Made in China

Illustration by Malu Geyerhahn

Illustration by Malu Geyerhahn

My first experience with sinophobia was way too early to remember. Perhaps it was when I was six or seven and a kid in my class decided that my eyes were a little too different and so I should suffer a bit for it. They pulled their eyes back and proceeded to say some gibberish that I think was supposed to sound like Chinese. A few years, later my problem was not only my eyes but also that I was a communist. For some reason, my eight-year-old self was now not only an enemy of the state but also responsible for the deaths of millions of people. I didn’t even know what a communist was, and yet the traces of these jokes remain to this day. Finally, in what seems like a lifetime ago but was only a year and a half, I walked in the Graded halls and someone asked me if I had the coronavirus. Why? Because of my Chinese roots.  

Perhaps because I’m a bit older the COVID one didn’t hurt as much, rather it made me a bit angry. I am not afforded the luxury of being able to rely on one of those escapes of “I’m not actually Chinese, I’m *insert southeast Asian country*.” Despite that bigotry is attributed to childish idiocy, often with no intention of causing real harm, let me tell you, harm was done even before I figured that bigotry was idiotic and ignorant. Compared to other people of color who have grown up in predominantly white schools, I have had a rather smooth experience. Yet, I have still layed in bed countless times wondering whether my life would be just a tiny bit easier if I had been born white. Please don’t confuse such a feeling with a brunette wanting to be blonde. They can bleach their hair, I can’t rip open my eyes. 

My parents are first-generation immigrants. Two ‘twenty-somethings who moved halfway across the world at a chance of a better life. In other words, my relationship with my heritage is a bit different from some of my “more Brazilian” peers. My parents don’t speak perfect Portuguese and don’t understand English, but the suffering they have had to endure in such a bigotted – and at times hostile – environment has given me the opportunity to write this completely competently in both English and Portuguese. Nevertheless, I still get complimented on how my English skills must have improved as I got better at solving word problems… math word problems. After all, there’s no way that I could have understood that Margaret bought 50 pineapples. Or that Joe could have bought 75 watermelons. 

Please note that I’m not making fun of someone who isn’t completely fluent in English. Rather, I want to highlight the way that bigotry crawls into (hopefully) well-meaning comments. China this and China that, but I don’t think most people understand what that actually does. My heritage is not a fun topic for white kids to advocate for when they want to put on their activist glasses. Or when you are feeling a little brave and want to try a new eyeliner style. Nor when you want some metaphor for something cheap and slap on a “Made in China” label.   

This is not a rant, nor do I wish it to seem as such. The purpose of this piece is not to shame these people, but to raise awareness. These dinosaur age racist acts still exist, and they exist at Graded. Despite all the fun diversity and over-forty-something nationalities, these things continue to happen on campus. Diversity doesn’t make Graded inoculated against bigotry. Instead, it grows under the surface, where it festers and only comes out when nobody is looking. 

The list of nuances of sinophobia is very long and complex, yet the words you say have an impact. So although it may seem like a thoughtless comment people wouldn’t remember, it’s not. I don’t remember my big birthday party when I was five, but I sure do remember when I was made fun of for my small and slanted eyes when I was six. There aren’t big facts with big research here. This is me begging people to think twice when speaking. Sinophobia is sneaky. It’s so quiet that if you don’t listen closely, you might just miss it – perhaps even out of your own mouth. I don’t want others to go through what I have, or worse. For all the hate towards my “Chinese-ness”, I know that there is just as much love. However, trust is earned and no amount of love for dumplings can pay back the scars you carve. So don’t hold a knife. Sit, listen, and learn because I, and so many others, have a lot to say.