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The Time I Was Told To 'Go Back to Your Own Country and Improve Your English'


An ad for the movie Pitch Perfect. Is this how Americans think of Asians?
An ad for the movie Pitch Perfect. Is this how Americans think of Asians?


Recently I went to see a movie called “Pitch Perfect” with Emanuele, one of my best American friends.

“How did you feel about that?” she asked me on our way to the parking lot. We pushed the door and walked into freezing wind.

“Well, yes I think that is pretty much it. It’s true,” I said.

I knew exactly what she was asking.

In the movie there are two Asian girls: One speaks in a really quiet voice and has a weird accent; the other only hangs out with people from her own country and hates American food and culture. It feels like they are so different and somehow crazy.

“That is how some Americans think of Asians, right?” I asked.

“Well, to some degree, yes,” my friend Emanuele said. She said some Americans don’t like Asians because they don’t understand them. “Sometimes they don’t even know anybody from Asia,” she said. “They learned it from movies and other pop culture.”

Out of the movies and into reality

When I first came to the United States I had a strong will to talk to people and improve my English. I smiled at every single person I met and tried my best to talk with strangers. As a journalism student, I have gotten to interview state senators and House representatives, a nuclear scientist, and even a gorgeous great great grandma who opened a hand apron shop to support Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity campaign.

Once when I was working for a local TV station, I needed to interview the East Lansing mayor in time for a deadline at 9:00 that evening.

“Please,” I said when she told me she was too busy that day. “I have to get this done by 5:00 today. I only need 20 minutes.” She agreed and I drove for half an hour to her office building to get the story done.

I am not afraid to talk and I am always willing to ask questions, but sometimes I am afraid of people’s reactions when I talk. Not everyone is as willing to accept me as that mayor was. Sometimes being an Asian and having the accent that I have has put me in uncomfortable situations.

A couple of weeks ago I was working on a story about property taxes for a Michigan local newspaper. I needed to interview a farmer in the field.

“Hello, this is Silu, I am a correspondent for XX newspaper,” I said.

He hung up without a word.

“There might be something wrong with my phone,” I thought.

So I walked into the office to use our office phone.

“Hello, this is Silu, I am a correspondent for ...” I repeated the whole sentence again.

“Where are you from?” a voice asked.

“Oh, originally I am from China,” I said.

“Then go back to your own country and improve your English before you come here!”

He hung up again.

That is one of my worst experiences in the United States. Worst, but not the only one of its kind.

Good friends get you through it

Emanuele and I continued our conversation about Asian stereotypes all the way from the movie theatre to our parking spot.

“It is not always like that,” Emanuele said. “I like international students. I can learn a lot from them.”

Emanuele and I met in my first class in the United States. We work together, we hang out every week, and she always invites me to her family gatherings.

Sometimes we cannot understand what the other is talking about. But both of us have the patience and intelligent to figure it out.

“We are best friends now, aren’t we?” she asked.

“Yes, we are,” I said, opening the door in the darkness. “I do meet a lot of gorgeous people here. Thanks dear. Let’s get into the car. It is freezing.”
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