When someone mistakes you for another person, you feel confusion and wonder how there could be a mix-up. After being given an explanation like, “Oh, from the back you looked like them they have similar hair,” you politely say, “Oh, I get it,” and then move on, but still feel a tiny degree of residual bewilderment. As a Chinese female growing up and residing in a predominantly white area, this kind of interaction is not rare, in fact it has become routine.
The fact that I have more than a handful of interactions about being mixed up for another Asian person I could choose to write about is astounding. Disclaimer: most of the time these mix-ups are never done with malice or ill-intent, most people who make these types of comments have probably just never seen an abundant number of Asian people in a small state/area of the United States that generally lacks diversity. Thus, these people who have never lived in a diverse community inadvertently perpetuate the misconception that all Asian people look alike and/or are the same person. For me, it’s better to be mistaken for another person than to be the subject of the “All Asians are good at math” stereotype, because if that’s true then I’m a disappointment to my whole race.
One notable incident took place during driver’s education class. I don’t remember what the class was talking about, no doubt some hot-button scintillating driving-related topic. I made a point, then my classmate spoke up, whereupon my teacher then replied to the classmate, “It’s like what Susan said…” I was silent, feeling not residual, but full-on bewilderment. Someone asked, “Wait, who’s Susan?” If she had mistaken my name for something that sounded like Grace, like “Georgia,” I would have felt less confused. “Oh, sorry I didn’t mean that, I had a student named Susan, and you look just like her.” I took a deep breath, and knew the answer even before I asked the question. “Was she Asian?” “Yeah, she was!” my teacher replied emphatically with a smile on her face. I wonder if she ever felt regret after that proclamation, because her smile and confirmation made us all aware of her ignorance. Other classmates laughed uncomfortably, like when your teacher makes a bad joke but you have to laugh cause they have control over the gradebook. I couldn’t believe it. I wonder if, to this day, when she tells her students stories about me if she calls me Grace or will refer to me as my alternative personality “Susan.”
Susan is not my only alter ego. I have other names of people I’ve suddenly transfigured into. The idea that I must be a different person because I display Asian features on my face and hair is frustrating. It’s true that Asians typically have brown hair and eyes. But completely honestly, I have never met an Asian person who I look similar to, other than hair and eye color. One similarly colored physical trait does not an identity make. I hope that over time (hopefully soon) the stereotype that all Asian people look like each other is quashed, and that I will be recognized as Grace and not a doppelgänger for whichever Asian person comes to mind when people see my Chinese face.
About the Author: Grace Wang is a Chinese-American college student majoring in psychology whose passion for writing stems from wanting to to give a unique and relatable perspective as an Asian growing up and living in an area of the country that lacks diversity. She aims to talk about her experiences with the hope that other people can identify with them.