After experiencing much racism growing up in a conservative town in rural Missouri, I was excited to live in China, where my East Asian-looking face would allow me to be a part of the majority, for two years. Being in Beijing has been a breath of fresh air— no one takes a second glance at me or treats me differently due to my appearance— it is only when I speak 中文 that people question whether I am actually Chinese, and even then, they still welcome me to their stores and restaurants with warmth and hospitality.
Dozens of food stalls in 什刹海 (Shichahai), a beautiful scenic area with three lakes and many places to buy food and listen to music
In contrast, it’s been a bit isolating being one of the only Asian Americans in the CET Beijing program. Many of the white students bond over shared experiences and struggles like being stared at, getting their pictures taken on the street, and having strangers add their WeChat.
On the one hand, I feel obligated to defend my classmates from all of this unwanted attention and to apologize on behalf of the Chinese strangers. On the other, I have been urging my classmates to think about the experiences of many immigrants in the U.S. and how much more racism, discrimination, and exclusion they face for much longer periods of time.
Maybe it’s unfair to compare these two groups of people and types of experiences, but living in the CET bubble has made me think about my parents’ immigration to rural Missouri, where many people had never seen an Asian person before, and the racism I frequently faced.
The Great Wall of China: CET took us on a trip here
In addition, I expected to be free from the influence of white privilege in China, but it does exist here. For example, based on my experience, beauty standards are aligned with the facial features of white women.
Because I have not been to China in 12 years, I am navigating many of these thoughts for the first time. I will be here for the next two years, though, and will have plenty of time to determine my positionality in this country and the ways different people in China will perceive me and others based on our different identities.
A beautiful view from a rooftop in the 東城區 (Dongcheng area) of Beijing