Vivian Li

Viv grew up in predominantly white town in northern California. This was never an issue for her and she rarely felt different from her peers. This was largely due to her best friend, Danielle. Danielle’s family always made Viv feel welcome and their classmates would often associate them as being best friends with each other. Viv believes Asians are frequently portrayed as the sidekick but for her and Danielle, “We were equals, 50/50 so I didn’t feel less than her or like the sidekick.” Viv mentions Christina Yang in Grey’s Anatomy who was part of the main cast but was only a supporting character to Meredith Grey around whom the show actually revolves. Viv notes, “You always see Asians as not the favorite character but closely associated to the favorite character.”

“You always see Asians as not the favorite character but closely associated to the favorite character.”

Viv admits her parents were more sensitive about race and culture than she was. Although Viv would often hang out with Danielle and her family, Viv felt it was more difficult for her parents and Danielle to relate, simply due to language barriers. Viv explains, “It was easier for me to connect to her family because I spoke English whereas she was not able to speak Chinese.” Viv often questioned why her parents were so strict and why they would not allow her to go to some places her friends were allowed. She says they reminded her, “You have to work harder than your friends because when people look at you, they will automatically think you are not from here. Even if you take the exact same route as them, you may not end up at the same place as them.”

“It’s empty to be angry without doing something about it.”

Thankfully, Viv has rarely experienced situations in which she was disadvantaged or targeted for being Asian. She recalls a rare occurrence when she visited Philadelphia with her boyfriend for a weekend. As they were trying to cross the street, a man screamed out of a passing car and said, “Go back to China!” Viv explains that she was in shock and did not know how to initially react. As she replayed the situation in her head, she became more and more angry and her boyfriend felt compelled to calm her down, which angered her even more. Viv supports, “I think he thought that being angry would not accomplish anything in the moment and I agree. The man drove away and I couldn’t do anything about the situation anymore. It’s empty to be angry without doing something about it.”

Another memorable experience was the first day her company moved to a different building. While adjusting to her new seat, a non-Asian man from a different firm on the same floor introduced himself to her to ask at which firm she worked. He also asked where she was from. In previous conversations, Viv would have challenged the person asking by responding “California” until she finally said Chinese. But she knew the response he sought and immediately answered to him that she was Chinese.

Without warrant, he began to speak to her in Chinese to which she describes, “He kept on asking me questions and I responded in English but he asked follow-up questions in Chinese!” She recognizes that his intentions were genuine and he may have been excited at the opportunity to practice his Chinese. “It would have been more polite if he had asked to speak to me in Chinese. I would have still felt awkward but not as caught off guard. Imagine if I did not even speak Chinese.”

“I can’t change the fact that I’m Asian or that I’m female.”

Viv describes her joy in the shift in representation of Asian females, especially through social media. With the rise of Instagram influencers, more and more Asians have gained popularity through areas such as fashion and beauty. Viv exclaims, “It’s great to see people with more similar body types and facial structures as me.” We both laughed about our tragic childhood memories of trying to follow make-up tutorials by white bloggers who had different eye shapes and facial undertones than us. Viv says, “I like following Asian influencers and I feel more comfortable about buying the clothes and make-up Asian bloggers buy because I feel more confident that it will look good on me.”

Viv believes the importance in surrounding oneself with people who will lift you up and to stray away from people who make you feel less than you are. When dealing with people that fit the latter category, she believes that many Asians will be hesitant to defend themselves. She notes, “I can’t change the fact that I’m Asian or that I’m female.” So she believes we should not tolerate people who question those parts of our identity and that we should speak up when they do. And I agree, the less we speak up and the more condone these situations, the slower there will be any change for anyone to notice.

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