The Interchangeable Ethnicity

I don't know why it bothers me so much when people assume I'm Chinese or Japanese. But it does. A lot.

I was at the Coffee Cat (great local coffee shop, btw) with my parents when this guy interrupted us.

“Are you guys from here?”

“Well, we are, but my parents aren't.”

“Where are they from?”


“Oh — is that in America?”

“…. It's in Southern California. Like 2 hours away. Near Cal-Poly Pomona.”

“Oh right, right. I knew that. Do you guys visit Chinatown frequently? I was just there. And I try to go all the time. It's so wonderful. You guys have such neat things…”

I mean, really? I had to bite my tongue so hard not to say something snarky back. After all, he was being really sincere. But, still… Why does one just go ahead an assume? They say that when you assume, it makes an ASS out of U and ME. But really, it just makes an ass out of you…

I read an article in Entertainment Weekly about the remake of Red Dawn. They originally made it about the Chinese invading the Northwest. But studios these days are trying to get their films to play in China, since it's such an untapped market. Studios have to be really careful because the Chinese government has strict control over what foreign movies are (legally) allowed into their country.

So, the studio that produce Red Dawn did not want to offend the China censors, so after the movie finished filming, they digitally altered all Chinese elements (uniforms, flags, etc) to North Korea. I read that and I said out loud, “Aw hellllll no!”

I don't know why it bothers me so much. I mean, you have Australians playing Americans. Americans playing Germans. The English playing American roles. An Irishman playing Abraham Lincoln.

But it bothers me when Zhang Ziyi (Chinese) played a geisha (Japanese). Or how Benjamin Kingsley (not Asian) is playing the Mandarin (an Asian character) in Iron Man 3. Actually the latter bothers me much more than the former. What? No Asian people to cast the roles of Goku (Dragonball) or Aang (The Last Air Bender)?

Or how about casting that reinforces the negative stereotypes of Asians? (Yes, 2 Broke Girls, I'm talking about you).

Or how about a Vacation Bible School study a couple of summers ago that was so racially insensitive to the all Asian cultures? Mixing pandas with geisha like clothing, with lanterns, rice field hats, chopsticks, karate chops and hiyas… I mean, really?

I know a lot of people don't understand the differences of Asian cultures. But each culture and country have rich and different histories. Sure, there are similarities, but there are big differences, as well.

In the end, there will be people who unintentionally and mistakingly think that there are similarities in the Asian cultures — thinking that it's all the same or interchangeable. And then there will be people who will continue to be ignorant and choose to bask in their ignorance.

When people (like the guy at the coffee shop) assume that I'm something other than Korean, know that I'll find a way to end the conversation ASAP, all the while politely smiling and biting my tongue so that I won't make the situation worse.


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