By Luce Tang, 20
New Youth Connections, New York
(Some names have changed for this article.)
When I first moved into a black neighborhood four years ago, people’s reactions to me made it clear that I was the only Asian around.
I used to live in a fairly diverse neighborhood with Asians, whites, Hispanics, blacks and Hasidic Jews. But this wasn’t the case in my new neighborhood. Nearly everyone was black and soon I got the “stink eye” – an angry glare – from people at the bus stop. It was creepy and made me feel uncomfortable.
Some guys at the corner store would holler, “Hey, Chun Li, come over here. I want to speak with you.” I wasn’t used to guys yelling at me like that. I’m not a video game character.
I didn’t expect rude and discriminatory remarks from people in a suburban-style neighborhood with detached houses, lawns and garages. And I was surprised that the people picking on me were black. I didn’t think they would treat another minority as an outsider.
Not everyone treated me that way. I met Aeisha, who’s my age, and her brother Garrett, who’s a year younger than I am, while waiting for the bus. They were new to the neighborhood, too. We started talking. Once I went over to their house and played chess and watched TV with them.
Aeisha and Garrett, who are black, made friends with some of the other kids in the neighborhood. I gained confidence after that to make some friends of my own. Within a few months, some of my new friends took me around the neighborhood to introduce me to everybody else.
To my surprise, I met people my age who had never met an Asian person before. I started to think that maybe lack of experience with other groups is what leads to intolerance and insults.
A few months later, a group of young teenagers sitting behind me on the bus started making comments like, “What is she doing in a black neighborhood?” and, “What is she doing with those braids?” (I wore my hair in cornrows that day.)
I was angry and wanted to confront them. But I didn’t want to get into a fight. Instead, I imagined turning around and saying to them, “If you think braids are strictly for black people, then why do you wear your hair straight?”
After that, I started to distrust everyone again. Neighbors and friends tried to smile and talk when I passed by, but I acted like I didn’t hear them.
After about a month, I realized that it was only a few people who were ignorant and mean. I realized I had wronged those who had been genuinely friendly. And as more months went by, I noticed I no longer got that “outsider” glare. Now, for the most part, people don’t really look at me at all.
My experience has convinced me that it’s important to get to know other ethnicities besides your own. I’m angry that I had to deal with racist comments, but I once held stereotypes about African-Americans, too.
When I have kids, I’ll teach them to have pride in their culture, or cultures, and to respect other cultures as well.
© 2007 Youth Communication/New York Center Inc. http://www.youthcomm.org.