I am no stranger to being targeted because of my race. It’s a thorn that’s always been in my side. But, I am unable to remain complacent about it. Every time another derogatory joke or comment falls on my ears by a stranger who assumes he or she knows exactly who I am—how I’ve been raised, what I’m interested in—based only on my trademark “chinky eyes,” that thorn in my side is driven in further, the wound ripped open anew. And the fact that we as a society seem to find it difficult to progress from this offensive standard of “humor” is insult added to injury.
I have been told throughout my life to go back to the internment camps (I’m not even Japanese!), to stay away from people’s dogs for fear that my family will eat them (FYI: the Philippine government has banned the sale of dog meat), to rethink my entire life and priorities because I wasn’t interested in going into a medical or math-based field (thank you to those who have devalued me and my life choices down to a stereotype—you’ve only inspired me further to go into sociology where I’ll hope to discover an explanation for people’s inability to see diversity). I stepped onto my college campus ready to be rid of the ignorant comments I’d faced throughout my life until that point. They’d been made under the blanket of teenage naivety, after all, so surely college life was better, filled with more intellect and awareness to social issues like racism and oppression. But that was not the case. Instead, I was met with students my age who, like so many people I’d encountered before them, felt it was appropriate to poke fun at my heritage and continuously make me conscious of the fact that I was different from them, despite the fact that these differences were harmless. And not only did they feel it was appropriate, they felt it was simply standard—and apparently my protests were a deficiency in my own self, a reflection of my inability to “take a joke.” I quickly became the killjoy with the stick up her ass who made it impossible for the people around her to have fun, all because I’d had it with the offensive and crude comments. Similarly as my “friends” felt dissatisfied with me because they felt like they were treading on eggshells around me, I was feeling dissatisfied being around them as I’d be shut down, dropped from social circles for advocating for better treatment of myself and others of marginalized groups who have been made the punch line of jokes.
I mentioned earlier that I am unable to remain complacent about these inappropriate, racially charged encounters. I should clarify: I refuse to remain complacent about it. Even while I was miserable in feeling alienated, I realized that transferring to a campus with a more diverse population would not solve the problem of ignorance here that racial minorities like myself face. I refuse to accept that things will “always be like this,” that members of marginalized groups need to suck it up when they are targeted because that’s simply their reality. No, I believe that we can do so much better as a society. So, I began a student organization devoted to bringing light to diversity and the beauty of—get ready for this revolutionary idea—not making people feel like shit just because they’re different. In my drive to do so, I began to feel less alone, less of an outsider. I found my niche in activism, discovering friends along the way who share this same passion, and I am so excited for the people we’ll reach and the things we’ll do together. Being an outsider isn’t so bad once you realize that you don’t have to be one.