How I Overcame Not Being an Asian Stereotype

Growing up as an Asian-American, I’ve had to deal with facing extreme stereotypes and common “what kind of Asian are you?” questions.

First of all, when I say that I am Asian, don’t say, “Asian? I thought you were Chinese!”... That mostly occurred in elementary and middle school, but I kid you not, kids in my highschool would still ask me that question. Now that I’m in college, the premature level of stupidity is somewhat gone.

Less when I was a kid, but after I hit puberty, I’ve been asked a lot of questions concerning my race. I know I’m Chinese, my parents know I’m Chinese, the rest of my family knows I’m Chinese, and most of my friends know that I’m Chinese. However, in the recent years, I’ve been getting a very common question from many. “Are you sure you’re Chinese? Are you sure you’re even Asian???” I mean, if you just take a glance at me, you can pretty much tell that I am some form of Asian. Some people are convinced that I’m a mixed race or got mixed up at the hospital. I’m not and I wasn’t… I swear… at least that’s what my parents are telling me. However, I do understand where these assumptions are coming from. Although I have similar features to my family, I don’t necessarily fall into the “stereotypical Asian” category.

Here are some common Asian stereotypes that you’ve probably heard of:

  • Asians girls are short

  • They have small/skinny features

  • They have small eyes

  • Asians are good at math, tennis, ping pong

  • Asians can’t drive

  • Asians have ridiculously unpronounceable names

  • They have thick black hair

  • Chinese people are Buddhist

...Okay, so maybe some of these are a little bit exaggerated but let me just introduce myself so you get the point.

My name is Dorothy Mai and I am a 5 foot 10 tall American born Chinese girl and I can assure you that I am not “fun-sized.” I have ridiculously large eyes with double eyelids and dark brown hair. Applicable to my height, I am a size 9 in shoes, which constantly appalls my “fun-sized” family. In addition to that, I can confidently say that a fifth grader can beat me in a math, tennis and ping pong competition. I don’t officially have my license yet, but I guess I’m a pretty good driver, but that’s just in my own stubborn opinion. And in regards to “Chinese people being Buddhist” stereotype, my family is Buddhist but I wasn’t really raised with a religious background but I wouldn’t say I’m a hardcore atheist. Moving on, this is my story of how I overcame not being an asian stereotype.

Yes, she (on the left) is wearing heels... No, I (on the right) am not. 

I mean, in a way, I think it’s great that I’m not a stereotype because who wants to be a stereotype? People in my race just happen to have very common features. Obviously, in every ethnicity, there will be that small percentage of “different” people, and I guess I’m one of them. However, the hardest thing for people to accept about me was my height and my features.

Growing up in a predominantly white neighborhood, I got many confused looks at me on the first day of school, post-puberty. In high school, I went through a sudden growth spurt making my family and even strangers confused. It’s rare to see such a tall Asian girl, I guess. My friends were extremely shocked, especially the ones I grew up with. No one expected little old Dorothy to grow to become a 7 foot giant (exaggerating). However, I’m pretty thankful to have grown up in a more diverse setting rather than where I was born, in Brooklyn, where my neighborhood was mostly Asian. I probably would’ve toppled over all my classmates, whereas my high school in Staten Island was relatively diverse.

However, 5’10” is still a pretty tall height for a girl, making me topple over my friends either way. The oddest experience was when my 6 foot 2 brother and I went back to China to visit family and we were literally like the walking twin towers there. Everyone physically had to break their necks and look up at us because we were so tall in comparison to the people there. I can’t even say that it’s an Asian-American thing, because I know many short Asian-Americans. It’s probably in our genes but the mystery is that no one else in my family is that tall. My brother and I continue to be the tallest in our family, but hopefully our cousins can outshine us? (Probably not)

Fortunately, I never really got bullied because of the way I looked or bullied in general. Some irrelevant people used to try to say things like “open your eyes” or call me “ching chong,” but in reality, my eyes were probably bigger than theirs and my name is from a Greek origin, so I guess that’s why those comments never really bothered me because I knew they weren’t true. The only thing people tried to “make fun” of me for was my height, and I never understood that because doesn’t everyone want to be tall and healthy? I guess they just needed to point out a “flaw” but nothing like that ever bothered me. I’m not saying I don’t have any flaws, because everyone has their flaws, and I especially have A LOT, but you have to learn to appreciate your insecurities, and then they won’t be flaws, they’ll just be you.

I can’t explain why I look the way I look and have the features that I have, but I can sure embrace them.