A couple of months ago, I moved from Los Angeles to the northwestern part of Connecticut for my new job. I had never lived in a small town with about 95 percent Caucasians before. Honestly, I had more culture shock here than when I first came to Los Angeles from China.
However, I was mentally prepared to confront some racial and cultural ignorance before I came here. In L.A., a Caucasian friend of mine from Connecticut showed me how even the most educated people can be ignorant. This person has degrees from an Ivy League university and from USC, with a considerable amount of overseas experience and friends of all ethnicities. But he thought all my friends were Chinese and once he even said to my face that Chinese don’t brush teeth. When I tried to explain, he would give me a lecture on how culture dominates individuality and your character, beliefs, and values are subject to your culture. Well, whatever culture he thought I was in, not brushing teeth is definitely not part of it. The worst thing was this person didn’t even know he was so ignorant back then. (Much later on, he apologized.) So a good education doesn’t make anyone any wiser. Worse, it makes some think they know better.
Though I was prepared, it still caught me off guard when someone called me Oriental. I was filming a dancing class, the teacher, who is quite old, couldn’t pronounce my name. So she gave up and told her students, “It’s Oriental.” Then she looked at me, “Liu, right?”
Another incident was when I covered a story about when a local high school dropped out of a football game. I didn’t understand why it was important because I didn’t know football or any kind of sports. I would ask the same question if it dropped out of a basketball game, a volleyball game or a hockey game. Someone, also with an Ivy League degree, burst out laughing, saying “[She didn’t know football] because she is from China.” He was trying to help explain why I didn’t know football, but the reason he gave was just so wrong.
I don’t know football not because of where I am from, but because I am just not interested in football or any kind of sports. I don’t know anything about sports in China either. I can’t name one Chinese sports team. Instead, I can name a bunch of L.A. teams like Lakers and Kings. I don’t play any sports, watch any game or support any team. If I was into football, I would have picked it up when I was at USC. Well, it is not the first time people make assumption based on my “foreignness.”
There are good things, however, about being Asian in New England. A lot of New Englanders are quite reserved about their feelings, so they keep their curiosity and assumptions to themselves. No one here asks me what I think about One Child Policy or if I am good at ping pong, yet, I was bombarded by Midwesterners asking me those questions when I was in Chicago.
Covering in a small town finally allows me to be the journalist that I am. Nobody asks me to do China stories, talk to the Chinese community or asks about my “Asian view.” I can just dive in and report my ass off. I get to cover a lot of local stories, and showcase my multimedia abilities. I’m truly thankful for this opportunity to hone my journalism skills and be the journalist that I want to be. I’m sure it’s going to be a great adventure ahead.
Follow Shako Liu on Twitter @shako_liu.