Jenny grew up in a town a little outside of Boulder, Colorado where she rarely felt different or targeted, except when people would ask “What are you?” She explains, “Instead of asking me what my racial background was, they would ask ‘Where are you from?’ and when I answered Colorado, they would ask, ‘No, but where are you FROM?’” Frequently mistaken for other ethnicities such as Polynesian and Brazilian, Jenny describes how people often act surprised when she reveals that she is a quarter Chinese. They would say, “But you have big eyes and don’t have fair skin. You can’t be Asian.”
Growing up mixed-race, Jenny didn’t see many people on television or in movies that looked like her. Even when she saw Chinese or Korean actresses, she felt she was not able to fully identify with them. As a little girl, Jenny recalls not recognizing any princesses that looked like her. She exclaims, “The closest princess I look like is Jasmine but she’s Arab. And my goodness, the number of times that people have told me I look like Pocahontas!”
“Yeah, the only reason we hire Chinese women is because they’re the only ones small enough to fit inside the wings.”
Jenny expresses her discontent in the unfair representation of all females in Hollywood. She reminisces about leaving a movie theater a few months ago, after watching Wonder Woman with unprecedented energy and enthusiasm. She continues, “My friends and I were air punching and kicking and felt awesome.” Jenny mentions that she saw a tweet that read something along the lines of “Leaving Wonder Woman, I feel like I can do anything in the world. Now I know why white men act the way they do.” And that’s because the hero in movies is almost always a white male. Only after finally seeing a revolutionary female character, it became apparent to her that media severely lacked representation of powerful and inspiring female roles.
Speaking of inspiring female roles, Jenny recollects her internship from a couple years ago at a company that manufactures and sells aircraft. She was excited to work with fellow Asian females, many of whom assembled the airplane wings. Unfortunately, she was soon disillusioned when one of the white male managers made an off-putting comment, “Yeah, the only reason we hire Chinese women is because they’re the only ones small enough to fit inside the wings.”
And that is the not the only time she has heard someone say an off-hand comment about Asian Americans. Jenny has been riding horses since she was five years old. She recently placed as the regional champion while competing in Lexington, Kentucky! She describes the horse industry as predominantly white and the rating system as very subjective. Jenny recalls a competition in which she participated when she was fifteen years old and after not placing for what she called “the ride of her life,” people approached her to tell her that she should have been ranked as top of the class. In response, another rider jokingly proclaimed, “It’s probably because you’re brown.” At just fifteen years old, Jenny was forced to contemplate her passion that she had formed since she was five years old, and she grappled with the likelihood that she had been and would continue to be at a disadvantage simply because some judges had and will possibly disfavor her skin tone.
Jenny acknowledges that stereotypes are not always and absolutely negative and she understands that they help categorize and contextualize groups of people to which we are unfamiliar. However, stereotypes can become harmful when people blindly shape their viewpoints around them without acknowledgement that individuals may in fact stray from the common stereotype. Jenny confesses, “I’m sure I have even said something offensive to someone before. But I think there’s a big difference between people who unknowingly makes an offensive comment and those who purposefully act on their prejudices.”
“If I cut out everyone who had different viewpoints as me or said something offensive, there honestly would have been no one left.”
Jenny attended college in South Carolina and the racism that she had often heard of in the news or read in books came to life right in front of her eyes. One of her first memories of witnessing racism occurred during her freshman year when she tagged along her friend on a trip to Walmart. Unable to find what they were looking for, Jenny suggested to her friend to ask one of the employees, to which her friend responded, “I don’t want to ask her because she’s black.” Fortunately, Jenny rarely experienced such blatant racism, yet it was discomforting that it was prevalent around her and affected so many of her peers. That friend was one of many people Jenny met in college who shared negative sentiments about minority races. Jenny explains that while some people’s perspectives changed throughout the years, some people unfortunately remained steadfast in their preconceived notions.
And it was hard to avoid them or not to associate with them. She admits that although she had somewhat distanced herself from her Walmart friend, Jenny remained friendly with him afterwards. She defends, “If I cut out everyone who had different viewpoints as me or said something offensive, there honestly would have been no one left.” Nevertheless, she reflects on her college experience with gratitude. Jenny emphasizes, “I learned so much about other people, and how to deal with people who I don’t agree with. I would not have traded my college experience for anything else. ”