#35: Wearing Our Asian-ness Externally w/Jeff Tseng

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(episode is in English)

Honored to share this conversation with Jeff Tseng, centered around a post he wrote on social media (quoted below) in reaction to the recent spike in violence against Asians in the US. We discuss racism in the workplace and dating worlds, and reflect on how writing is a great way to process thoughts and feelings.

Favorite lines from our convo: "We wear our Asian-ness externally. There's no escaping it. People will assign it to you regardless -- it's the snap judgement that everyone makes." "Be a voice in conversations. Amplify other voices that you find to ring true in your mind and your heart."

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Jeff's post:

"My father used to make us use an alias when joining the waitlist at restaurants. “If they see our names are Chinese, they will make us wait longer.” I suppose we’ll never know if the host stand at the Cheesecake Factory in White Flint Mall indeed had a racial bias issue, but my father’s paranoia showed me the precariously thin line Asian Americans walk on and how we all feel invisible except in the most inopportune moments.
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I wrote a paper for my business school ethics class about anti-Asian racism in the workplace and how its brand of subtleness made it almost impossible to prove and even harder to combat. The response from the [white] professor was a polite but ironic, “I’m not sure about that.” We don’t have to grasp at subtleties now that the racism is overt. Even still, in the most violent example, people wonder out loud what the motivation could’ve been and suggest that the gunman couldn’t control his feelings toward these women, as if to say, he simply loved Asians too much.
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I once went on a date with a [white] person who tipsily explained why he only dates Asians, “They have fewer choices, so they aren’t going to reject me.” If the white man’s quest to find something docile has led them to us, our perceived desperation is the bonus. Even if these people do love us in their own way, perhaps part of it will always be because they see Asians as less than.
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But we are not desperate. There is a dignity that comes with being Asian. We are the people who invented the moveable type, gunpowder (oops), and the dan dan noodle (you’re welcome). There is a dignity that comes with being Asian American too, not from what we contribute through working at NIH or cooking the foods everyone likes, but by persevering in a place that isn’t always welcoming and has strange grammar rules.
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There was a time growing up when I wished I weren’t Asian. Without the guise of my Cheesecake Factory alias, life has been harder in ways, some concrete and others I’ll never know how to explain. But thinking about it today, I would not trade in my Asian identity. It is the fabric of a beautiful culture and community – a gift that unfurls slowly, showing me something new every day."

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Follow Jeff on Instagram @fatricenoodle

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