Breaking Stereotypes: Five Common Misconceptions About Asians

Jade Tagulao reports on common misconceptions about the Asian community based on first-hand experience as an immigrant and as part of the Asian-American community.

Photo collage by Jade Tagulao.

Asians are generalized into the same stereotypes over and over again. When in reality, the Asian race is diverse in many different ways. From culture, to skin color, to different traits and beliefs, Asia is much more than what people make it seem to be. Clockwise from the top left corner to the center: Math symbols for the misconception that all Asians are good at math; car crash for people who say Asians are bad drivers; English with question marks for Asians not understanding English; a Chinese tassel for all Asians being Chinese; a diversity of Asian Hollywood celebrities to represent that all Asians don’t look the same.

#1 All Asians are good at Math.

When I attended my first school here in America, many of the teachers and students automatically assumed that I am good at math. Because I’m Asian. In my 8th grade math class, a lot of the students approached me or the other two Asians in the class whenever they had questions about the lesson or the homework. Phrases such as, “Hey, you’re Asian! You’re good at math, come help me with this one,” are the very common things we hear. If we answered incorrectly, we would hear remarks such as “But you’re Asian… you’re supposed to be good at math…”

No, not all Asians are math geniuses. There may be some that are, but the Asian race is not gifted with great math skills unlike what people think. I, myself, was a decent math student. I can solve math problems as long as I have my notes in hand and as long as I study. Believe me, I did not pass my AP Calculus test and I had to retake Math 126 (Pre-Calc I).

#2 All Asians look the same.

Here’s the thing. WE DON’T. The amount of times my friends and I have been mistaken as siblings, twins or of the same race happens too often. Not all of us are light skinned. Not all of us have straight black hair. Not all of us are skinny. Many people just don’t understand that the Asian race is very diverse. We don’t share the same looks, traits and skin color.

My high school teacher always mistook me and my best friend for each other, “I thought you were Elynor” or “I thought you were Jade.” We are two Asian girls who look nothing alike, yet our own teacher who sees us every day cannot differentiate us. Other than our similar hair colors and height, we look very different. Up to this day, we still don’t know if it was an honest mistake or a joke he thought would be funny or maybe it’s just him being plain racist. One thing is for sure, as it continued, my best friend and I started to find it awfully funny.

#3 Asians are bad drivers.

“Asian driver, no survivor.”

A phrase that was repeated within the Asian community, including my group of friends. With all of us being Asian, it’s become an inside joke. Although this misconception is taken rather lightly and many of us find it funny, it’s still a common misconception.

Surprisingly, a lot of people jump into assumptions that Asians are bad drivers, but the truth is, not all of us are. My dad is one of the best and most careful drivers that I know. I have never seen him over speeding or breaking any traffic rules. I think I am a pretty decent driver myself, and so are some of my friends and relatives. Yes, there may be reckless and bad Asian drivers, but that does not mean every other Asian is a bad driver. But I admit, I do love that catch phrase. It has a good rhyming, and it’s funny when said within my close group of people.

#4 All Asians are Chinese.

There are about 48 countries in Asia, including some of them you may think are not part of the continent. Not all Asians are Chinese. Not all Asians are from China. How can one think of that when Asia is the biggest continent? According to Wikipedia, Asia covers about 30% of Earth’s total land area and is 44,579,000 million square kilometers. China is just 9.6 million square kilometers. Asia is not just China.

Some people have mistaken me as Chinese. I am Filipino. One classmate in middle school even insisted that I am Chinese because I look like one. He corrected my own race and refused to believe me when I said that I am not Chinese. “No! You’re Asian, so you’re Chinese!”

This issue has yet again been proven with the recent events of Anti-Asian violence and Asian hate. Because COVID-19 originated from Wuhan, China, and because every Asian is assumed to be Chinese, many people chose to generalize the whole Asian community and throw hatred, violence and discrimination to every Asian they see.

#5 Asians don’t understand English.

English is not my first spoken language, but I do understand it and I am fluent. Some Asians may have strong accents from their mother tongue, but that does not mean that they do not understand English. When I first arrived here in America, I was automatically sent to a school where English as a Second Language (ESL) class was offered. I was assumed to be illiterate in the English language because I moved from a different country. The school did not realize that I am indeed fluent until a teacher noticed my fluency while answering a question in class.

There are many countries in Asia that have people who are quite fluent in English. The Philippines, for example, have English as their official second language and the writing system used is the English alphabet. Yes, not every Filipino understands English, yet alone is fluent in the language, but there are many that are very much skilled. Not just that, but not all of us are immigrants who “Don’t understand English.” There are many Asians that are born in America who has been speaking English since they could remember. Not everyone may be fluent in English, but that does not mean that everyone cannot understand or speak it either.

Bottomline is…

We are not all the same. The Asians and the misconceptions that are portrayed and represented in the media are not all that we are. There is more to us than what people perceive us to be.

Explainer Journalism by Jade Tagulao for the Reynolds Sandbox

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The Reynolds Sandbox showcases innovative and engaging storytelling by students with the Reynolds Media Lab.

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