‘No Stupid Questions’ Forum Shows Diversity in Asian Population
Asia is one of the most diverse continents in the world, containing a vast variety of languages and cultures so opposite from each other.
But in the United States, the popular belief is that Asian households are all the same.
On April 2, UNLV’s Office of Civic Engagement and Diversity (OCED) hosted a “No Stupid Questions: Asian and Pacific Islander Month” seminar that allowed students to ask what some would consider ignorant questions without the fear of being ridiculed.
Nadia Omar, an OCED program coordinator of multicultural programs, made a point to stress the importance that the panelists represent only themselves and not the Asian and Pacific Islander community as a whole.
“The point [of the seminar] is to be able to hear a voice from that community,” Omar said.
Audience members were asked to write their questions on a piece of paper. The questions were collected and asked by an OCED staff member. Complete anonymity was protected.
The ethnic races within Asia vary in such a wide range that sometimes identifying someone’s ethnic background can get quite tricky.
However, panelists reassured attendees that it is okay to ask, but keep it at a respectful level.
One of the panelists, a Filipino-American, Ryan Max Ocampo, said that he has never bothered when people mistake his ethnicity.
“I think it’s funny and cool that someone would identify me as a different ethnicity,” Ocampo said. “I personally use ethnic identity lightly, so it doesn’t really bother me.”
Originally from Hawaii, another panelist, Heu Taumoefolau of Tongan and Samoan descent, also said that she does not mind if people mistake her ethnic race.
“It gives opportunity to give information on other things that exist in the world,” Taumoefolau said.
Lesley Chan, a Chinese-American, said that she also does not mind, but will be picky when it comes to word choice.
“I like to use correct terms, so if people ask for my nationality, I’ll say, ‘American,’ but if they’re asking for my ethnicity, I’ll tell them I’m a Chinese-American because biologically my family descends from China,” Chan said.
Filipino-American Abbi Habdas, agreed and, rather than being bothered by it, she uses such questions as a conversational tool.
“The funny thing is that rather than people mistaking my ethnicity, I have been told by other Asians that I’m not Asian,” Habdas said.
She also mentioned that depending on how she speaks, people’s views on her would change.
“I do have an accent, but I make a conscious choice to remove it,” Habdas said. “Changing how I talk tends to change people’s views, and then it’ll change how they talk to me.”
Taumoefolau said that when she tells people she is Polynesian-American, she is asked different things.
“The most common misconceptions I’ll get asked is if I have brothers, and if they’re football players,” she said. “A couple of times I even had people ask if I lived in a hut while living in Hawaii, and my opinions about living right on a beach. Some people still seriously think we’re uncivilized.”
The panelists went on to describe their childhoods, and how their upbringing influenced the beliefs they hold today.
One of the main factors that contributed to their wide range of ideals was religion, or lack of religion.
Chan described her household growing up to be one that wasn’t religious.
“The most religious thing we had was a shrine, and that was for our ancestors,” she said. “I had other friends who had shrines in their houses as well, but they believed in a lot more superstitions than we did.”
Taumoefolau says that although religion is a big part of her culture, her family doesn’t view it as a religion.
“But we will say that we believe in God,” she said.
Ocampo mentioned that the Roman Catholic faith played a big role in his family’s lifestyle.
“It’s a big part of my history and childhood,” he said. “I’m at an age where I can choose my own beliefs and lifestyle, but it’s been so engraved in me since childhood that it’s not easy to just forget… even if I don’t necessarily agree with all of its teachings.”
Ocampo also mentioned that being in the U.S. allows opportunities to question.
“Just having that chance has so much value,” he said.
Habdas was also raised a Roman Catholic and mentioned that her family’s religious values caused a lack of conversation about controversial social problems.
“Things like sexual orientation weren’t talked about much growing up,” she said. “Homosexuals aren’t really spoken if they don’t identify with the ‘normal’ stereotype.”
However, Habdas said after moving to America she noticed a big difference in how people viewed the topic.
“Compared to the Philippines, America seems more open to question and discuss sexual orientation without judgment,” she said. “Sexual culture in general just seems to be more open in the U.S.”
Another topic the panelists experienced differently was choosing a college major that may or may not have parental approval.
“My major is secondary English, so my parents weren’t really happy with the fact that I chose a career path that wouldn’t make a lot of money compared to a doctor or lawyer,” Ocampo said. “They had typical ‘Asian’ dreams.”
Habdas said that her father welcomed her first major, International Studies, but feels a bit guilty that her younger siblings are now “forced to go into the medical field.”
Chan said that her dad never cared that much on her major choice.
“My dad always told me, ‘Pick whatever you want, but be good at it,’” she said. “But a big reason why I picked international business as my major is because I wanted my dad to think that I was smart and capable.”
Taumoefolau said that her family members were passive-aggressive about their opinions.
“They told me the status of the job was the most important, rather than the income,” she said. “They always pushed me to go into the medical field or criminal justice, but then they would say, ‘But do whatever you want.’”
However, all panelists agreed that respecting their parents’ wishes is always a priority, even if they might not necessarily fulfill them all the time.
“Our generation has the mentality of do whatever you want to do, but our parents had the mentality of do whatever you have to do to survive,” Ocampo said. “The American culture seems to be more, ‘Question your authority or parents,’ but in the Asian culture you don’t ever do that.”
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