The Stereotypical Eyes Have it

If you’ve read any of my other posts, you’ll know I’m new to watching Korean shows.  Frankly, I couldn’t name any real Asian actors other than Bruce Lee, Lucy Liu, Sandra Oh and Jackie Chan before I started watching these shows.  Those four were the extent of it.  When watching Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, I was so mesmerized by their fighting skills that I noticed nothing else about their features and expressions.  Yeah, Bruce Lee was cute, but you had to pay real close attention to your TV screen with him or you’d miss the punch entirely, he was that fast.  Lucy Liu and Sandra Oh are girls so I did notice they were both cute, but I focused on the story whenever I was watching them, and I like Sandra Oh’s spunky character in Grey’s Anatomy.

I will now admit, because I am coming out of my ignorant cloud, that I believed certain stereotypes about Asians.  I suppose I never actually gave much thought about these stereotypes, they were just there.  I didn’t know the difference between what a Japanese, Chinese, Korean, Phillipino looked like.  I was never exposed to the culture or people in a large way, I had no way of noticing.  But now I am, and I can see the difference.  And it makes me think about how other cultures view each others differences – or not.

Just in the Caribbean alone outside groups have misconceptions.  If you’re not exposed to it, all Caribbean dialects probably sound the same to an untrained ear.  However, a Trinidadian, Jamaican or Bahamian accent is completely  different – I know this as someone from that region, but others do not.

Years ago I had the pleasure of working on a cruise ship in the Casino.  If you want to work in a floating UN, work on a cruise ship.  Prior to that gig, I’d only been exposed to Puerto Rican & Dominican Spanish by way of New York.  On the ship I heard and started to learn the difference with Chilean Spanish. When I moved to the United States and worked in the building industry, I was exposed to Mexican Spanish.   I thought it was cool that I could now recognize the difference.  When ever I heard Spanish after these experiences,  I would try to differentiate what country the dialect was from.  I was sometimes even brave enough to ask. I was told by some of my Latin friends, that Spain pronounces some Spanish words in a completely different way.  The Spanish word for heart, or coracon, is pronounced with a “th” sound where the “c” should be, and is pronounced with a “s” sound with other Latin dialects. I was fascinated by that.  But why would I be so fascinated by that, when I came from a region where there are so many different dialects of English?  I just didn’t think about it.

In the Bahamas there is a large Haitian population.  When I lived there they kept under the radar much the way the Mexican population in the building industry do here in the state I live in.  I took french in high school and LOVED it – straight A’s.  But I could never understand the french (I think it’s creole?) that was spoken by Haitians.  When I went to France in my early 20s, I was so intimidated that all the French I learned just disappeared from my brain when I was in front of a Frenchman.  When I worked on the cruise ship there was a French Canadian (from Montreal) who helped me get over my intimidation of the French language.

I say all that to say I was somewhat exposed to these varying cultures in some way, but the Asian culture and people – none at all.  I thought – I hate to even say this but I am being truthful here – they all looked alike, that because of the slanted eyes I could not read any expressions in their faces.  But that is not fair, nor is it true, and I’ve never had the opportunity to learn, see and take it all in – until I started watching these Korean dramas.

I remember, when I started watching Heirs, and seeing Lee Min Ho, and admiring his beauty, I was struck by how very expressive his eyes were. Stupid, right? I think so now.  I kept looking at his eyes to try to figure out – why.  Really? ** I’m really inserting dripping sarcasm here!**  I thought they were just an ordinary Asian eye, why should it or would it be expressive?  Not like any other nationality’s eye with it’s many shapes, sizes, and colors – I’d expect there to be some expression in any other group.  And he had dimples.  I’d never seen or noticed an Asian with dimples.  He also appeared tall, I thought all Asians were short.  I am really horrified to say this all, and I feel so stupid and ignorant, when I read what I just typed I cringe and think “you stupid, Stupid, STUPID girl!”. But if I’m to move forward from this ignorance, I have to admit it first, like an alcoholic admits his/her alcoholism before he/she can begin the process of healing. I started to see the differences or uniqueness in these people.  Yes, they all have dark hair and mango-ish skin, but there are lighter and darker variations to this, and I was initially – surprised.

This all made me understand even more the stereotypical assumptions towards African Americans or other brown people throughout the world.  I was now experiencing first hand what a white person must feel when they know nothing about the brown race because they’ve not had the opportunity to immerse themselves in the nuances of that group.  I was guilty of being just as ignorant of the little things with the Asian group.  Standard stereotypes for brown folks are we’re all poor, we can all dance (my brother proves this myth wrong), sing, and rap and excel at all physical sports – naturally.  And in my case, all Asians lack the ability to show any expressions in their eyes because of the shape; or they are automatically short, or they are all geniuses.  So stupid of me, soooooo stupid.  I chastised myself even as I watched and learned more.

This realization, and experience, caused me to ponder it all, and made me realize that I had to remove any judgmental aspect of how I view some whites that may deal with me in the same ignorant way.  They’ve not been exposed to my group, whether by choice or circumstance, whether they choose not to know or just walked around in ignorant bliss, I can’t judge them any more than they should judge me.  I can only educate them through my actions, my nuances – like Lee Min Ho, So Ji Sub or Song Seung Heon’s expressive eyes taught me through a TV screen.

I always thought I was so open to all cultures.  I grew up not seeing color, or so I thought.  Yes, I have a ton of friends from many places in the world, all of different shapes, sizes and color, and I relish every minute of it.  One of my oldest and longest sustained friendships is with a Canadian, and we talk about everything with race, we hold nothing back.  I was shocked that I was this ignorant, with these stereotypical views of the Asian group of people.  How could this be with someone as open as I was?

Time, understanding, and patience will make me grow to a more complete understanding.  I’m glad I had this experience and this awakening.  I’m glad I actually recognized my shortcomings.  I’m glad this lead me to understand the other groups that don’t want to understand me because of what I look like on the outside.  It’ll teach me even better how to handle those situations with grace.

But as of today, I will never judge a person again for having stereotypes. What’s that phrase in the bible?….remove the wood from your own eye before you notice the splinter in someone else’s….or something like that.  Yeah, lesson learned.

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