Watch Your Language! Common Microaggressions Against Asian Americans


“Where do you come from?!” a little girl confusedly asked me one day in the middle of class. “I come from Virginia, just like you.”

“But why do you look like you come from China?”

“My parents grew up in Asia, but I was born here in America. People like that are called Asian Americans.”

“That’s weird!”

As she pranced away, I thought about how this tiny preschooler had been alive no more than four years and already had the conception that only white people were from America. Granted, Charlottesville is largely a white city in Virginia, but there were still a good handful of Asian American, African American, and other ethnicities of children at the school as well.

While substitute teaching at different schools in the city, I regularly hear little white children spurt out all sorts of misguided questions and comments including: “Are you adopted?” and “Maybe you’re supposed to be in China or Japan where you belong.” Even more curious was a conversation I had with a half white and half Chinese American boy who told me he was born in the United States but was actually from China because his family went on a trip there for two weeks when he was a baby.

So what’s going on here? It is possible that these children’s parents are brazen racists indoctrinating their offspring with white supremacist dogma? Most likely not. I would argue that it has to do with microaggressions, defined by psychologist Derald Wing Sue as:

“... everyday insults, indignities and demeaning messages sent to people of color by well-intentioned people who are unaware of the hidden messages being sent to them."

The following are a few common microagressions heard on a regular basis along with alternative ways to avoid them.

1)   Where do you come from?

Message:  You couldn’t have lived in America your entire life and/or be an American citizen because of the way you look. Only white people are from America.

Alternatives: What is your ethnicity/ethnic background? What do you identify as?

The classic question possibly every non-white American loves to complain about. People who ask this are usually trying to get to know you a little better and don’t realize how it can be insulting. Any question asking about ethnic identity rather than country of origin is much more appropriate because it can be chosen to an extent by the individual, thus putting the power of identity in their hands instead of the asker’s.

2)   Calling yourself a “Twinkie” (yellow on the outside, white on the inside)

Message: The American culture that you grew up with, all the things you love to watch, eat, and experience are not rightfully yours to claim as someone with Asian ancestry. The culture that made you who you are really belongs to “whiteness.”

Alternatives: Asian American, Pilipino American, multicultural, etc.

As a teenager I used to call myself a “Twinkie” all the time. Looking back, I realized that I associated being Asian with strange and foreign, and claiming “whiteness” made me more relatable to my friends. Even at the beginning of college I chose not to join the Fil-Am student organization for fear of being branded as an Asian girl who only hangs out with Asians. Calling myself a “Twinkie” was just a funny way to say that I was ashamed of my background and was ultimately disempowering.

3)   Emphasizing that someone is Asian even though their ethnicity is completely irrelevant to what you're talking about

Message: White is normal and anyone who is different needs to identified as such.

Alternatives: Don’t do it. Be more aware of your descriptions of people.

I don’ t know how many times I’ve heard people say something like, “So I was talking to this Asian guy and he told me that a new burger place opened up nearby,” and then think to myself, “What does him being Asian have to do with anything?” If the person you were talking about were white, you’d most likely just refer to them as “that guy” since white people are often perceived to not have ethnicity. Pointing out someone’s ethnicity for no reason only further reinforces marginalized groups as not normal.

4)   Just Asian without the American

Message: Asian Americans are considered perpetual foreigners who haven’t earned their American labels even as United States citizens.

Alternatives: Asian American, Pilipino American, etc.

I admit it may sound awkward tacking on “American” all the time, but it’s just something that takes getting used to. In fact, the term “African-American” only became popularized after Jesse Jackson held a news conference urging its usage in 1988. Today it would feel awkward calling someone simply “African” if they were a native-born citizen. The name Asian American acts as a unifying statement that demonstrates pride in Asian cultural heritage and American citizenship at the same time.

Is using these types of language outwardly racist? No. Do I think they reflect current race relations in America and have a role in imprinting certain prejudiced beliefs even on young children? Yes. These microagressions are one reason that Asian Americans are still not perceived as truly belonging despite being part of the United States since the 1850s. As a consequence, the Asian American community lacks presence in politics and popular media, and its level of cultural understanding barely goes beyond Kung Fu and geisha stereotypes. DeAngelis writes that psychological research on microaggressions suggest they may also “erode people’s mental health, job performance and the quality of social experience.”

If you happen to let these phrases slip from time to time, no one blames you. It’s just what we’ve all become used to hearing and saying. But next time, think about what your words really mean and use them in a way that embraces all backgrounds and the people in front of them.

Photo Credit: Buzzfeed-21 Racial Microagressions You Hear On A Daily Basis

A Speech on the Tragic Cost of Higher Education in the Philippines

Note from the Editor: Therese Franceazca Balagtas is one of UniPro’s interns for the summer. At our recent Staff Development Workshop, she delivered a speech on the “UniIssue” of education in the Philippines. Read on to see her thoughtful take on the controversial topic.- by Therese Franceazca Balagtas

IMG001f Sixty thousand pesos – That is the average annual cost of tuition for a student entering college in the Philippines. You can expect a high school graduate entering his/her first year of college to shell out somewhere between thirty thousand to up to ninety thousand pesos just for tuition alone.

When you ask Filipino parents about their dreams for their children, an inevitable answer would be to be able to send them to school and finish their education. This isn’t surprising most especially because the Philippines is a nation that values education. For Filipinos, education is a prized possession and a college diploma is one’s ticket to a better life. So it should also come to no surprise that many Filipino parents go beyond their means in order to give their children a decent education.

Unfortunately, in the Philippines, higher education comes with a hefty price tag. Private schools are notorious for their constant increase in tuition costs mainly because they are profit driven institutions. But even state-run universities and colleges have a difficult time providing financial support to students due to the shrinking financial funding from the government. This makes the costs of higher education stiff for many Filipino households. You’re probably wondering, how about the public school system, isn’t that free and subsidized by the government? Yes that’s true, public schools are subsidized by the government and can be attained for free or at a very low cost. However, the public schooling system only applies to grade school through high school, which means that for a college education it is expected for the student and his/her family to bear the full cost.

Earlier this year, Kristel Tejada, a student from the University of the Philippines-Manila committed suicide after she could no longer fund her own education at the university and after being humiliated due to her incapacity to do so. It is unfortunate for a student to take her own life simply because she couldn’t afford her own education. It is even more upsetting because the University of the Philippines is a state university known for their “Iskolar ng Bayan” (national scholars), and their supposed higher sensitivity for aiding students from less advantaged sectors possessing academic merit and potential.

Regrettably, her suicide is just a symptom of a larger crisis affecting the country’s educational system. Many educational institutions are notorious for implementing a tuition installment plan, which strategically places payment due dates right before exam time. These plans delay and sometimes even prevent students from taking important exams because they are unable to pay their tuition on time. During the time I spent studying in the Philippines, I’ve seen parents and students alike ask for an extension come exam time because they simply couldn’t scrape together funds to be able to pay their tuition in time for exams.

The sad truth is, many Filipino students discover at some point in their college career that they are no longer able to afford tuition. That being said, they either end up transferring to a sub-par institution or drop out of college altogether. I think the youth should not be denied access to a college education simply because of financial constraints. The government should be able to invest more in student loan programs and full scholarships, which in turn give qualified recipients a clear shot at earning their degrees. They should also keep in mind compassion for deserving students from the bottom of the nation’s economic tiers. Consider the possibility of more young people who are better trained at skills and professions because they were given the opportunity to earn a college degree. Consider the possibility of parents less burdened by the high cost of education. Think about what that could possibly do to make our society better.

A Speech on the Perception of Homosexuality in the Fil-Am Community

Note from the Editor: Kristina London is one of UniPro’s interns for the summer. At our recent staff meeting, she delivered a speech on the “UniIssue” of the perception of homosexuality in the Filipino and Fil-Am communities. Read on to see her thoughtful take on the controversial topic along with some of her research notes. photoThere are several topics that lead to heated arguments in my household, but I’m going to spare you all by listing the top 3: the general worry over my future self sufficiency, my older sister’s love life, and our differing opinions of the LGBT community. While the first two can lead to shouting matches followed by brooding until a less than satisfactory compromise is reached, the last topic is a bit more solemn and causes a lot more tension. There has been many a time where I have tried to ease my parents out of their close-mindedness but I fear the confrontation can set them further in their ways. And while it may seem like I am putting my parents in a bad light, I am simply offering them up to you as the average Filipino parent with their judgments against homosexuals. However I believe that if they took the time to understand and learn about the struggle gays and lesbians faced, it would lead to adopting a different mentality about the situation.

In the 1930s, Freud issued a statement that homosexuality was not an illness that could be diagnosed, but simply an extension of the human sexual function and therefore nothing to be ashamed of. Of course, his opinion was just one among many, and the discrimination against gays was continued. Simple things like being served alcohol or dancing with a member of the same-sex in bars was outlawed and could be used for basis of arrest. 1969 marked the movement for gay rights when several homosexuals at the Stonewall Inn in Manhattan stood up against the oppression and refused to be arrested for having a good time. This began the new era of equality, with the Stonewall Inn dubbed the ‘birthplace of gay rights.’ By the 1990s the gay rights movement was making significant progress in America, whereas it was just beginning in the Philippines. In September of 1993, gay student activists gathered together to plan a way to unite the Filipino gay community. This group of student activists later evolved into a national organization called PROgay Philippines. They went on to celebrate the first Manila and Lesbian Gay Pride March in June of 1994 to mark the 25th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots.


It has taken 25 years for gays in the Philippines to make a notable demonstration of their presence, however, this does not mean that in the 25 years prior gays went by unnoticed. If you were to Google ‘Gay Culture Philippines’ you would get multiple links to articles claiming the Philippines as the most ‘gay friendly country in the world’, ranking at number 10 out of 17 in a global survey of countries whose majorities accepted homosexuality. The survey conducted by the U.S Pew Research center found a 73% rating of acceptance in the Philippines, with China ranking at 54% and the U.S coming in at 60%. The Pew Research center found that the acceptance of homosexuality was particularly widespread if religion was less central in people’s lives. This is contradicted by other findings of the center, which reported the Philippines to have a rating of 2.5 on a religiosity scale of 1-3. So how can the country be so ‘gay-friendly?’ It turns out that the people of the country are actually most supportive of the fabulous gay entertainers on T.V. A gay male in the Philippines is considered of a completely different gender called the Bakla. They are flamboyant, effeminate men who like to dress as women. The Bakla who have more stereotypically male traits are considered masculine bakla who go into relationships with straight males just to be supported financially. Lesbians in the Philippines are considered tomboys and are thought to mostly butch. Filipinos who are gay and lesbian that happen to fall out of these stereotypes are widely rejected. What they are going through is then just considered a phase.

These set ideas of how gay people should conduct themselves have followed many Filipinos overseas, my parents included. I’ve witnessed their stereotypes of gays come to light while watching T.V. It blew their mind that the pretty girl on Glee with clichéd female interests could also be interested in females. It also made them wildly uncomfortable when I would defend the T.V character by asking them how being gay was considered a crime. Their response was to make me change the channel or lecture me on how those life choices went against Catholicism. Their main argument is that being gay changes the structure of the family. The bible has written against gay marriage because the union of a same-sex couple would be non-procreative. To raise a family and live by the Church’s ideals are the roles of man in a Catholic society and if they cannot do that then they are failing as a Christian. If I argue that same-sex couples can have children and that many do, my parents ask me if I sympathize for the children, who will grow up confused. Defending the gay community to my parents is always a stressful task because no matter how hard I try; they cannot seem to grasp my point of view. Being gay to them is a sin, and their opinions of it are highly persuaded by those of the church.

Growing up in such a conservative household, you may wonder how my own views have failed to be swayed by the church. In this new age of acceptance, I have grown up with a completely different experience than that of my parents. I am a first generation American exposed to the open views of my U.S peers. The first time I’d taken a position on the issue of the LGBT community was in middle school. In my middle school psychology class I learned that being gay was a congenital condition. That there was an augmentation in the hypothalamus in the brain that heterosexual did not have. It became clear to me that being gay was a trait one simply had, like having dark hair or freckles. People at my school slowly came out of the closet over the years and no one made a big deal, no one was harassed for it, and certainly no one was thought of any differently because of their sexual orientation.

This level of acceptance is what the leaders in the Philippines are currently working towards. In 2009, a national organization called Ang Ladlad filed to become a political party. The Commission of Elections (also known as the Comelec) denied accreditation of this party because of their ‘immoral doctrines.’ Such doctrines included support of businesses that associate with LGBTs, centers for troubled LGBTs, and the repeal of the Anti-Vagrancy law, which policemen used to extort bribes from or jail gays. Basically, they were fighting for human rights, which put the Comelec in violation of their obligation to serve and protect the rights of all Filipinos, regardless off sexual preference. In January of 2010, Ladlad was issued a temporary restraining order that would allow them to remain on the accredited party list and participate in the elections. In the Philippine city of Angeles, Ladlad was able to pass an anti-discrimination bill. Ladlad had hoped to transform the anti-discrimination bill into law in office, but unfortunately had not gathered enough votes to gain a seat in the Philippine House of Representatives. This did not mean the fight was over because in July of 2013, Dinagat Islands Rep. Arlene Bag-ao filed a bill to ban discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Even though the bill might end up just sitting in congress for a while and not be immediately acted upon, it is a representation of how far the Filipino people have come in terms of recognizing the LGBT community. The Philippine people didn’t officially start taking a stand until 1994, so the fight is still ongoing and fresh. Filipinos are slowly taking on a new perspective to empathize with the homosexuals, and I am sure that the fight will continue to evolve and progress as time goes on.

On Courage and Feminism, A Speech by Gecile Fojas

This speech was originally given by staff member Gecile Fojas at our March staff meeting. She was assigned the speech as a staff development project.

I’m someone who often has trouble being courageous. I hate feeling vulnerable and being subject to scrutiny. I hate being judged. It makes me feel self-conscious, inadequate and makes me feel less than what I’m really worth.

But all of this goes away when I take a step back, channel my inner Beyonce and tell myself, “I am a woman, an agent of change, and someone working on taking their passion and wielding it into power.”

350,000 females die annually from complications during pregnancy or childbirth. 99% of these deaths occur in developing countries, like the Philippines. The National Statistics Office reports 10 maternal deaths per day, leaving more than 30 children motherless. Having a mother around is pretty important for a new born not just for reasons like breast feeding, but the bond between a mother and child can be factor in life or death. When a new born is neglected, a child can stop eating, withdraw, “lose hope” and “lack the impetus to thrive. So in essence this bond creates a resilience in children helping them to survive. Also, the first 2 months after childbirth are very critical months for both mother and child.

Women are dying from things that are for the most part preventable. Dr Mahmoud Fathalla, chair of the WHO advisory Committee on Health Research, once stated that societies are at fault for the deaths of women and mothers because they “have yet to make the decision that [women’s] lives can be saved.” It’s harsh, but true. Most deaths are caused by things like hemorrhage, sepsis, unsafe abortions, obstructed labor and hypertensive diseases of pregnancy. ALL of these things are avoidable with access to adequate reproductive health services, equipment, supplies and skilled healthcare workers. The issue around the world regarding women’s health isn’t just about gender equality, it’s also about accessibility. There’s a huge disparity between women in the rural areas versus the urban, and the urban middle class and the urban poor.

Taking care of women make for stronger societies and healthier children make for surviving societies. If you want to make the world better or see change or get shit done, invest and fight for your women.

To my handsome men in the room. You have not been forgotten. You are just as important as the women I fight for. While there are men that bring women down, there are men, like you who build us up. I want to remind you that you are not the enemy, you are our counterpart.

We must build solidarity not just amongst women but amongst ALL people. Our (men and women) enemies are the lost souls that lack humanity and a conscience, but mainly an understanding that life is to be cherished and not tarnished by hate or hurt. We must fight to help them find their way. As leaders, we need to help guide by educating and empowering, because at the end of the day that’s how we will be able to take action, make change and RISE.

Love fiercely, find strength, be courageous and from there take your passion, wield it into power and make change. I am a strong and beautiful woman working being on becoming fearless and more courageous.

Even if it’s not for women, you should still fight for something that you feel passionate about. Fight because it’s better to fight and fall, than to live without hope.

I’m fighting right now, just by speaking in front of you.