Sofia Garfias-Yi, our repeat feature, was asked by a friend to write the following reflection on her life for the Asian Pacific American Coalition at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. As you might guess by her name, Sofia is both Chinese and Mexican – and in this reflection she shares what this means to her as well as how she has dealt with racial stereo-typing. So as we both begin the new school year, as well as begin reflecting a bit on the complexity of Latinx identity as part of Hispanic History Month, Sofia’s piece is an excellent way to begin. Read, comment, and share!
Rev. Dr. Linda E. Thomas – Professor of Theology and Anthropology, Chair of LSTC’s Diversity Committee, Editor – “We Talk. We Listen.”
“Oh, you’re Mexican? Why don’t you just get back over the border? Or are you too busy mowing lawns?”
It was an unexpected statement for two reasons. One, it was the first time any sort of racially offensive comment had been directed towards me. And two, the statement came from someone I’d considered a friend. Whereas I usually shot down any sassy jokes with a witty remark, I didn’t know what to say that day. My other friends were chuckling along, and eventually I gave in because… well, I didn’t want to seem up tight.
They were probably all thinking the same thing: it’s Sofia, she’s laid back, and she probably won’t care.
But over the next few years, these little instances would come up again and again. What people found absolutely fascinating was that not only was I Mexican, but I was also Chinese. Friends compassionately dubbed me as a ‘Chexican,’ which I thought was pretty clever. But along with this playfulness came other small remarks along the lines of, ‘Of course you’re good at that, you’re Asian!’ to fulfill any Asian stereotypes people had. And every single time, it never crossed my mind to say anything.
The fact was that I felt like I was in some sort of gray area with embracing my identity. As someone with a bi-racial identity, I didn’t really feel like I fit into any specific group. I never fully adopted into some of the American customs and traditions, so I was out of the loop on some aspects of the culture. When I was surrounded by Asian people, I never felt fully a part of them, though we shared a lot of similarities. And quite frankly, I never had too many friends from a Latino background. I was stuck in some sort of identity limbo.
Though I still struggle with this, I would say that coming to University of Illinois has opened my eyes and helped me embrace myself. Experiences from meeting people in similar situations as mine to taking classes like Gender & Women Studies has made me realize that our identities are unique and should be taken seriously. Offensive and demeaning comments don’t always come from a faceless Facebook user or someone on the street. They can also come from people you consider your friends or acquaintances. It can simply be because they haven’t taken the time to learn what your identity really means, and other times they may simply think they can get away with it because they’re your friend.
However, as I learned, brushing it off and laughing along with my friends didn’t solve anything. I was afraid of seeming uptight or killing the mood, but the very real fact is that the stereotyping and generalization of people of any culture is destructive. Sometimes what it takes isn’t some sort of witty remark or equally offensive comment, but a simple statement that the people of a culture are so much more than their stereotypes. They are each equally unique and have so much to offer to this world.
So go ahead. Next time someone makes a comment, don’t start a fight or brush it off. Start a conversation. You’d be surprised.
My name is Sofia Garfias-Yi, and I am currently a student at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign studying Sociology and Communication. Though I was born in Austin, Texas, I spent most of my childhood in three different places: Taiwan, Mexico, and the Chicago suburbs. It was only by fourth grade that I settled down in the suburbs, where I currently live now with my parents. As a double PK (pastor’s kid), I’ve had a lot of interesting and wonderful experiences in many different churches, and this has certainly shaped who I’ve become today. My passions include exploring the city of Chicago, making art, and discovering new music.