A little background: I am Chinese American. I live in a university town in the Midwest that is fairly multicultural, but that is also surrounded by farming communities that are generally 100% white and very insulated.
I work at a magnet teaching hospital that is affiliated with the university here. The problem is, that many of the patients from these rural communities get transferred here. They have a tendency to say really awkward things to me.
"Your English is really good!" (English is my primary language)
"Where are you from?" And then they don't believe me when I insist that I am, in fact, from Midwestern America.
"Would you ever go back to China?" No, why would I do that? I'm a citizen and this is my home... They continued to look puzzled and then said, "but why not?"
Asking me a zillion questions about what China is like, and continuing to ask them when I've politely explained that I probably don't know any better than they do.
Or, my favorite is when gentlemen who are World War II vets start speaking Japanese to me, and look confused when I don't understand. (Actually the Japanese came over to china and committed horrible atrocities... But that's another thing entirely).
Generally I am polite, and patient with these patients. Most of the time i try to have a sense of humor abut the situation. i know they aren't being intentional in their insensitivity, but it still grates on me that despite growing up here, they insist on treating me like I'm a foreigner. I find that if I try to correct them, it just leads to things being awkward. "actually English is my primary language that I speak, much like you don't speak polish, mr. Wienawski (not an actual name)"
At the same time, if I ignore it, then it continues with the patient making my race and heritage a constant topic of conversation.
Has anyone else dealt with this before? How did you deal with it? Should I just ignore it, or should I try to politely correct them, if appropriate?
Apr 11, '13
I live in an area just like you described in the rural ne. I just pass as white american for the most part but sometimes get some questions like that. . Even "certain kinds" of white people get these comments or questions. ( we aren't all the same and some groups are not numerous in US). It is annoying to always be thought of as a foreigner or outsider when you are in your own country!! There isn't much for you to do or say. The questions will continue. Just say you were born here and do not know any chinese or anything about living in china (seems to be what you are doing). Some people are too stupid to understand that they are not the only americans and there have been chinese people in US for hundreds of years. Many of these people have just had very limited exposure to people that are not like them and are just curious I guess. in my experience , turning it on them (like your, "do you speak polish?!" example) flies right over most people's heads. it is different for them @@
Last edit by anotherone on Apr 11, '13