“Where are you from?”
“No, but where are you really from? Where are your parents from?”
This type of questioning is not foreign to me anymore, in fact, it’s something that I’m almost used to. Sometimes I like to say “Africa,” just to watch the disbelief unfold over the other person’s face. And the thing is, it’s not unique to just countries where there are low Asian populations, I’ve had this conversation in places like Madrid, Spain, a city that has its own Chinatown!
This got me thinking – what if more Asians traveled? Would there be less of these questions? Would people be more aware that there is life outside of their own race?
Reasons Why More Asians Should Travel:
1. Spread awareness
By traveling to other countries, Asians can increase awareness about Asia to other countries. It’s not even just Asia, it’s the fact that someone can be Asian American, which always seems to confuse people, like the Ecuadorian man that refused to believe that I could be from San Francisco. He was puzzled that I wasn’t white. But what is even more interesting is that the United States was originally inhabited by Native Americans…Funny how quickly history can be forgotten.
So the question is this disbelief, this surprise, is it racism or is it ignorance?
I used to think that it was racism, but after traveling a decent amount, I think it’s more due to ignorance. It’s ignorance about the fact that Asians exist, ignorance about the fact that we exist outside of Jackie Chan movies and Gangnam Style music videos. But through traveling, it’s one way we can educate and enlighten others about other races, other customs, other political views and other religions (or lack of).
These locals will learn how someone can be of Asian heritage, but not from Asia; how being Asian-American is a real possibility. The more Asians travel, the more people will realize that Asians exist, and there will be an exponential effect. This might even influence the locals to travel to Asia to learn more about cultures outside their own.
The point of this post is not to pick on anyone or denounce anyone, because anyone can be susceptible to these biases, including Asians. I remember entering a grocery market in Madrid which was run by a Chinese man and being caught off-guard when he spoke fluent Spanish. We all have something to learn and gain by traveling.
2. Funny stories
Traveling to other countries where there are not many Asians leads to funny stories. Like the time that my sister and I received a marriage proposal from a random man in Marrakech, Morocco, who proclaimed that he wanted to have 1,000 babies. Yikes, no thanks. Was thinking closer to the single digits.
Or wandering through the Atlas Mountains and having little kids follow you because they’ve never “seen anyone with your eyes before”.
Or random people coming up to you and asking to take pictures with you to show their friends and family back home.
3. The world is freaking beautiful
Whether or not you are Asian, I think we can agree that the world is a beautiful place and there is so much to see and discover. By traveling to a place that is different from where you are from, you are growing your own perspective, increasing the context in which you see yourself, and your vision of the world expands just a little more. The new experiences you’ll have, the people you’ll meet, they will shape and influence the lens with which you see the world. And that is beautiful.
Having said this, this experience is not unique to Africa or Europe. I’ve met people in New Haven, CT who have confided that they call all Asian women Jackie because they once had a Chinese friend named Jackie. Um, what? Or I’ll be checking out at Trader Joe’s and the cashier will suddenly tell me that he loves Chinese food, especially General Tso’s chicken. Sorry to break it to you buddy, but pretty sure they don’t eat that in China. These semi-awkward, fascinating moments are not just with non-Asians though. I’ve also had Asian tourists at Yale come up to me and ask if they can take a picture. So maybe in traveling, you don’t have to go as far as you think.