaches me and pokes fun at the slant of my eyes, or if they start to speak nonsense to me that is supposed to mimic speaking my language (which has happened before) I would be offended. It all has to do with the intentions.
Moon, who said that she can take most of these jokes, doesn’t find one aspect of being Asian particularly funny.
“One of my biggest pet peeves is when a teacher doesn’t call me by my name. I just hate being compared to other people,” she said, referring to when many fail to distinguish her from other Asians, particularly her sister Ruth, or Courtney Van Horn, a Chinese-American senior. “You should know the difference by now. I’ve lived here for 10 years.”
Even something as clear as an extreme height difference, I was mistakenly called Esther by a teacher two years ago. The insulting aspect of this doesn’t have to do with being mistaken for someone else, but it’s the feeling of lacking my own identity because my race serves as an obstacle of that. Our identities stretch beyond being Asian.
“Obviously, we’re all different. We all even look different. You just have to take two seconds to double check,” advised Moon.
While I can relate to this somewhat tough aspect of being a minority here, I don’t know what it’s like to experience the hardships that Quezada goes through. Born in Mexico, he is not a U.S. citizen. He and his family stay here through his father’s work permit, and after that expires, his father must go back to Mexico for a couple of years. Following this, he may or may not be able to return to the States.
He expressed his disappointment for not being able to attain his driver’s license when he turned 16.
“I’m still having trouble getting my license, because I just got my permit last year. Because I wasn’t born here, I didn’t have social security until last year.”
He described how the DREAM Act passed by Congress allows him to stay here because he is a student, and this also allowed him to attain his social security.
Van Buren High School is generally a hospitable place, and even if I am a minority, I feel like we are all united by a common thread; every one of us has our own stories and identities. Racially themed humor can be funny, when the intentions are in the right place. But before making jokes or assuming that we’re a different species of some sort, consider what it’s like on the other side of things.
On that note, I hope no one thinks of me as Yao Ming anymore.