By: Suranthi Fernando
When I was 5, I went on vacation to London. I was a talkative child, and said hi to everyone I walked past. Naturally, they cooed over me and asked me my name and where I was from. I said I was from Sri Lanka. Cue confused glances at my parents – Is that one of those African countries, they hesitantly ask. When they were informed that it was in Asia, they seemed to grow even more confused, but politely left it at that, bidding us well wishes and to enjoy our trip. They seemed nice. Maybe they don’t know our country well, 5-year old me reasoned.
When I was 12, I went on a school trip to Australia. Introduced myself and my friends to the students of the school we were visiting, only to be met with hushed whispers frantically asking each other where in the world I was from. I proudly addressed their worries by announcing that my friends and I were from Sri Lanka, which was in Asia – South Asia to be specific. One brave student spoke up from the back of the class, “So why aren’t you guys Chinese? You don’t look like the girls on TV, my mom watches Asian shows sometimes and they don’t look like you!” I was about to argue back when their teacher hurriedly rushed us into our seats and decided to change her planned class into an impromptu lesson about Asian Geography.
When I was 15, our school was busy hosting exchange student from Korea and Japan. Wow! We were all excited to meet these other students, as we had never been able to interact with foreign students before. To our disappointment, some of them stuck their noses up at us, saying we weren’t pretty so they wouldn’t want to hang out with us. “We’re prettier than you because our skin isn’t dark and our hair is shiny and straight. Your hair is so tangled and your skin is so dark!” We were shocked but as gracious hosts, we smiled and tried to make them feel comfortable in our school.
When I was 19, I went on a semester exchange to New York. The students there were warm, and helped me adapt well. However, they flat out refused to believe that I was Asian, because I didn’t look Asian enough for them. I wasn’t light skinned, I didn’t have straight long hair, and oh my goodness, Asians are slim and petite, not chubby and broad-shouldered! I didn’t even know how to explain my way out of that, except to meekly pull up the world map on my phone and attempt to show them that Sri Lanka was indeed part of Asia.
Now that I am 25, I politely explain to anyone that is willing to listen, that South Asia IS indeed a part of Asia, and not all Asians are petite fair skinned long-haired damsels or buff yet pretty idol-singer looking types. There is no single cookie-cutter image that defines Asians, we come in all sizes, shapes, skin tones, and height, from all different countries, cultures, backgrounds and traditions. We may have different clothing styles, music, food and even behaviour that makes us unique from other Asian countries and cultures, none of which is either above or below each other. And whichever region we may hail from, be it East, South, Central or Southeast Asia, and whichever country within these regions, the most important thing is that we are all, in our hearts, proud to be Asian.
Suranthi is a college student studying International Trade and Psychology at Uni@Buffalo (SUNY) in Singapore. She enjoys reading, writing, photography, listening to music and watching movies during her free time. Upon graduation Suranthi hopes to pursue a career in either one of her majors or both majors combined, but also to be a published book author on the side.
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