Dear Amy: I am a foreign-born U.S. citizen from Hong Kong, a formerly British colony for more than a century. I have lived in the United States for more than 40 years.
It is common for people in Hong Kong to use a western name and our Chinese name together.
Occasionally strangers in the U.S. ask me if “Lily Wong” is my “real” name.
It is on my British passport, U.S. passport, global entry card, driver’s license, property deed and so on.
I feel discriminated against because I have an Asian face and an Asian accent and they want to point out the obvious — that I am not born here.
I think corporations should include sensitivity training to educate their employees not to ask if someone’s name is a “real” name — to point out the obvious that I am not born here.
Amy says: People ask all sorts of insensitive questions, not always because they are trying to discriminate, upset you or point out your “otherness,” but because they are curious — or clueless — or a combination of both.
I agree that corporations should include sensitivity training, so that people are sensitized to realize that what sounds like a benign question: “Is that your real name?” or, “Where are you from?” has the opposite effect from what they might intend.
Asking a person from Cleveland who has an American accent, “Where are you from” is perceived very differently than when it is asked of you. An American-born or “American-looking” (whatever that is) person might see this as a normal social icebreaker. You see it as an indication that the person asking doesn’t think you belong here.
You might be wrong about that, or overly sensitive regarding these questions — but people asking them should be aware of how questions like this are perceived.
I have a Chinese daughter and other Asian family members who also report frequent comments or questions designed to highlight their otherness, such as, “What are you?” “Where are you really from?” or “Where are your real parents?”
Occasionally the people asking these questions are also Asian.
But let’s just stipulate that asking a fellow human, “What are you?” is offensive.
One way to respond to a question you don’t feel like answering is to turn it back on the questioner. If you are asked, “Is that your real name?” You could answer, “Why are you asking?” Depending on the response, you could simply answer, “Yes, it is my real name.”
I hope you will see the movie “Crazy Rich Asians.” This runaway American hit with an all-Asian cast explores, exploits and explodes these stereotypes.
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