Asian American teens call for the end of racism

Gagani Liyanawaduge, Reporter-Artist

   Asian American teens face many hardships in their lives. Racism is one of the most prominent. Racism towards Asians is becoming normalized, especially because of COVID-19. Eastern Asians are being targeted with racism because the coronavirus originated in China, and some people are blaming all Eastern Asians for the virus. Many have been attacked both physically and verbally. Profanities have been shouted at them and many have been told to “go back to where they came from.” 


While many white Americans believe that racism is no longer an issue, it still is.


Middle-Eastern Asians are constantly labeled as terrorists and often harassed in public. Speaking a language other than English also attracts the attention of ignorant people; they get offended because we aren’t speaking English when speaking a different language doesn’t harm anyone. We are just trying to communicate with others in their most comfortable language, but some people don’t have the ability to understand that and choose to believe that Asian Americans are a threat.


Racism towards Asian Americans is being normalized because some Asians feel that they have to make fun of their own culture in order to make their friends laugh. Why are these jokes considered funny? They shouldn’t be thought of as funny and people shouldn’t be laughing at them.


Most Asian American teenagers feel like they don’t fit in anywhere. In my experience, I’m “too American” to fit in with Sri Lankans, and I’m “too Sri Lankan” to fit in with my American friends. It’s really hard for me to fit in with my cousins when I visit because I sometimes don’t fully understand what they say, especially because my Sinhala isn’t as good as theirs. Many others struggle with this as well.


“Sometimes I see things and feel like I’m too American when I am talking to relatives or other Asians, and then sometimes I feel too Asian when I talk to other races,” said Eric Schin, senior.


Race or ethnicity do not mean nationality. I’ve been told before that I’m not American because I don’t “look American.” What does an American even look like? There are so many different kinds of people in this country; there is no definition to what an American looks like. I am American because I was born in America and am a citizen. My nationality is American; my race is Asian and my ethnicity is Sri Lankan because that’s where my family is from.


What’s even worse than being told I’m not American is being told that I’m not Asian. I am 100% Asian, but some might not believe that I am because their idea of Asian countries are those of the eastern part of the continent. The continent of Asia is not limited to China, Japan, and Korea. There are so many different countries in Asia, Sri Lanka being one of them. 


Nethni Weerasekara, a senior at Free State High School, said that “this girl wouldn’t stop asking if I was Indian because she didn’t believe I was from Sri Lanka.” Having to experience this is very annoying and painful because we shouldn’t have to explain these things to other people. 


Carmen Moonesinghe, a sophomore at Blue Valley High School, said that she has “been called a ‘fake Indian’ before because apparently Sri Lanka ‘isn’t a real place.’ People have assumed that I’m Indian and have asked if I speak Hindi.” 


Some people will bother us nonstop about our ethnicity even though it can be hurtful or jarring. Ashi Wickramasundara, a junior at Manhattan High School describes her experience: “There was actually one time that a girl I was volunteering with asked me where I was from (ethnically), and when I told her that I was Sri Lankan, she proceeded to mispronounce ‘Sri Lanka’ and asked me if various brown people were Sri Lankan, even pointing to my Indian friend and asking her if she was ‘Sri Lankthan’ (not Sri Lankan). Afterwards, she proceeded to look up images of Sri Lanka, finally pointing to some landmark off the coast with the assumption that the entire island of Sri Lanka was a small rock in the ocean. She asked me if I had been there and walked on those specific steps, to which I politely explained that I had not because the picture wasn’t of Sri Lanka. Better yet, she asked me why I was referring to myself as Sri Lankan when I was actually Sri Lanka. After many attempts of trying to end the conversation earlier, I simply had no words for her last question, so my friend cut in and told her that it was the same concept of people living in America being Americans.” 


As well as confrontational racism, there is a less obvious form of racism prominent in America: there isn’t enough Asian representation in the media. Most of the Asians that are in the media are East Asian; the number of “brown” Asians is very low. Asians don’t usually get hired in the film industry unless they’re “wasian”- half white, half Asian. Many of the Asian musicians that debuted in the US have not made it big here; the ones that have are usually wasian. Because of these things, many Asians such as myself have not had someone in the media to look up to. 


When South Asians do get represented though, it isn’t in the nicest way. Emashi Wickramasundara, a freshman at the University of Kansas explains the problems with South Asian representation in the media: “I actually hate South Asian representation so much. It pushes the idea of the jester-type minority who is only there for white laughs. The South Asian character is usually the butt of the jokes and is awkward, nerdy, and lacks social skills honestly…although that’s true, it’s nice to see south asian actors, producers, and directors push for better representation. “Never Have I Ever” on Netflix, although not quite perfect, is definitely a step in the right direction.”


A character that proves this point is Ravi from the Disney show “Jessie.” He is an Indian boy who is extremely awkward and nerdy. He is laughed at all the time because of these personality traits. Yes, South Asians are being represented by him, but he’s only there for others to laugh at him. He isn’t seen as the greatest character.


Kalani Dissanayake, senior at Manhattan High School feels “like a lot of Americans find brown people cringy.” In her experience, a lot of friends used to laugh at her for wearing sarees and posting pictures in them because they didn’t understand what they were.


  Another racist idea is the stereotype of “all Asians being smart.” Not all Asians are smart. The stereotype of “all Asians being smart” can actually be hurtful; not everyone is book smart, and the stereotype puts negative pressure on some Asians to get all “A’s” and do honors classes. It causes them to have unnecessarily high standards and stresses them out.


Emashi has had Asian stereotypes affect her college applications. She feels that she has many academic accomplishments, but when she shares her accomplishments with some of her peers and teachers, “[she] often get[s] invalidated because they say ‘oh you’re Asian you’re naturally smart so…’ or you only got in because you’re a woman of color.’” She feels upset because “People don’t realize how saying this not only perpetuates the ‘model minority’ stereotype that is inherently anti-black, but it also invalidates [her] hard work and accomplishments.” 


Asian Americans have been harassed, laughed at, made fun of, and overall treated disrespectfully. Stand up for anyone if you see someone harassing them; don’t just walk away and let it happen. If you see an Asian American being disrespected, don’t ignore them. Instead of laughing at your Asian friends for their culture, learn about their culture. Stop assuming that all Asians are smart, but don’t invalidate those who are because they are Asian. Stop this racism and disrespectful treatment so this country can be a better place.