i'm not an exotic asian

I worked as a receptionist at an employment agency the summer before I began college. The agency sat on a busy street, and all day long I would greet a steady stream of individuals who were coming in for scheduled interviews or to pick up information regarding employment opportunities. For an already orderly and organized person like myself, this was the perfect summer job for the 17-year-old me.

One day, I looked through the windowed opening of the reception area and greeted a man who had just walked in. He took a seat in the waiting area and later stood up and walked over to me. Thinking he needed an ink pen or to confirm an appointment, I smiled and asked how I could help him. I think he said hi and then proceeded to say words that I'll never forget.

"You look just like the ladies in my Asian porn magazines... do you model? Is it you in one of my magazines?"

I was 17 years old. A very, very innocent 17 years old.

And I had no idea what had just happened.

I felt sick to my stomach and wondered if I had done something wrong. Instinctively, I walked away from the window. I can't remember exactly what I did next, but I remember looking down at my clothing. I can still remember the light purple turtleneck I was wearing and the long black polyester skirt. Was it my fault he asked me this? Was it something I was wearing?

I remember telling a female manager at the office about what happened. I sat in Sue's office, feeling more embarrassed than anything else, and repeated what the man said to me. I was worried that she would tell our male colleagues and that they'd think I was a trouble-maker or look at me differently. She told me that I did nothing wrong and explained the office's emergency procedures (apparently I could overhead page a specific person's name -- someone who in fact didn't work at the office -- which was code for," I need help. As soon as possible.)

Adoptive parents of Asian girls, this stuff happens. And if you're like those who have heard me briefly talk about this topic at education sessions, you're shocked that this stuff happens. But it does, and it will almost surely happen to your daughter.

And as someone who was blindsided by my experiences and felt terribly embarrassed with no Asian mentor or role model to whom to go, I'm all for getting the word out so that we can prepare our daughters and be their allies. Otherwise, I'd rather not talk about this. It's uncomfortable, and I feel vulnerable just sharing about this. It's left me feeling insecure and yucky (for lack of a better, more academic word) and even at times doubtful about my Asian identity and how I am perceived by others.

This office scenario was unfortunately only the first of many similar instances.

There was that time I left a store at the mall and walked right into a group of four or five young adult guys. One of them said, "Hey, my friend here has always wanted a Chinese girlfriend." Another guy chimed in, "Where are you from?" And yet another, "Do you want to go out?" I ignored them and walked away.

Or the time when I left my son's pediatrician's office and was buckling my son into his car seat. A guy had followed me out of the office and to my car. He said, "Hey, do you play tennis? You have a tennis player body. I used to know this Korean girl who plays tennis." He then went on to ask "what I was" and if I worked in a nail or a massage parlor. I quickly hopped into my car and drove away.

Then there are the many truck drivers who honk at me when I pass them on the highway. Or the men who yell "konnichiwa" and catcall me.

I wish I could count on just one hand how many times sexual comments have related to my being Asian, but I can't.

In my early 20s, I became friends with more and more Korean adoptees, and it was then that I learned that these incidents were not unique to me. The terms Yellow Fever and Asian Fetish were tossed out (I'll let you google those terms on your own and at your own risk), and I learned about the websites devoted to finding just the right Asian girlfriend. My friends and I would collectively roll our eyes at the instances of being called exotic Asians, and together we'd laugh about the stereotypes that were shaping others' views of us.

Parents, please read about the objectification and exotification of Asian women in particular and build in conversations with your daughters about race and gender and the related assumptions. This is necessary in being a transracial adoptive parent. Your child's experiences will be different than yours.

For when your daughter is confronted with her first "exotic submissive Asian" comment, she needs to know that Yellow Fever and the Asian Fetish are based on stereotypes and not on anything she's done. She needs to know it's not wrong to be Asian and that she's not the only one being objectified and exoticized based on her race. She needs to know that she can be secure in how she looks and that you won't dismiss the instance with, "Well, honey, it's just because you're so beautiful". She needs to know that you do in fact see her as Asian, and that being Asian is good and okay... because if you don't see race (as many people ascertain), then how can you even start to understand these race-based experiences she is sharing with you?

She needs to know that you are knowledgeable and strong enough to handle conversations about her experiences, for you are her parent, her advocate, and her ally.

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