ashley and nina
Ashley, Chinese-American, and Nina, half-Mexican half-Muslim, were shopping at an Asian grocery store when we met them and asked for a five-minute interview. Here they share stories on fitting in, racist jokes, and family connection.
Samantha: So if we could maybe start by getting your names and cultural backgrounds?
Ashley: I'm Ashley and I'm Chinese.
Nina: I'm Nina, I'm half Mexican and half Muslim.
Serena: Oh, that's so cool.
Samantha: Today, do you still feel connected to your heritage? And if so, how do you do that.
Ashley: It's definitely difficult to stay exactly completely connected without being, I guess, judged in so many ways? But at home, there's still ways you can practice, just cultural things with your family. So in a sense, yes, we are, but at the same time, we've been forced to.
Nina: For me, usually it's only when you're with community members, people who share the same background as you. For example, I'm Muslim, I technically celebrate holidays and stuff without my Muslim friends. But my American friends don't really understand it, or they kind of judge me for it. It's a little bit hard.
Samantha: Out of curiosity, since you mentioned you're also Mexican, do you think two cultures are ever in conflict with each other? Or are you maybe able to bridge both groups well?
Nina: I wouldn't say they get along very well? I mean, they can still be friends. But the cultural difference makes it hard for them to get along with each other.
Serena: Growing up, how was that experience for you? Were your schools very accepting or was it a little bit hard to fit in, I guess?
Ashley: It was definitely more difficult to fit in because you'd definitely, a lot of kids make fun of you. They just judge you. In a way, I feel like when you're younger, you almost hide it. You hide your identity and you try to conform to what's acceptable? But then when you're older, you kind of find where you fit in, you find others who accept you, and you can kind of be okay with who you are.
Serena: Yeah, of course.
Nina: There's like a lot of jokes made about your race. You know, Mexicans can go over the wall. Or discrimination against you. They're pretty big stereotypes. I have friends who get made fun of for having a cow for a god, you know?
Samantha: Where did you guys grow up? For me, I've grown up in New Jersey, where I've been fortunate to have this big Asian population around me, but I know some people haven't been as lucky.
Ashley: I grew up all my life in New Jersey.
Nina: I grew up most of my life here, I actually first lived in California though.
Serena: Oh, woah, that's pretty cool.
Samantha: Are there any stereotypes that you specifically felt were imposed upon you as a kid? Or that you in general just really disliked?
Ashley: For example, since I'm Chinese, they always make fun of your eyes, how you look. They make fun of what you eat and stuff like that.
Nina: They always say Mexicans are, you know, illegal immigrants. For Muslims, they're always like, "Oh, you're a terrorist or something."
Samantha: That's so horrible.
Nina: It's just like, they make racist jokes mostly in middle school? I guess it's more hidden now in conversation, I suppose.
Serena: Has your perception of yourself changed growing up then, as you kind of escaped that harassment and bullying based on your race?
Nina: I think because I found more people like me and share similarities, [inaudible], I think I've learned to accept myself more. It definitely changed for the better.
Ashley: That's exactly the same way. Like now that we're older, and now that we found people that you fit in with and get along with and relate to, it's not as bad. But the thing is when you're younger, that stuff still really impacts you, even today.
Serena: Yeah. That makes sense.
Samantha: Last question, moving onto modern day—we've seen all the racial protests from last summer, then specifically focusing on anti-Asian hate crimes and stereotyping due to coronavirus. How has your family and community reacted, and how have you personally reacted?
Nina: For me, I definitely have a family that is a very accepting community and they definitely were against how people were blaming the Asian community for everything. I mean there are statistics that show it isn't Asian people's fault. I just found ti really unacceptable, but it does make me happy that people are standing up more in their communities. I have joined some in our community, we went to like a town hall.
Ashley: For my family, of course we're happy that these people are finally speaking up about it. It's a really important topic that they've been talking about all the time, but finally it's out, in the public, for everyone. Because before, no one's really talked about it. So it's really nice to see. So, they're very supportive of it.