Finding identity regardless of stereotypes
Diversity Council | Thursday, December 12, 2019
The concept of race has always been a part of my life whether I knew it or not. When I was little, I noticed the obvious differences between me and others, such as my dark, almond-shaped eyes and straight black hair. I noticed that the sharp, inflected sounds of the Vietnamese language weren’t heard in the majority of households in America. I also knew that white rice with strange-smelling sauces was not a typical school lunch. In order to avoid drawing attention to myself, I brought PB&J sandwiches to school and spoke English to my mom in front of friends even though it would have been more respectful to use her native language. Without knowing it, I was dissociating myself from my parents’ cultural heritage, one of the few things they retained after uprooting their lives from Vietnam. However, when I was younger, I didn’t care so much about race and cultural background as I cared about fitting in.
Fast forward to middle school when I was suddenly hyper-aware of not only these cultural differences, but the racial stereotypes associated with them. This awareness may have arisen through my increased exposure to the portrayal of Asians in popular media, knowledge of racism and discriminations in history books or even just regular conversations in which I heard offhand comments. Whatever it was, it made me constantly analyze how I was acting and speaking — the last thing I wanted to do was to fit in those Asian stereotypes that had become so ingrained in my head. If someone told me I was quiet, I silently cursed myself for reinforcing the perception that Asians were quiet and submissive. Instead of being proud of my desire to become a doctor (a dream of mine since I was little), I felt self-conscious about fitting into the high-achieving, parent-pleasing stereotype. And now I realize how messed up that is: You, the subject of these stereotypes, can be the one who internalizes them the most. Middle school and high school are often a time of discovering personal identity, but in my case, the process was more complex. By rejecting the mold of those stereotypes, I thought I was shaping my own identity. I realized, however, that falling under those stereotypes doesn’t make me any less of an individual.
Yes, my parents have strongly encouraged me to become a doctor. And yes, I want to make them proud. But that’s not the main reason I’m working towards that profession. Growing up in a low-income family with immigrant parents and having family members who struggle with medical costs, I’ve realized I want to play a bigger role in making healthcare accessible to those without resources. I enjoy Vietnamese food more than American food, and yes, most people would describe me as an introvert. I’ve accepted that some of my actions may fall under a stereotype, but at the end of the day, I am still my own self, and that is something I accept and celebrate.
Rachel Dinh is a sophomore at Notre Dame, majoring in anthropology and pre-health studies, with a minor in theology. She can be reached at [email protected]
The Diversity Council of Notre Dame advocates for awareness, understanding and acceptance on issues of race, gender, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status and other intersectional identities in the Notre Dame community. The viewpoints expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of the Diversity Council, but are the individual opinions of the author. You can contact Diversity Council at [email protected]
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.