10 Things You Should NOT Say to an AAPI Student | Haiyun Lu | 5 Min Read

June 16, 2022

Very often, the media portrays Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) with stereotypes and biases, so it is not surprising that audiences have all been plagued by prejudice, bigotry, and racism.  Confronting these implicit biases takes conscious effort, tremendous courage, and enormous determination.  However, it can also be as simple as educating oneself about microaggressions and changing habitual thoughts and behaviors about AAPI.  Here are 10 things one can easily learn about what not to say to AAPI people and students.

  1. You are good at math and science; can you help your classmates?  OR your family values education more than anything so you will have no problem getting a good grade. The research shows that about 1/3 of AAPI high schoolers either don’t finish or drop out of high school.  Our implicit bias is deeply rooted in the Model Minority Myth.  It assumes that all AAPI people are successful academically as well as socioeconomically, and all AAPI parents are well educated and have the means to invest in their children’s education.
  2. My favorite Chinese food is sweet & sour chicken and chicken with broccoli. I hope I won’t disappoint you by revealing that both dishes are totally American inventions.  As a native Chinese, I never heard about many of the Americanized Chinese meals and fortune cookies before I arrived in the States.  Your enjoyment of fake Chinese food cannot elevate your cross-cultural understanding, acceptance, and support for AAPI.  In fact, it would be really a nice thing to do if you could try out authentic ethnic cuisines and truly expand your taste buds.  And, if you could expand your friend circle to include many diverse people from different racial, ethnic, cultural, and religious groups, it would be even better.
  3.  “Where are you from?” I mean, “Where are you truly from?” This question, on the surface, might show your curiosity and innocence.  Deep down, it reveals an implicit bias that being an American identifies with one look, one skin color, and one race.  Many AAPI have been born and raised in the U.S.  For some, they have been there for centuries.  Their different look and skin color, in your eyes, only define their “otherness”.  Your question reminds them they don’t belong to this country.
  4. “You are Chinese, aren’t you?”  In this country, when many people think of Asians, very often, an East-Asian-looking face pops up in their head.  This question normally contains two problems: 1) East-Asian people are Asian people.  In fact, there are 43 distinct ethnic groups in Asia, and they look quite different from each other.  East Asia is only one geographic area, it doesn’t include all of Asia.  2) Since China has the largest population in the world, any East-Asian-looking person is Chinese.
  5. “Have you eaten dogs?” This question is so offensive and belittling that I don’t even know where to begin.  As an Asian woman, I went through a traumatic experience in my effort to adopt a rescue dog.  This stereotype has been painfully applied to me.  When people ask me this question with a righteous tone, dear readers, what would you advise me to respond?
  6. “My best friends are from China, Japan, Thailand,…  I am not a racist.” Well, you might have friends from some of the Asian countries and you might have even gone to their houses and eaten some ethnic meals.  However, your familiarity is not racist-proof.  In fact, becoming an anti-racist requires diligent reflection, ongoing education, and persistent effort to reach out to others.
  7. “Is your favorite color red?”  Many of my students assume my favorite color is red because in class I have taught them that red is a lucky color in China.  Personally, red is my least favorite color.  I seldomly wear anything red.  Most of my clothes are blue or green because these are the colors I love.  But people refuse to see me as their eyes observe; instead, they use their misperception to view me.  Often, if I ask students to give a presentation on China, most of them will design their slides with a red background.  They tend to reduce China and the Chinese people to a single-color spectrum.
  8. “I can’t pronounce your name; can I call you XX?” This blatant question demonstrates the impatience, poor effort, and entitlement of the speaker.  No one expects you to be an expert in pronouncing a different language, but the lack of willingness to even try is such a harmful act.  It discredits one’s heritage and emphasizes  “otherness” again. Ultimately, it provokes a sense of exclusion.
  9. “You are from  ____________ (insert an Asian place here), can you tell me about XX? You might think it communicates that you are eager to learn or you respect an AAPI’s heritage.  By presenting them as the expert in the place they came from, however, you are pressuring them to be responsible for your learning.
  10. “Why are you so loud?  Asian people are normally quiet and friendly.” The underlying message is that Asian people are submissive and laid back.  Often, they don’t possess a voice. Therefore, I expect you to be the same.  Asian people are good workers, they are not good leaders.  I’m feeling uncomfortable about your untraditional behavior, I’m having problems placing you in a box.

Bonus: “When I look at you, I’m colorblind.” You might think such a statement shows that you view everyone as the same or equal.  However, since people of color’s experiences in this country have been a painful and an excruciating fight for existence and acceptance if you don’t see “color”, it denies a person of color’s racial and ethnic experiences and denies the individual as a racial and cultural being.  

Read more articles by Haiyun Lu in Intrepid Ed News.

Haiyun Lu

Haiyun Lu, a Chinese language teacher at the University School of Milwaukee (WI), is also a writer, blogger, trainer, curriculum designer, meditator, and Co-Founder at Ignite Chinese.

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