My Own Interrogasian

August 10, 2008

If the two ladies are reading this, I hope I got the questions
right. Please excuse my poor memory as I recall what we discussed. 
Question 1: When did we go from saying orientals to Asian Americans? During which era did that happen and why? 
2: Our parents traveled to the orient when we were growing up. What is
included in the orient, and how is that different from Asia?  
3: What is the most politically correct way of asking someone where
he's from? And I am doing this simply out of pure curiosity. 

an Asian American publication, I think it's great that people see us
as a resource to go to. After all, one of Hyphen's main goals is to
raise awareness. However, when I told my partner in crime about this
incident, he got visibly upset and felt that the questions were
ignorant. He felt that I shouldn't have to answer such questions. 

What do you think and what would be the perfect answer for the last question? 

Lisa Lee


Lisa Lee works in User Operations at Facebook, and has more than five years of nonprofit experience in marketing and communications for multicultural arts and cultural organizations.



In response to your partner-in-crime, I think if you're tabling at an event as a representative of an Asian American magazine, there's no reason to be indignant about someone asking questions that may seem ignorant if that person is not being a jerk and honestly wants to get educated. If I'm an ignorant non-Asian, I'd probably think, who better to ask these questions to than someone from a media outlet that purports to be "Asian America Unabridged"?I understand it gets tiring educating others about being Asian American to random strangers, but when you put yourself out there, I don't think it's unreasonable to be asked questions like this. I hate it when folks in our "activist" community have an attitude about others who are not "down." I applaud you for trying to answer these women's questions and hopes your partner-in-crime takes a chill pill.
thanks commenter. i think my partner's general feeling is that the ladies that asked me those questions were lazy. he feels that if they really cared enough to understand one's culture, there are books, online resources, and many other ways to get the answers to those questions without approaching a stranger directly. i definitely agree, and accept that because it was a tabling event, we were indeed putting ourselves out there to educate people about our magazine, which deals with the asian american identity. if today, some random person walked up to me in the street and just asked me those questions, i would've probably thought, "wtf?"
Some random thoughts on the post and the questions the people you were talking with brought up:1. I think we all focus on different things when it comes to race, racism, ethnicity and how those affect us and the larger communities around us, and in that sense what may be considered basic to some isn't always basic to others, so I think there's always a value and something that can be taken from discussions like this about race and racism.2. On the last question I think one way to answer it can be: In a lot of ways when you ask that question, especially to someone who's of Asian descent, the implication is that they're an outsider, a foreigner, someone who's still seen as though they aren't a part of American society because of past legislation, racial bias, and this underlying thought that even though Asian Americans have been a part of the American fabric for many generations that we still don't really belong. In a simple way the question can ask "So are you really American?" and because of that, it's a question that really shouldn't be asked, and one that people can easily get offended by. At the same time I'd ask the question of whether or not you ask that question to people who aren't of Asian descent, and if you don't, why you might be more inclined to ask that question or something like "What ethnicity are you?" specifically of them and not others, and what that might say not necessarily about you, but about society's larger view on race and ethnicity and who does and doesn't belong, which I think we can all become influenced by in some way or another.3. On the topic of whether or not we as Asian Americans and people of color should have to answer these types of questions I'm 50/50 on that and I can't fault anyone for not wanting or thinking we shouldn't have to answer them. For me it depends on the person and how the topic is brought up and while I do think everyone needs to share responsibility in learning about diversity and that we alone can't and shouldn't be the educators, I do think part of that education for people who aren't of color is by having those conversations, posing questions, and putting themselves out there, and I have to give credit to people who are willing to be uncomfortable and ask those questions, because to me they're at least trying to understand and gain a broader perspective.
With regards to #3, I agree with Slanty.When someone asks me where I'm from, I say Texas, because that is where I am indeed from and grew up. This is not what people want to hear, so they will try different variations on the question, usually, "Oh, where are you parents from?" and I will just keep on saying Texas.Sometimes, I will bring up some of the things that Slanty mentions, by asking them why they are asking me this and whether or not they ask that of people who aren't of Asian descent. But it's exhausting to have to educate people all the time.
I don't think asking properly comes down to a correct word of phrase, what's important is the mutual respect between the inquirer and the respondent.If someone is asking out of genuine interest and with humility at not knowing even the proper way to frame the question, it seems only fair to give them an answer which doesn't mock them. That's not to say that a education can't come from a little sauciness, but sometimes a rally can be more satisfying if we spin the ball rather than returning it flat and hard.It sucks to have to be asked the questions during daily life, but when tabling at an event, it kinda has to be expected and prepared for.