Featured Post by Sian Wu of That’s Amasian!
It’s a common experience for most Asian Americans: people assuming that we can’t speak English. This misjudgment confronts us on the street—yelled angrily at us and muttered under people’s breath. It can be unwittingly revealed at social events by people who compliment us on “how good our English is!” It even surfaced in the midst of this year’s gubernatorial race, when a Rob McKenna staffer tweeted, “Shut up and speak English #Asians.”
Asian Americans who only speak English find this particularly ironic. For me, as a fluent English speaker who majored in English lit and is probably more familiar with Spenser, Coleridge and Dickinson than your average racist on the street, this stereotype is particularly laughable.
I didn’t start learning Mandarin until college, where I studied abroad in Shanghai, so I’ve experienced both sides of the fence: an Asian American who communicates in English only, and someone who can speak both English and the language of my family’s heritage.
For me, I wanted to be able to communicate with my relatives and better understand where I came from. Mandarin curriculum wasn’t an option in high school, and my parents pulled us out of Chinese school when I was little—the fact that we hated it and was an hour’s drive away helped them along in that decision. So in college I dove in and double majored in Chinese, and never regretted it. The experiences and people I was able to meet through learning my heritage’s native language have helped shape who I am today.
But I can understand the perspective of other APIs, who feel that learning Vietnamese, Japanese or any of the hundreds of dialects from their home countries isn’t something that they want or need to do.
Read more at Tongue Tied: Are we losing our ethnic language?