On Asian “accents”

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It started when I was in kindergarten, and I was so proud I did not have to go to Bingo class, unlike my friends, because I could speak good English –

although I had no idea what a yellow dog that could spell had anything to do with Chinese. 

(I figure out now that it was probably called Bilingual class)

I am lucky. I speak the fluent, accentless English of newscasters, the dialect spoken by the children of immigrants, that we learned not from our parents but rather from watching Sesame Street and other things on tv.

Last year, a white facebook friend of mine posted, “In order to celebrate Chinese New Year, me talk rike chinese man arr day.” 

And then told me that she was “sorry I was offended” and “she didn’t mean anything by it” when I (nicely, sweetly) told her that that shit was not okay. She said that she saw it the same as doing an accent, like Irish. Or British. Or Italian. (for bonus points, she even said that she has lots of Asian co-workers and friends, and LOVES Asian people, and so is not a racist.)

And when one of my white friends gets drunk, he thinks his “Asian accent” is hilarious.

And I was told by a coworker about the time my Asian coworker mispronounced “Barroway” as “Bwawwoway” and how hilarious it was.

Here’s the thing – can you guess how many Asian people I know who actually say

me rikey

me from _____

me so solly

(or, if you like, the fetishized versions: me so horny, me love you long time)

if you said ZERO, then ding ding ding! Congratulations, you have working brain cells.

No, my misguided fb friend, the “Asian accent” is not an actual imitation of an accent, comparable to your bad British/Irish/Italian – but rather a mockery of Asian people and their supposed inability to speak English. It is the perpetuation of the image of Asian people as perpetual foreigners in America.

Like that time when my family was at an Italian restaurant, and we were speaking to my father in Cantonese, and a drunken white lady said very loudly, “GOD when you come to this country at least learn the language!”

Or when my father was pulled over for speeding, and although he said “what’s the problem, officer?” the first thing the state trooper said was, “Do you speak English?”

Your fake “Asian accents” are not harmless and silly, because at the root of the joke, it says – you, you are stupid. You cannot speak English. You are Other. You do not belong.

my parents have been in this country for 30 years. They have been American citizens for 30 years.

And they are very self-conscious of their imperfect English, afraid that it makes them look ignorant, knowing that it marks them as immigrants. That, after 30 years, you can still be told (in not so many words) that you do not belong.

The Cultural Revolution started in China when my father was 13. He was pulled out of school and, later, sent to work in the fields. (He escaped to Hong Kong when he was 18, but that is another story for another time.)

When my father came to this country, he had a middle school education and did not speak a lick of English. He worked as a busboy at a Chinese restaurant, the evening shift that ran until 3 or 4 in the morning, and went to school during the day.

It took my father ten years to earn his bachelor’s degree. He is now an engineer.

Is this not your “American Dream?”

When my mother came to this country, she spoke very little English. She got a job as an entry level clerk. Over the years she earned one promotion after another. She is now management at a large federal agency, and manages funds for the whole state.

Is this not your “American Dream?”

And my father didn’t understand why his coworkers said, “flied lice, flied lice!” to him over and over and laughed.

And my father is still afraid to speak in a professional setting, even when he has ideas. 

And my mother still checks and double checks her professional e-mails with me, for fear of mockery from the same people she manages.

And people don’t understand why I can’t take a harmless joke. Why I don’t think that shit is funny.

No, I don’t “rikey.” 

No, I won’t “love you long time.”

And no, I’m not sorry.

So, please, kindly – FUCK OFF.

Reblogging this for, like, the fiftieth time because it has never stopped being relevant to my life and it always, always breaks my heart.

It’s not funny. It’s not okay. It’s not harmless. It’s alienating and hurtful.