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How do we decide?

laik012's picture


I always felt that what defines and makes up an identity very fascinating. Most often I associate identity with religion, language, physical features and to some extent their likings and passions (eg. Type of food, subject, music, etc.) I try my best never to believe in stereotypes but it is always fun sometimes to guess a person’s origin and what they associate themselves as. Few days ago, I met guy A in one of my class. He looked familiar and reminded me so much of my good friend from high school. I told myself at that time, if I had to guess, he must be a mix kid (half Asian and half White). From then on, I proceeded with class and didn’t bother to go further and ask since my curiosity is sometimes pathetic. The next day, I saw him again and told him he looked so much like my friend from Kazakhstan. He immediately told me his parents are from there but he was raised in America. I always wanted to learn Russian so I asked him whether he spoke the language, as soon as he said yes; he began teaching me some phrases. Without much thought, I told A that I really like his identity, he neither looks typically Asian nor White, speaks a European language but grew up in America. I told him that it’s funny how you like meat so much and love math. My Kazakh friend is so similar. He didn’t say much but appreciated that I knew so much about Central Asia.


Looking back, I am not sure whether this was the smartest decision to tell somehow how they remind me of my friend based on their physical feature, language and appreciate for a subject. I fear that I have performed an aspect of microaggression that could have potentially hurt him. Was I relying too much on past experiences that actually provoked me to generalize people? It seems to me that it’s very difficult to know when and when not to demonstrate appreciation of someone’s culture. 2/3 of the international students I know are open to share their culture and are very happy when someone is interested to learn more about it.  In my perspective, I always admire people trying to learn Indonesian/Malay and knowing the small differences between South-East Asia as a region different to South Asia and East Asian. However, yet again I fear that educating these small differences can only further create more tension and the whole either this or that approach to people. How can I be more cultured, a globalized citizen and respect cultural differences when I’m told to view everyone as equal and normal human beings?