You Asked It

Just Wondering

No question’s too big or too small for us to have STRONG OPINIONS about.

I am Chinese and I’m proud of my heritage, but sometimes I feel extremely self-conscious about who I hang around with. My school isn’t particularly diverse, and all my closest friends happen to be Asian, and I can’t help feeling embarrassed, because I know that people are stereotyping us as the “Asian group.” It’s not like we connect on a special “Asian level,” we just get along really well. How can I stop feeling this way, since I love my friends and my nationality? —Vanessa, 14, Sydney

Vanessa, darling, I’m Chinese and when I was 14, I’m ashamed to say that, unlike you, I wasn’t proud of my heritage at all. Looking back, I can see why: Outside of my family, I never encountered positive narratives or images or representations of Chinese people, or any Asian people, ever. We were portrayed as cartoonish, illiterate buffoons in movies, TV, and books—that, or we didn’t exist. When we did the “China, Korea, Japan” unit at school, I squirmed in my seat, fearful for the next person who would raise his or her hand and remark on how weird Asian people are, how weird their names are, how weird their customs are, and the inevitable moment when the teacher would turn to me and say, “Well, in your experience, Jenny, is it true? Is filial piety observed? Is the man always dominant in the household?”

My grandmother used to say, “You’re Chinese before you are American,” and I would burst into hot angry tears of why-are-you-trying-to-make-things-worse-don’t-you-know-I-hate-being-Chinese? And then she would burst into tears, and so the crying cycle went. All I can think now is how unnecessary it all was, how much lovelier life would have been if I hadn’t allowed myself to believe that to love where I come from is shameful. When I was 14, I went to a school where there was one other Asian kid in my class, and he would make fun of me for being Asian. In the grade below me there were significantly more Asian kids, and I noticed that they all sort of hung out together. I remember thinking, Ugh, look at them, why do they all hang out with each other like that? But you know what didn’t happen? I didn’t ever look at the different groups of white kids who were all friends with one another and think, Ugh, look at those white people, why do they all hang out with each other like that? And I’ll bet you those white kids in my school who pretty much only hung out with other white kids weren’t agonizing over whether people were stereotyping them as the “white group” or assuming they connect on a special “white level.” In high school, people would openly ask me, “Do you only hang out with other Asian people because you are Asian?” “Um, no,” was the best response I could come up with. But never have I witnessed someone say, “Do you only hang out with other white people because you’re white and you relate to each other on account of your white background?”

If there’s something weird about being Asian and hanging out with other Asian people, then there has to also be something weird about being white and only hanging out with other white people, in which case there is something weird about like 95% of white people in the world that I’ve known and met. But the world gives a pass to groups of white people visibly and exclusively fraternizing with one another, even as it scrutinizes and shames and stereotypes people of color for doing the same thing. Hey—that’s white privilege and racism!

My heart beams and hurts at the same time when I read your question, “How can I stop feeling this way, since I love my friends and my nationality?” You are already legions wiser than I ever was at your age, and your heart infinitely vaster. You love your friends and your nationality. How come every time a person of color is proud of their heritage and their people, it is seen as excessive, unacceptable? There’s a long legacy that still lives on today of people of color enduring violence and oppression, both physical and psychic, for embracing our cultures, for loving our people, for being too openly proud of who we are. I’m not just spewing words, I’m talking about real shit: forced assimilation of Native peoples, systematic erasure and minimization of the history of immigrants and minorities in public school education, the recent challenges to ethnic studies programs and cultural centers for minority groups, the bombing of a Sikh temple in Wisconsin last year, the high and under-documented incidence of police brutality against young black men, the long history of criminalization of youth of color, and, just a few days ago, the extremely predictable but still disturbing racist outcry against the crowning of an Indian-American Miss America at this year’s pageant. I mean, just look at how much pressure there is for people of color to make ourselves invisible, to make ourselves nothing, to regard ourselves as worthless, to feel shame for just existing. Don’t feel any shame, don’t downplay whatever connection you have with your friends who are Asian. Don’t validate what the other kids in your school are saying about your group of friends!

Even though you say you feel self-conscious, I think you know deep down that it is marvelous to have a group of friends like you do. When I went off to college and suddenly found myself in an incredibly diverse environment and started to hang out with other Asian people again, I realized that it’s not about some sort of innate cultural connection. It’s not like, “Hey, other Asian person, do you like rice too? You do? Let’s be each other’s best friends!” It’s more like: Guess who else has the experience of watching movies where the protagonist is almost guaranteed to not look like them? Or like: Guess who else gets asked “Where are you from?” the first time they meet someone or has had to laugh off a few “Ya’ll look the same” jokes in their lifetime? OTHER ASIAN PEOPLE.

So, to boil this all down: Fuck anyone who makes fun of you or makes you feel self-conscious about hanging out with other Asian people. You don’t even have time to explain their ignorance and privilege to them, because you need to get busy enjoying the hell out of your friends and your big big shiny heart. —Jenny

So, this is an awkward question for me. I feel embarrassed talking about it—even writing this is difficult. What I’m having an issue with is something my dad does that I don’t think is bad enough to count as abuse, but I feel like I’ve been abused. But, OK…my dad has been touching my butt a lot lately. I feel like I can’t say anything to him about it because he’ll get mad and take it out on my mom and my brother. And I can’t tell the rest of my family because they’ll just get upset with me, and they won’t confront him because everyone is afraid of him. So I just end up crying about it every day (he does it every day). My father is not a horrible person, but he is doing this horrible thing. So what do I do? Do I just make sure that my backside is never exposed to him? —Anonymous

I am so sorry that this is happening to you. There are a couple of major things going on here: Your father isn’t respecting your body or your boundaries, and your family is too scared of him to do anything about it. Before I go any further, I want to make sure you have some contact info if you or your brother or your mother wants to talk to someone outside of the family—living in fear is not OK, and there are definitely people who can help. Here are a few important links:

• ChildHelp
• The National Resource Center for Child Protective Services
• RAINN (They have tons of great resources, like the National Sexual Assault Online Hotline, a list of U.S. crisis centers and international assault and rape resources.)

You said, “I don’t think it’s bad enough to count as abuse, but I feel like I’ve been abused.” What you’re feeling matters, and it is all you need to validate that what is happening to you is abuse, and to start the process of getting help. When someone touches your body without your permission, even your father, especially in a way that makes you cry every day, that is abusive. Abuse takes a lot of different forms, and physical abuse doesn’t always look like what we see in the movies or hear people talk about on TV. Emotional abuse is just as damaging as physical abuse—that’s the living in fear, crying, and not being sure who to talk to that you reported in your email. I want you to know that I hear you, I believe you, and what you’re going through is real.

It can be complicated to recognize and deal with abuse when the abuser is a family member, because your trust is compromised and everything feels all twisted up and, as you’ve pointed out, you’re not sure who to go to. It’s not your fault that your family cannot protect you from this behavior, and no matter what the outcome, you are absolutely correct to protect yourself. I went through something similar to your situation with someone I knew when I was young, and it turned into full-on physical and sexual abuse. Not all abuse escalates, but even what your father doing now is wrong, and you don’t need to wait for it to get worse to tell someone about it.

Talking to people about what’s going on is important, but it is also helpful to know what you want to have happen when you do reach out for help. Do you want someone to talk to your dad and tell him to stop touching your body? Do you want there to be less intimidation overall, like maybe he goes to therapy? Do you want to live somewhere else? Do you want HIM to live somewhere else? The reason I ask is that since you’re under 18, once you tell a therapist or counselor or teacher what is happening, they legally have to do something about it. And I don’t want that to scare you—again, none of this is your fault, and nothing that happens as a result of your taking action is your fault. But if you go into any discussion about this knowing what you want, it’s much easier to ask for that when you ask for help. Instead of saying, “My dad is scary sometimes,” which people might dismiss, you can say something like, “My dad touches me in a way that is inappropriate, and I am scared every day, and I don’t want to live with him anymore,” or whatever it is that you want. I reported what was going on with me, and that person was kept away from me from then on. For years I felt guilty about it, but speaking up probably saved my life, because the abuse was only getting worse, so it was absolutely the right thing to do. Sometimes you have to save your own life, and it’s always going to be the right decision.

This next part is going to take a lot of courage, but you have already proven yourself to be brave by writing to us, so I know you can do it. If you can’t trust the family members that are in the house with you, your first step might be to tell someone in your extended family (cousins, aunts, uncles). If you don’t feel comfortable going to your family at all, you can absolutely talk to a teacher you trust, who might refer you to a school psychologist (most schools in the U.S. have one). If you don’t want to go to a teacher first, you can ask the main office to direct you to the school psychologist, or your school guidance counselor can help you set up an appointment. Those are probably your best options for talking to someone right away in a way that is comfortable for you. If you can safely use a phone in your house, you can also contact any of the organizations listed above, all of whom can help put you in contact with the best non-school based services in your area. (Again, ask them at the outset what they must disclose to authorities.)

You’ve already done the hard part by reaching out to ask for help. My life completely changed when I spoke up about what was happening to me, and I never lived in fear again. You deserve to be safe, you deserve the space to set rules about your body, and you deserve it right now. —Danielle ♦

Do you have a question (about pretty much anything) for us or the more qualified people we rope into this thing from time to time? Send it to youaskedit@rookiemag.com. Please include some form of your name/initials/nickname, your age, and whereabouts you live.

Page

1 2

24 Comments

  • llamalina September 17th, 2013 11:24 PM

    Jenny, you are amazing. That is some “real shit” right there.

  • Danielle September 17th, 2013 11:30 PM

    ♥ Jenny ♥

  • magenta04 September 18th, 2013 1:33 AM

    So great.

  • lotusmarina September 18th, 2013 3:44 AM

    “Rushing into love is a great way to end up with a jerk, or settling for a relationship that doesn’t really work.”
    Can I just say I’m kind of thrilled that you made that rhyme? It made my day (night). ;)

  • sanriosanrio September 18th, 2013 6:03 AM

    I hope I didn’t sound like this? LMBO
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rpN7kNRO5jk

    -Lisa

  • ashleylynn September 18th, 2013 6:10 AM

    I love how all the answers are never (not even a little bit!) judgemental, but always really genuine and helpful!

    http://www.ashleylynn.nl

  • silvermist September 18th, 2013 11:12 AM

    re: cheating. I cheated in high school, I used to let my classmates copy my test papers and I would copy theirs in my weakest classes. I never thought it was ethically wrong as everyone did it. I never stopped enjoying school because of cheating, I actually loved school. The thing with cheating and the reason why I stopped doing it is that it was evolving to something more – stealing test papers from teachers usb drives and laptops. It’s been more than 3 years since I left high school and I still feel very very guilty for participating in everything. I guess when you grow up you start to realize “wow, my biology teacher was also a PERSON – a person who trusted me”. I still feel guilty and I regret even the littlest thing like copying my english homework.

  • care-n September 18th, 2013 12:01 PM

    Jenny, you’re amazing!

  • Pocket Cow September 18th, 2013 12:04 PM

    I feel you about the “Asian friends!” I’m half First Nations and half Scottish, but in high school my friend group consisted of another First Nations girl, two white girls, two exchange students from China, an exchange student from Korea, and a Chinese-Canadian. People were always making comments about us (the white/white-appearing girls) spending time with “The Asians.” One guy (an adult- someone’s father!) even came into my place of work after grad to commend me on taking my friend from Korea to prom!!! He thought I had done it out of sympathy and I had to explain to him that we had been friends for four years and I just wanted to share graduation with her because I liked her. Our friendship was that unusual. My school wasn’t diverse, and people just assumed we hung out with the exchange students out of sympathy, when really they were all brilliant people who are all planning on emigrating to Canada, and who I still keep contact with.

  • mariasnow September 18th, 2013 1:14 PM

    Normally I just go after whoever I feel like being friends with but when it comes to friends of color, I always assume that they’re too cool to be friends with me. Like I perceive myself to be on coolness level five let’s say and they’re always automatically on coolness level 5.5 at the very least. I just think, “oh pssch yeah they talk to me in class and stuff but I’m not like a real friend for them or anything.” My friend Ryan actually had to corner me after class and say, “seriously. we. are. friends. now.” and then I said, “ohhhhhh.”

    I had a Chinese-Canadian penpal when I was a teen (still do actually!) and when she sent me a red envelope with some kind of special coin in it, I totally died of awesome.

    If I saw a group of Chinese-Americans I’d just assume that they were all lucky to have met some others with similar heritage. There were zero people with German-Immigrant families at my Schule. There would have been so many high-fives about St. Nikolaus tag.

    • Jenny September 18th, 2013 11:56 PM

      Okay, the story about Ryan and your penpal are just like the cutest stories… they made me smile so hard!

  • puffling September 18th, 2013 1:15 PM

    Anonymous, I am so proud of you for finding the courage to reach out and seek help.

    After some of my own experiences, it took a long time to realise that the terms sexual assault and sexual abuse are so broad, they cover such a wide range of behaviour and it is ALL equally unacceptable. There is no hierarchy in violation, and you have every right to feel the way you do.

    Your analysis of your own experiences is the only one that counts.

    Love and courage.

    xxx

  • Florencey September 18th, 2013 2:09 PM

    i’m 20 next month and have never been in a relationship or even held hands with a guy. i’ve had one drunken kiss where the guy treated my mouth like a washing machine (eeeww), and that’s about it.

    i felt aaaaaawful about it until i found rookie- i felt bad for being one of those girls who’s like “aaah i want a boyfriend” but at the same time it was genuinely painful that no-one wanted me. it still is sometimes, but the more i hear of people around my age and older who are still virgins, the better i feel and the less freaky i feel :)

    • Maryse89 September 18th, 2013 6:38 PM

      don’t worry! I was 19 when i got my first kiss (it was terrrrible as well), ‘lost’ my virginity at 22, and now I’m 24 and I’ve never been in a longer-than 2 months relationship, and definitely never have been in love

      all my friends are actually getting married right now, but I’ve accepted that I much prefer things at the pace I’m at now! i get to do lots of awesome stuff cause i’m single

      you’ll figure out your own pace and it will be awesome :)))

  • GlitterKitty September 18th, 2013 4:09 PM

    Cheating at school really makes me upset. A lot of people at my school cheat and so then people sometimes try to bring me into it as well. A lot of the time I think they’re just trying to be nice and help me out but I don’t want to. A lot of people have actually got upset at me for not letting them copy my homework or something. But I do understand the feeling. Sometimes I feel like I’m just being too uptight and copying would just make my life so much easier. I see why people do it, there is so much pressure to succeed, but I just don’t want to ge into that.

  • z-bop September 18th, 2013 6:32 PM

    My friends tease me all the time about how I’m always hanging out with other Jewish kids, talking about my Jewish youth group, or my Jewish camp, and so on and so forth. But that’s just who I am, I’m proud of it, and I’ll talk about it as much as I want. No one has the right to tease you for being proud of who you are.

  • ladyjenna September 18th, 2013 7:59 PM

    Thank you guys so much for answering….really means a lot to me!

  • vvanessaw September 19th, 2013 4:32 AM

    aahhh jenny thank you so much for an amazing answer to my question!! it really means so much and everything you wrote really hit home. this is some advice to live by :)

  • eliza dolittle September 19th, 2013 12:43 PM

    “I want you to know that I hear you, I believe you, and what you’re going through is real.”

    fuck. danielle <3

    best of luck and all my love to you anonymous. i know you might feel like you are being a burden to others right now, especially if you act and there are consequences for your father, so please know that you are so so important and worthy of love, respect and peace.

  • kaylafay September 19th, 2013 2:04 PM

    Jenny is so eloquent and badass at the same time AHHH how do i be like you

  • grace September 19th, 2013 2:20 PM

    I have a question that needs answering. But I kind of need it right away , apposed to waiting for an article about it. Is there anyway I can contact someone with my question and get an answer as soon possible?

    • Anaheed September 19th, 2013 5:37 PM

      Maybe ask it here in the comments and see if someone has an answer for you?

  • wannabebotanist September 20th, 2013 11:43 PM

    The question and response for anonymous left me in tears. A cousin of mine, who is 28, just came forward about sexual abuse by her dad, my uncle, that had gone on from age 8 to 11. She had never told anyone about it till now, and was still living with him till she was 27. It took every drop of courage in her to speak up, but despite the turmoil she is so glad she did. He was kicked out of the house by my aunt, whom he had abused as well, but unfortunately because of the statute of limitations he cannot be prosecuted. but she has since sought therapy and is finally taking the steps towards recovery with the love and support of her family.
    It is never too late to speak up, and nobody ever has the right to compromise your personal space and autonomy.

  • Lia September 24th, 2013 5:30 PM

    God, Seeking Love, I feel ya! I mean, seriously. I’m 16 going on 17 and I’ll graduate from High School by early December. I never had a boyfriend or something close to that. I never had any kind of relationship and I feel EXACTLY the same way you do. Sometimes I feel desperate for the taste of love. I feel ready to have sex and stuff (and man, I want it so bad!) but I have no one. Of course I don’t want to do it with someone I don’t like (don’t need to be true love or something, just someone I like to spend time with) but it seems like I every boy I met is an asshole. I just can’t find anyone I find interesting enough. I feel like I’m more after sex than love, but whatever. I’m suffering anyway.