Prejudice and Border Crossings
Prejudice and Border Crossings
[Image] An Asian woman with long hair, carrying a shoulder bag, facing a Caucasian man who is standing behind a desk.
[Caption] When I cross the US border, this happens:
Man: You speak English? Explain yourself. NOW.
[Image] The Asian woman in closeup, hand raised.
[Caption] I’m Japanese, but I work in the US with a visa. It’s odd that the customs officials find it suspicious but usually my explanation (I went to an English speaking school) is good enough. One time, it wasn’t.
[Image] An Asian woman standing behind a desk. She has short hair and in an airline check-in uniform, looking at a ticket, with an unimpressed expression. The long-haired Japanese woman faces her.
Check-in agent: I know Japanese people. They don’t speak English, can’t answer questions, and they just say “tourist”. Explain yourself.
[Caption] So I did, but…
[Image] The check-in agent still speaking to the Japanese woman, now looking angry.
Check-in Agent: NO.
Japanese woman: Excuse me?
Check-in Agent: Japan is an island country and they don’t care about other people, so they don’t speak English.
[Image] A closeup of the check-in agent, peering downward.
[Caption] The worst part was that she was Asian too. I was offended, hurt, and scared. It was obvious she was racist against Japanese people. So I played along.
[Image] Viewpoint changes so that now the Japanese woman faces the reader. Her expression looks guarded as she addresses the check-in agent.
Japanese woman: Other Asians, like Chinese and Koreans, have better English education and are more worldly so….
[Caption] Racism amongst Asians has a long history, but I was surprised nonetheless. Turns out it doesn’t always matter what education I have or what language I speak; for some a stereotype will always trump the reality.
I’m Japanese, working in the US with a work visa. I went to an international school in Japan, and an English speaking university. So I speak English fluently, with no accent.
The fact that I speak English is usually great. But surprisingly, it has caused me a lot of trouble in the US as well. More specifically, the US border.
When I cross the US border, I am always told that my English is too good. Not a “wow, you speak English so well!” but a “you shouldn’t be able to speak English, explain yourself!” Japan isn’t exactly on the terrorist watch, nor does it produce lots of undocumented immigrants. My passport is all in order, and my work visa is valid. The questions concerning my ability to speak English are bewildering – it makes it sound like speaking English is a bad thing. Usually, my international school story satisfies the customs official though.
One time, it did not.
A few months ago, as I was coming back to the US, I approached the customs lady ready to explain my ability to speak English. I showed my passport. She asked about my English. I gave her the explanation.
“Um, excuse me?”
“Japanese people DON’T SPEAK ENGLISH. I get Japanese people all the time, and they don’t speak English. Unlike most other countries, Japanese people can’t answer any questions. All they can say is “Visiting! Tourist! Tourist!” in a heavy accent.”
The kicker was that the customs lady was Asian herself. I was offended by her remarks that mocked Japanese people, but I had to say something.
“You know, Japanese people do study English for middle school. I just think they are a little shy and lack practice.”
“NO. Japanese people cannot speak English. Japan is an island country and they don’t care about other people, so they don’t speak English.”
I was offended, hurt, annoyed…and scared. I needed to get back in the country. It was obvious she was racist against Japanese people. So I played along, and tried to appease her by praising other Asians. “Other Asians, like Chinese and Koreans, have better English education and are more worldly, so they get to utilize that.”
Satisfied with my acknowledgement that other Asians were superior, she let me through. Racism amongst Asians has a long history, but I was surprised nonetheless. Turns out it doesn’t always matter what education I have or what language I speak; for some a stereotype will always trump the reality.