The Observer is a Student-run, daily print & online newspaper serving Notre Dame & Saint Mary's. Learn more about us.



Hello, our name is Asiatic Gaze

Asiatic Gaze | Monday, August 29, 2011

These are stories that we of Asiatic Gaze have experienced at a university that is “committed to diversity … because it is a moral and intellectual necessity.”

­— It was a night like any other night, until my thoughts were suddenly and rudely interrupted by the cacophonous sounds of a poorly-mocked Asian language. Each “ching” and “chong” scraped at my eardrums and provoked my heart. I guess they had nothing better to do. With a desire for confrontation, I longed to pursue the two laughing boys stalking away.

My friend stopped me, though, so all I could do was furiously watch the receding backs of the ignorant perpetrators, passing up the opportunity to set something right. Regardless of how many times this has occurred, nothing can prepare or protect me from an insult directed at something so fundamental to my being as my identity.

— I often wonder whether our academic community truly values diversity. Being bilingual, I struggle to separate the two spheres in my verbal and written communication; idioms from one culture pop out of my mouth and I realize that I made no sense whatsoever to those around me. I forgive myself for silly mistakes in social settings; it’s different when an authority with a red pen labels your style as unacceptable. I was told that my persuasive style, my use of prepositions and my way of making the words flow together, was all wrong.

How long will we go rejecting any style other than the rigid American way — up front and aggressive? How much weight is our university putting on its own statement, “We come to appreciate how the gifts of each individual enrich the lives of every individual and the community as a whole”?

— As the only non-Asian member of the Asian American Association, I know a little bit about sticking out like a sore thumb.

In other words, I’m white. The closest I’ve ever come to first-hand exposure of an international culture was staying in a beach front hotel in Cancun. Why then do I subject myself to obvious ridicule by joining a cultural society that I have no connection to other than through a few Asian friends?

My answer was nearly identical to that of a college freshman attending a party at which he or she knows almost no one. I was looking for a sense of belonging anywhere I could find it. In what most would call an unlikely scenario, I felt more at home with students with whom I had very little in common than I did with others who came from similar physical and cultural backgrounds.

It is unfortunate that my experience would be categorized as unlikely, for as much as society has supposedly progressed, the same physical and cultural boundaries that I was able to “bypass” still deter many others from discovering some pretty good people.

— An Asian American friend of mine from Nevada once told me, “I feel bad for international students [like you] at Notre Dame. Many of them haven’t been to other parts of the United States and think this is what America is actually like.” Last Saturday I was at the B1 Block Party with some of my Asian friends. We were moving through the crowd, trying to go to the front, but stopped at some point because we couldn’t go any further. We happened to cut a group of people who were already there, so one of the students behind me tried to get his friend to his side.

He reached his hand out to her, laughing and yelling, “Hey! Cut through the Asians!” What is America actually like?

We attend a university that emphasizes the dignity of every human being, and yet there are evidently classmates of ours who degrade this dignity, intentionally or not. It is simply the case that many such minds accommodate only what their backgrounds have exposed them to. The sad implication of such occurrences — especially in a generation which is supposedly open-minded, progressive and tolerant — is that too many others suffer such treatment in much more mammoth and hideous proportions.

Though many hold the perception that all Asians look alike, possess some level of mathematical prowess or have a set of parents of unimaginable standards and rigidity, we would like for the readers to keep in mind that we do not (and can not) speak for the entire Asian population.

However, it is safe to say that many others in our community share these views and experiences. We are but a few concerned students disturbed by the disparity between our university’s grand mission statement of solidarity and the reality of minorities here on campus.

We also don’t and can’t speak for other minorities: Hispanics, Blacks, LGBT, individuals with disabilities or whoever might feel like a minority within our community.

However, we hope that they will seek out certain microphones on our campus such as The Observer to make their voices and experiences heard. Through this column, we truly wish to start a sincere conversation to assess where the Notre Dame community stands in the acceptance of the minority population.

Edithstein Cho, Jee Seun Choi, Hien Luu and Michael Swietek can be reached at echo1@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the authors and not necessarily that of The Observer.