Making the Chinese Face
26 Mar 2004
When I was little, it was not uncommon for kids to make the “Chinese face.” By this I mean they would pull back the skin on the sides of their faces, stretching their eyelids back, and say, “look at me! I’m Chinese!”
That was a long time ago. At that time, “Chinese” still meant “Asian” to us. Since then, I’ve learned that that kind of behavior is considered rude and offensive. I’ve also grown up.
Recently, though, something made me think of that offensive “Chinese face,” and I started to wonder… what would Chinese people think of it? So I explained to my girlfriend that it was something that American kids used to do, although now it’s considered racist (for good reasons). And then I did it for her.
She thought it was hilarious. She couldn’t stop laughing for a minute or so. When she did stop laughing, she asked me to do it again. And then promptly erupted into laughter again.
My point is not that Asian Americans are uptight. Even though my Chinese experience is very different (and much easier) than that of an Asian American growing up as a minority in the USA, I can now much better appreciate how it feels to be a minority. You become super sensitive to every little way you are treated differently, but at the same time, no one takes much notice of jibes aimed at the majority.
I think that this little experiment also demonstrates that my girlfriend wouldn’t even recognize a lot of the more subtle ways that people are racist towards Asians. Growing up in China among all Chinese, she just never came into contact with it.