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The 7 Worst Asian-American Stereotypes

Need I mention William Hung?

by
Maya M. Noronha

Bio

November 24, 2012 - 7:00 am

6. Asian-Americans Don’t Know How to Speak English.

Historians know (or should know) that the British Empire included India, Burma, Ceylon, and Jordan. With England’s rule came the English language. Brunei, India, Malaysia, Pakistan, and Singapore count English among their official languages.

South Asians often hear the question, “Do you speak Indian?” Sometimes I don’t bother to correct this common misconception, so I respond, “No.” But I’m often tempted to respond in kind and say, “Do you speak American?” In reality, there is no such thing as “speaking Indian,” just as there is no such language as “American” (although linguists apparently have characterized what I speak as American English and what my parents speak is ridiculed as Indish). There are actually many Indian languages. Hindi, Urdu, Kannada, and Konkani are just a few of the many. In India, English used to be my primary language. Indeed, it was taught in schools, but students were polyglots, studying multiple local languages and dialects in addition to English.

Vice President Joe Biden apparently seems to hear a lot of Indian accents in convenience stories, gas stations, and when he telephones a call center. Once invited to a fancy reception, I wore a plain black pantsuit, but was handed a dirty plate. A lot is assumed about me before a word comes out of my mouth. I was told by my parents to be as American as I could and learned only English as a language. When I was an intern on Capitol Hill, I had the experience of helping answer the D.C. office main telephone for a United States senator. One caller had no idea I was Asian-American, because otherwise he probably would not have made offensive xenophobic comments about Asian-American immigrants. I told my supervisor about it, and the office itself offered support, given that callers regularly cursed at those answering the phone. But it’s a valuable lesson: be careful what you stereotype about Asians.

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