So… What Are You?

If you’re “ethnic”-American like me, you’re probably familiar with the below exchange:

Where are you from?

~ New York (or fill in whatever US city, etc.)

No, where are you REALLY from?

~ New York! (honestly – I’m not falsely from NY!)

So what are you?

I really do take offense when based on my “ethnic” exterior, I’m not allowed to be from America, and worse when I’m asked “what” am I, it sort of infers that my race makes me less human (are you asking if I’m a chihuahua?).

I haven’t really had to face much of that here in Hong Kong, though I’ve had people confuse me for Singaporean (apparently it’s my accent in Cantonese, not English – phew (no offense Singaporean readers)!), Korean (something about my looks – but I got this in the US too), even Hong Kong-ese (not sure how!).  But when I tell people I’m American, no one disbelieves me!

Overall, people are more open-minded about where you may be from here in Hong Kong — even when I meet someone who is “white” or “brown” or “black” – I know not to automatically assume that person isn’t a Hong Konger.  

But I recently read this WSJ blogpost about a Malaysian Mando-pop star who got terribly criticized for showing sympathy for her country-man Lee Chong Wei for losing a heart-breaking badminton men’s final in the Olympics to China’s Lin Dai.

I actually caught the live coverage of this game on TVB Pearl here in Hong Kong, and have to admit, it was truly painful to watch Lee lose, even if you were not Malaysian, or like me, had never watched world-level badminton before!

The Mandopop star’s comment, “What an exciting match! Cry cry…but still very proud,” firstly, was hardly offensive, but for some reason her China fans got incredibly upset with her — remarking that she should “know her roots” and such.

I suppose when much of your fan base are Mainland Chinese, you probably should be a bit more sensitive to this sort of thing, but it still seems incredibly unfair to me! She is MALAYSIAN after all – why shouldn’t she want her fellow countryman to get gold, especially when he has worked so hard for it?

This piece really struck a chord in me because I have been carefully eyeing the medal count this whole time, waiting for the US to come out on top in the medal count, and feeling dismayed whenever China was on top.  Luckily, I can proudly chant USA USA!! at long last, but I’d really take offense if someone thought my “lineage” would beat out on my actual homeland, where I was born, raised, acculturated and acclimated, and truly invested in terms of its future.

One critic wrote to the pop star: “No matter where you are, you shouldn’t forget your homeland and your village.”  I can agree to a certain degree — I am still Chinese-American and definitely see myself differently because of that hyphen.  I also appreciate my ethnic background and the land where my mom came from, but don’t ask me to cheer for and fight for a country I really don’t know, especially if against the country I was actually born and raised!




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