The Problem With Having a Funny-Sounding Name

The Problem with Having a Funny-Sounding Name
*Today I was supposed to write about credit cards, but after what happened in Charlottesville, I didn’t feel like it. So I decided to write what was bugging me instead. I hope you don’t mind. Your regularly scheduled programming will start up again this Thursday.*

I have a funny-sounding name. It doesn’t just sound funny, it’s also complicated.

Both my first and last name are ethnic. If you just saw my name, you might assume I was foreign born. But I’m not. My parents are from Asia, but I was lucky enough to be born in America. And when I was sent to ESL classes in school, I thought it was pretty silly. English was my first language, and I was American, just like my classmates.

As one of the few minorities growing up in a predominantly white town, racism became something I expected. Sure I’ve been called a “chink” by a chubby kid in sweatpants at the school library. Of course my dad, pulling over at a house to ask for directions, got chased away by a man with a gun, “Go to hell, or wherever the hell you people came from.” And obviously, when walking home from school, people in cars passing by would yell out their windows, “Gook!”

But growing up, I never thought my name was a problem. I thought it was just my face.

It happened a lot in elementary school. There would be a kid who wouldn’t want to play with me because I looked different. It’s just because they don’t know me, I shrugged. And later on, as the kid got to know me, and discovered that I wasn’t scary or foreign or smelly, we’d become friends like nothing ever happened.

Brushing it all off was my coping method of choice. I knew the problem wasn’t me, but them. So I was OK that I looked different and had a funny-sounding name, and that my clothes smelled greasy from the fried foods my parents cooked. I was OK with all of that. To add to the OK-ness, instead of reading required books for homework, I spent my time at the library, reading books for fun and poking around the Internet. I started to learn that there was a bigger world outside of my town. A world that might be a better fit for me.

When it came time to apply to colleges, all I knew was that I wanted to escape. To a place where you could be a little weird and nobody minded. That meant a big city was my only criteria. It could have been the worst school; I didn’t care. If it was in a big city, I applied there anyway. But then the acceptance letters started to roll in, and their financial aid counterparts. The big city schools were all private, and even with generous scholarships, if I decided to accept, I would graduate with at least $40,000 in loans. Maybe that doesn’t sound like a lot to you, but considering that was more than my household’s annual income, to me that was astronomical. It was decided. I would go to the school in my home state. The bigger world would have to wait.

***

I could tell my freshman year roommate didn’t care for me. On move-in day, she made a beeline for her side of the room with hardly a greeting. I tried to ask questions about herself, but was met with one-word answers. OK, I thought, maybe she’s just antisocial.

But I later learned that she was only antisocial around me. One time her friends from home stopped by, and she lit up around them, including me in some of their conversations. I thought her friends seemed super fun, and I wanted them to stop by again.

After they left, she said, “Oh, we used to make fun of you.”

But I had just met her friends that day. How could they have made fun of me if they’d never met me?

“We thought you were like that little girl singing in the car in Rush Hour.” In case you’ve never seen the movie, here’s the clip she was referring to:

To them I was vaguely Asian, but all Asian people are “the same” so I might as well have been that Chinese girl (not my ethnicity). To them I was automatically foreign and spoke accented English. To them I was wacky and liked to sing along to cheesy pop songs. I was a stereotype meant to entertain them. And worst of all, I was lesser than, worthy of being made fun of.

She and her friends had managed to concoct a full identity for me, just based off the name that was printed on the roommate assignment letter.

For weeks before they had met me they mocked me based off of a stereotype.

What baffled me even more was that my roommate was half white, half African-American. Couldn’t she understand how I might feel just then?

And for the first time, I realized that having a foreign-sounding name, could be a problem for me. That prejudices could occur outside of what you look like. It can happen before you even walk through the door.

The next day I started looking into how I could get a single room.

Maybe you’ve done the same thing as my roommate and her friends. It’s just harmless, right? I think we all can think of some careless thing we’ve said, because we thought it was funny. Maybe you’d never dream of using a racial slur or laugh at a racist joke, but the truth is, that many of us have hidden biases that invade our everyday lives and decisions.

***

While I never chose it myself, I never felt like my name was something I needed to change. It was part of my identity. I remember when my mom’s friend moved to our town with a daughter who was my age. The daughter also had a fully ethnic name. So imagine my surprise when on the first day of school, in homeroom, the teacher was doing roll call when he called out “Portia + [friend’s last name].” The last name I recognized, but the first name I did not. My friend called out from the back, “Here.” And that’s when I realized that for school, she had swapped her ethnic first name for something “white-sounding.” I whipped around in my seat and gave her a look. Portia? Really?

Maybe “Portia,” at a young age, had figured out that a name that’s unfamiliar can work against you. That there can be life hurdles that people with normal-sounding names don’t have to deal with. And sometimes changing your name is just the easier thing to do.

But I’m proud of my name. I got married recently and while I had my chance, there was never a question of whether or not to change my last name. And if my husband felt entitled to have me change my last name to his, well then, too bad for him, because he wouldn’t be the right guy for me.

I live in the “bigger world” now, but still, when I read studies like how “black”-sounding names tend to be labelled as troublemakers, or how Asian last names lead to fewer job interviews, it’s depressing.

So I look back on all those years I stuck by my name, and I wonder, was I stupid for staying true to my name?

For now, I worry about “small things.” That maybe my apartment inquiry email was deleted because the person thought, “Name too hard to pronounce, don’t want to deal with that.”

I worry that my resume goes straight to the trash. That people assume my English is shaky or I’m less competent. I worry that some people don’t realize that while they’re trying to finagle a promotion, I could be a couple steps behind, just trying to get through the front door for an interview.

Even now, with the blog, I considered using my first name so there’s more of a “face” to the voice. But I worried that a foreign-sounding name would be unrelatable.

And while I’ll never really know if any of this actually happens, I would be naive to think that the sweatpant-clad kid from the library never grew up and might be powerful one day. He could be my next boss, or my next landlord, or God forbid, a teacher.

I’m still proud of my name, but I can’t help but wonder if sometimes my name has held me back, and what kind of price I’ve had to pay along the way.

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  • Thanks for sharing Luxe,

    Being about as WASP as you can be, I am sure I have said off hand comments in jest along the way. I am also sure that for a long time I was completely naïve to the situation of minorities. I think my general thought was I am not racist or hateful, so I am good.

    I realize now that I am older that my neutrality of the whole situation of hate and racism really is part of the problem. I may be one person that hired black chefs or travelled in Europe with an African American for a couple of months. There is absolutely so much more to be done in this arena, and everyone should be doing more and speaking out to help solve this issue.

    Great post, again thanks for sharing.

    • Hey Cameron,

      I respect you a lot for admitting you may have made some offhand remarks in the past. I’m sure most of us have, and I think your rationale makes a lot of sense. Like, ‘Hey, I’m not actually racist,” so you think you’re in the clear, but words actually mean things and hidden biases can be harmful, too.

      Thank you so much for reading and sharing!

  • Adventure Rich

    As someone who has grown up with a “typical American name” (read: European decent, easy to read/spell/pronounce), the level of discrimination around names is something I was relatively oblivious to until more recently. It is depressing to think that you and others with ethnic names are/can be/will be discriminated against due to that reason along. I am so sorry. But thank you for not only writing this post, but also for being open about keeping your name, regardless of the “risks”. Hopefully, we will be living in a society where a name is risk-free, regardless of origin in the near future. But in the meantime, I am glad you rock your name 🙂

    • Yeah, I think something as simple and circumstantial as a name doesn’t really get much thought, so I wanted to highlight that besides overt racism, there are hidden biases that can set people back, too. It certainly is depressing that some people have to modify their true selves in order to have a shot at something basic like getting an apartment or a job. I remember my friend’s Lebanese cousin was studying at Harvard one summer, and he felt like he had to shave his beard and also have his apartment emails “proofread” so that his English appeared perfect.

      Thank you so much for reading and commenting 🙂

  • This is so important and sad. I wrote a post a while back (last fall…oof) on my own name. I’m an Italian American, but my grandpa created a name for us when he came here because he was certain he and his family would have more opportunities if he sounded more American. While I’ve never felt any of the discrimination or judgement he feared and can’t claim to understand anyone’s situation who has (hello privilege — I heartily acknowledge it), I know it happened back then. As I said in my post, though, the most horrifying part is the fact that he had it so much better than so many other immigrants from other ethnicities and races. Thanks for sharing your story and contributing to a really important conversation we should all be having.

    • I just went back to read your post and thought it was really beautiful. I think the stark contrasts between both sides of the family was interesting, and I’m glad the southern side stayed true to their roots so you could absorb the culture. While you personally may not have experienced any overt discrimination, I think every single group who has come to America has faced discrimination at first, so in a way, our ancestors have “paid the price.”

  • Kate @ making it rain

    Thank you for sharing, friend <3 I am all too aware of the distinct privilege that comes with having a name like Kate in Canada. My partner is an immigrant, now a Canadian citizen, not that that matters much when his name is different and "un-Canadian" and uses letters that we do not have in the English alphabet. It is heartbreaking to see all of the ways, big and small, that minorities have to modify, temper and/or negotiate their identities in our society. So sorry to hear about your personal experiences with this, but I am always grateful to hear these stories. It serves as a much needed reminder to those of who do not have to navigate this on a daily basis.

    • Hey Kate,

      Thank you for reading, as always! It’s interesting what you say about modifying, tempering and negotiating, because it’s super accurate! It’s something that I forget I even had to do at times because I’m so used to it, you know? And the roommate incident I had forgotten about and “got over” until this latest bout of racial violence happened. Then it was ALL I could think about.

  • Thank you so much for sharing your experience Luxe. I’m so sorry for what you have had to deal with, especially when you were growing up. It honestly boggles my mind that people can be so cruel and afraid of things they don’t understand or haven’t been exposed to (not an excuse for such behaviour.)

    • Hi Britt, appreciate your comment! This stuff is sooo sensitive and I never want anyone to feel bad for circumstances beyond their control. Funny story re: the chubby kid from the library. So, I actually came across his Instagram recently, and he’s openly gay now. Back then, in my school, it would have been really hard to come out as gay. So in this instance I feel like he bullied people to deflect from his insecurity.

      • Oh wow! Still not an excuse for bullying you. But obviously, in that one case, there was a lot of hidden pain that he couldn’t deal with at the time.

  • The Wallet Moth

    Wonderful post, thanks for sharing such a heartfelt and raw story.

    • Thanks, Yaz, it was a tough one to publish, but I’m lucky to have a great husband to encourage me when I have doubts (there were a lot).

  • Reid@WealthRehab.com

    I have a weird name as well and struggled with the same issues you did growing up. Great article. The issues going on in Charlottesville hits close to home for me. I went to UVa so I spent 4 good years there. All of this is tough to watch. Thank you for your openness and honesty.

    • Wait, so your name is not REID??? 🙂

      I can’t even imagine what it must feel like to be tied to the area where all of this is going down. I’m glad you could relate to this in some way.

      • Reid@WealthRehab.com

        Lol! Thats my nick name. My full name is longer. My folks were part of the generation of parents that combined two names to make one name. So going by Reid is easier.

  • Thanks for this. As a fellow minority, it makes me sad to think of others tearing down, rather than building up. It sounds like it made you stronger. I haven’t fully worked through my rage and sadness over C-ville, but this post has helped.

    • You’re welcome! In my specific case, the people who were intolerant were insecure in some way. I can’t imagine anyone who feels good about themselves actually acting this crazy.

      I’m really glad that this post has help you in some way. I was debating whether or not to publish it! But I don’t think I could have forgiven myself if I didn’t…

  • Former New Yorker

    These are terrifying times, both abroad and domestically. We don’t have a strong leader to get us out of this mess and I’m afraid for my son’s future. Thank you for posting this today, since as you mention, a credit card post would have felt weird today. I also have an ethnic last name, and my dad told me to change it to my husband’s last name when I got married “so that people would think I was American on job applications.”

    What bothered me is that I AM American. So’s my dad. But while he said “American” he meant “white” since a part of his mind still thinks white = American. It baffles my mind. I actually grew up thinking I’d change my last name if I ever got married since it gets mispronounced in English (the Chinese tones are subtle). Correctly pronounced, it’s a strong-sounding name in Chinese. In English, well, it’s just a ridiculous syllable. The first time I mentioned this to someone, they said “but your last name is so easy to pronounce?” which pissed me off even more.

    Didn’t change my name though. It’s my identity. We need more Americans to hold onto their “ethnic” names until it becomes widely accepted that our names are American. Years ago, my husband’s Dutch last name sounded ethnic. Now if anyone sees his name on a job application, they wouldn’t even think twice.

    • Interesting point about people’s name becoming widely accepted over time. There was another commenter who’s Italian grandfather changed their last name for fear of discrimination. But nowadays, like your husband’s Dutch name, Italian names are ones no one bats an eye at.

      I’m glad you kept your name and are such a stickler about people pronouncing it properly, and not just the “American” way. I admit sometimes I let people say my name wrong because I’ve gotten so tired of correcting them all the time.

  • Thank you for sharing your story…after what happened in Charlottesville, I’m glad some personal finance bloggers stepped up to talk about something other than credit cards. Your stories brought back some memories even though I grew up in a big city like NYC stereotyping still existed, but probably not as much. I also was put in an ESL class though I was born here and spoke English just fine. Maybe it was because I was quiet…or maybe it was because I was Chinese. My mom told them to take me out of that class!

    • Hey Andrew,

      Thanks so much for the comment. I wasn’t sure if a post like this would piss people off, so I’m glad the response has been supportive so far. It was definitely a risk for me!

      I had always wondered about the level of discrimination that kids in bigger cities faced. Even though there’s way more diversity I’m sure there’s still the “hidden” discrimination that happens, whether people intend it or not. I think I read something on Facebook today about some lady that wouldn’t move her bag to let a black woman sit next to her on the subway. But then a white woman asked to sit next to her and she was all cool about it. NYC. 2017. Does not compute.

      I’m glad your mom was involved enough to take you out of that class!

  • serenity

    Oh, thanks for a sharing. I’ve been living socal ever since we migrated here 20 some yrs ago. My first experience with racism was from a viet kid who was also an immigrant (ironic), and at that time, I didn’t know that was racism. Being in such a diverse place, I was lucky to not experienced it in a daily basis. And usually, the only racism I see is news on tv. But now, I feel like never leaving socal because the diversity here makes me feel safe. The night that Hillary lost, I almost cried, not because I really wanted her to win but bc of the chaos that’s been escalating from the non educated supporters of THAT GUY. I’ve always wanted to travel, take my kids out to experience the beauty of our great country; visiting quaint little towns like the ones you see on tv. Now I’m not so sure; I’m afraid of landing in a place where I get chased out.

    • How did I miss this comment? So embarrassing. I don’t like where we are politically, either. I remember I went to sleep early because I couldn’t bear hearing the announcement of what was going to happen. With that said, I do think it’s important to get out there and live your life like you normally would. I refuse to live a life in fear. And honestly, I think that we stick to our safe zones is also part of the problem. It’s so easy for me to live my little bubble and not interact with anyone who’s not like me.

  • Thank you for sharing your perspective! What a valid question you asked, “…what kind of price I’ve had to pay along the way.” I hope one day we live in a world where that would not be true. After this weekend it’s clear we are further from that world than ever.

    Keep using your name and your voice!

    • Hi Courtney,

      Nice to see a new face around here 🙂 It’s definitely scary to think about being discriminated against…and having NO idea it’s happened to you. I didn’t include this in the post, but when my sister was in high school and worked at the movie theatre she said a supervisor admitted to throwing out applications that had weird names. If my sister hadn’t been referred by a friend who knows if she would have gotten that job?!

      Thanks! My name rocks!

  • I Dream of Fire

    Thank you, Luxe. I haven’t had to live with the worry about people making broad assumptions based on my name, but it’s important for me to read about people who do so that I can make sure I’m not falling into that lazy trap. You wrote a wonderful, even-handed post on a really difficult topic.

    • Thanks, IDoF, I’m happy that those who may not be able to relate directly can still find value in this in some way. I never wanted anyone to feel bad so I chose to just write about my experience and let it be.

  • They put you in frickin’ ESL classes? Oh good grief. 🙁 As a white able-bodied woman, I’ve been trying to put myself into the shoes of other people. It’s naive to think that we all have the same opportunities in America. The weekend’s events were disgusting, and it shows me we have so much more work to do. I was so naive for so long.

    • Yeah, apparently me and two other commenters were put into ESL even though our English was perfect! I sometimes wonder if it’s an well-intended over-reaction when teachers don’t know how to support kids from a different culture.

      I agree we’ve all been guilty about being naive and believing in our country’s progress. It’s unfortunate it takes a tragic incident to really wake up.

      Appreciate the read and comment!

  • I was born and raised in California but because I was bilingual, I was perceived to have an accent and put in ESL in kindergarten. Never mind that I was already reading at a 3rd or 4th grade level as a 5 year old, CLEARLY my non-Western last name, face, and accent meant I couldn’t know English. And my experiences with racism are *light* compared to what I witnessed my parents experiencing as immigrants in this country.

    It’s a balance between accepting that racism that still exists very strongly in this day and age to keep it from becoming an impossible roadblock while learning to defy the social structures that are rooted, *steeped*, in racism.

    Lest anyone say that it’s a surprise that such virulent racism still exists today, I point to our president, or to the phone call that PiC made to an Oakland maintenance shop last year whose owner told him to give him the full name of anyone who might be bringing in a car so he could pre-screen because he wouldn’t work with anyone who had an accent. He was not specific as to what KIND of accent was unacceptable but he was pretty clear that he planned to discriminate based on names alone.

    My parents knew that was likely over 30 years ago and gave me a Western name for my first name, but I’ll never let go of my Asian last name.

    • It seems like many of us on this thread all had to go to ESL, even though our English was fine. I hope some teachers on the thread take note!

      My parents didn’t think to give me a Western name, and that’s OK. They are extremely proud of their culture, and I think my mom was actually pretty pissed my sister took her husband’s last name.

      I love your idea about defying the social structures as one thing we *can* do. I feel like in a small way, the fact that we have blogs and share our ideas contributes to that.

      Thank you for the thoughtful comment.

  • Thanks for sharing Luxe, I know these aren’t always the easiest posts to hit publish on my they’re the most important. Perspective is huge. I’m white with about the plainest name ever, and grew up in a very undiverse suburban neighbourhood. Needless to say, I didn’t have to deal with the struggles you shared. Stories like this though make me remember my privilege and work hard at not being part of the problem.

    • Thanks, Sarah! There were a lot of tears, but I’m glad I hit publish on this one. I’m glad you were able to find value in this even if you can’t relate directly. That means the world to me!

  • It’s crazy to me how we still live in a time where people are judge based on their name and/or the color of their skin instead of how they treat you or other people. And it definitely took me by surprise that your college roommate was half white, half black. But then again it makes me wonder if I should really be surprised? I’m not even sure of the answer.

    When we started our blog we debated putting our picture on there because we are black. And we didn’t want people to not read what we had to say (or only choose to read what we had to say) because of the color of our skin instead of because of the content and quality of what we were choosing to say. Sometimes we still wonder about it. However, we are who we are and we love who we are. And we hope people take our blog/thoughts for what they are and not who we are.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and continuing to love your name! – Kim

    • You bring up a good point: should we be surprised by racism? Or is it one of those things that’s always simmering under the surface and we choose not to acknowledge it?

      I’m so glad you decided to show your true selves on your blog. If people don’t like you then you don’t need them any way.

      Thank you for reading!

  • I loved reading this. Unlike your roommate, I happen to find that little girl in Rush Hour to be particularly badass. It always surprises me when other minorities lack cultural awareness, empathy, and openness. It actually makes me so mad. As minorities, we should understand what it means to be marginalized and ostracized simply because we are different. I really wish more people could see the power that we could have in utilizing our voices to unite instead of divide.

    I also remember having to shield my lunch at school because people would mention the smell of rice, noodles, or anything I happened to enjoy about real Chinese food. Recently, my cousin told me that classmates of her daughter were making fun of the rice she was bringing to summer camp and now she requests sandwiches instead. This really broke my heart because it seems nothing has changed over time. Those kids who make fun grow up to be parents of kids who will also learn that it is okay to be intolerant of other cultures. And that’s why I decided to start a blog and be visible on social media…to show people that bloggers/people working on their dreams look like me too.

    I also didn’t change my last name when I got married. It just didn’t make sense to take on a name that isn’t my own. Sometimes I read your posts and am amazed at how similar we are. In a totally non-creepy way, of course.

    I have so many thoughts about this and can go on and on, but I won’t to save you from hearing the same thing over. But I do really appreciate that you shared this 🙂

    • Sophie!

      I love that you think that little girl is a badass! Yeah, it just blew my mind that my roommate was half-minority and was acting like that. But then again, she was not the most mature person, often calling her mom to help with her with her homework.

      That’s so sad that your cousin’s kid is asking for sandwiches now instead of rice. I remember being a little embarrassed bringing some ethnic food to school, but I figured the kids who made fun of it didn’t know what they were talking about 🙂 And yes, I remember some really jerky kids from my hometown growing up and ending up being a teacher at the same school. Not to say that kids don’t mature, but I always wondered if they were still a jerk perpetuating Jerkdon.

      I’m so glad you started your blog! The moment I saw it I had to instantly follow it!

      • same with your blog! it’s brilliant 🙂 and I’m about to read your wedding post!!

  • DJ

    In high school, I had a girlfriend that went by an American name. One day while I was at her house, I heard her parents call her by her real name and I thought it was so beautiful. I was like “Your real name is so cool! Why don’t you use it?” Despite my best attempts to boost her confidence, I guess she felt embarrased about what everyone else would think.

    • Oh no, that’s a shame she was embarrassed by her name. I never have been because I wouldn’t feel like me if I were named anything else!

      Thanks for stopping by!

  • Pia

    It’s unconscious racism (though in the case of your roommate in college, that’s just blatant racism). I have a suspicion that my husband can’t seem to even land a job interview because of his chinese name paired with an incredibly well written cover letter. I was born with both an english and a chinese name. The number of times people have asked me “but what is your real name?” when I tell them my english name is infuriating. That is my real name, you dipshit. I’m sorry you went through that, and even sorrier that these experiences are so similar and so common across the world.

    • Yeah, I think there needs to be awareness about everyday unconscious racism, too. I’m sorry that your husband is having trouble landing an interview, potentially because of his name. It seriously sucks that we have to modify ourselves for something so basic. I remember my friend’s cousin from Lebanon was studying at Harvard one summer and he had to shave his beard and have his apartment inquiry e-mail proofread to have better luck.

  • My name is Xiao Xiao and I feel a touch of shame whenever someone ask to confirm my identity on the phone. I don’t know why…maybe because I don’t like myself. It’s then followed with “how do you spell that?” “How do you say it again?” And “sorry, didn’t catch that.”

    I wasn’t born in the U.S. but I thought my English was pretty good. I was still sent to ESL. I scored average for the English portions of the exam (and obvious advance in the math because Chinese schools taught algebra in grade school). It took me 3 years to get out of ESL. I swear I think they just put me in by my name. My test scorers were average to proficient.

    • Ugh, I HATE talking to customer service people on the phone for that very reason. For one, I have to spell out my name every single time. And then they butcher my name. I will only book doctors who are on Zocdoc now because I have no patience with making appointments on the phone anymore.

      It seems like a bunch of us all got sent to ESL when our English was fine!

  • Luxe, thanks for sharing. As someone of Chinese descent who also got all the flak in school, I identify with what you’ve just said. The weird jokes about eating noodles at home all the time and my Chinese name, getting teased about speaking Chinese with my Mom on the phone, and so on don’t bother me now (like you said, it’s them, not us) but you’re right it’s a problem. It’s good people are becoming more aware that this IS a problem, though change goes super slowly. We continue being who we are, in the meantime, and change what we can.

    • Hi Daisy,

      Thank you so much for reading and leaving a comment. OMG, I remember some of the projects I had to do in school were absolutely traumatizing. I remember my French teacher was asking everyone in class their parents’ names and when it came to me, I lied about my dad’s name because I was embarrassed.

      I don’t think there’s an easy answer, but for now, like you say, we change what we can. Some people protest, some people get angry and some people (like me) choose to write.

  • Thanks for taking the time to share Luxe! It’s sad but I think everyone minority in our generation has similar stories from growing up, no matter which part of the country they lived in. When I moved here and started attending elementary school, I quickly learned how to lose my Caribbean as to not get made fun out. It’s sad that I had to give up a huge part of my identity to survive. By the time I got to high school I inadvertently switch between a Caribbean accent when talking to my family and an American accent when talking to friends, even when they are standing right next to each other, which is kind of funny.

    • Hey Stuart,

      Yes, I agree with you, every minority does have similar experiences in varying degrees. I would say that I actually had it pretty light, as usually I could convince kids to be my friends 🙂 I had no idea you were from the Caribbean! And it’s a bummer indeed that you have to modify your natural self to fit in. With my mom, I actually speak to her in English and she speaks to me in her language. Yet, we understand each other completely. It blows people’s minds.

      Thank you for sharing your experience.

  • EJL

    Thank you for sharing this <3

  • That story with your roommate is one of the worst I’ve heard! It’s so sad how fully formed the identity she created for you was. I grew up in the southwest where there weren’t many asians, and while I did receive rude behavior/teasing, it wasn’t so much that I even remember it. My friend who grew up in Houston just one state over, however, got teased so much for being Asian, I was actually just shocked hearing about that behavior.

    My mom had me go by the name Jane for all of elementary school, and I only started using my name when I got to middle school. I feel lucky I never had to deal with any overtly racist behavior as a child, I feel so sheltered from the bullying almost all my asian friends from college experienced when they were growing up.

    • Yeah, she was making fun of me for weeks before she met me, apparently. I do feel like everyone’s experiences vary, also depending on what part of the country they live in, personality, etc. I’m glad you emerged largely unscathed!

      I always loved it when my fellow Asian friends went by their original names. I remember I had a friend named “Winnie” in college, and then one day she decided to revert back to her original name, “Wing.” I thought it was pretty cool!

  • DIRT CHEAP WEALTH

    I am so glad you brought this up. Both my first and last names are pretty ethnic (I am from India), but I absolutely love my name. Infact, my kids have ethnic names too, and I have been instilling in them to love their name, no matter what.
    At the core of it all, I am hopeful about this country because it is full of amazing people who outnumber the delusional ones by a lot! And, therefore, the tide will have to change.

    Thank you for this post.

    • Hi, and thanks for reading and commenting! I’m amazed by the support I’ve received with the post. Good for you for giving your kids ethnic names and teaching them to be proud!

  • I found myself thinking about it all weekend, and there really wasn’t anything else I could write about. I think when that happens (motivation strikes), it’s good to just ride the wave, you know? Otherwise, I would have been staring a blank screen for hours.

    I also hide my name for anonymity reasons, but even so, I never felt like I could use a pseudonym because it wouldn’t feel like “me”.

    I know what you mean about being the only ethnic person at work. While I live in NYC and there’s diversity abound, sometimes I feel like I have more in common with the cleaning staff at work more so than my coworkers! I just had a totally different upbringing.

    Thanks for sharing your experience, as well.

  • All positive on my end. I’ve been thinking a lot about the way people are perceived as of late.

  • BI

    After reading your post, I realized I too was in ESL because of my skin color. Up until now, I guess I assumed that my English wasn’t that good during those years but now that I think about it, a) I actually spoke English at home as well as in school and b) I remember sitting and watching my ESL teacher teach the alphabet to a kid who really was ESL, and my ESL teacher leaving me alone to watch them/ignoring me because I didn’t really need to be there. And this was after my parents fought for me to get into the gifted class I qualified for when the school decided to exclude me because my “English wasn’t good enough,” never mind the fact that the gifted test that I took and passed was in English.

    Thanks for sharing your story. Just typing that paragraph above brought up all this hurt (and I didn’t even talk about the other racist stuff I went through and still go through) and I imagine it must have been painful for you as well.

    • Hi, and thanks for reading. It seems like a bunch of us were in ESL when we didn’t need to be! I’m glad your parents were involved enough to push for more advanced classes, but yeah, it really sucks that you passed the test by yourself anyway, and it wasn’t enough.

      These experiences are things I thought were “behind me”, but then I realized you never really get over them. At least that’s how it was for me. I hadn’t thought about it in years, but once I did, it was full-on waterworks. But even though it was difficult to write and feel vulnerable, I think it was important.

      • BI

        Definitely. I also don’t think these experiences could ever be behind us when people still say things like, “No, where are you really from?” “Nihao” “Gonnichiwa” just because they see an Asian face. Or when things like Charlottesville, “All Lives Matter,” and the Muslim ban are current events.

        Same with the waterworks but your post made me think. Thanks.

        • Interestingly enough, I actually got more ‘nihaos’ when I was in Europe from men trying to holler at you.

          And I totally know what people are asking when they ask where I’m from. But sometimes I just play around with them and give them a state 🙂

  • Rich Uncle

    I am a Chinese born and raised in China and moved to the US when I was 19. To me I am Chinese and will always be regardless of the citizenship. I haven’t experienced severe discrimination, maybe because I am a little insensitive. In times when there is, I always think to myself “screw you, I had a much better life in China (my parents are pretty well-off so I grew up with everything I could ask for). I am here because my hubby is here and I have the flexibility to be wherever I want).
    I can see it would be quite different, if you were born and raised in the US. You ARE American just like every other white/black/hispanic/asian who was born here.
    I always go by my Chinese first name. It is very poetic and I am super proud of it. I did change my last name when I got married as hubby’s last name is cute and I want people to know we are a couple right from our names 🙂

    • Thanks for chiming in. Since America is built from immigrants, you’d think we’d have made a lot more progress now. Sigh.

      I think the level of overt racism also depends on where you live. Like if you were in a small, homogenous town you’d probably experience it much more than if you live in a diverse city.

      Ha, re: your reason for changing the last name. My husband’s last name is fine, but I’m the last female in my family. Gotta represent!