Sort Of Asian.

Have you listened to Episode 2: “Purim Explained, Conservative Women, and UCLA girl”?


I mentioned back in Episode 0 that I sometimes tell people I’m “Indian” because it’s “just easier.”

Given that I’m actually of Pakistani origin, I know undoubtedly that some people would be horrified by that.  I also know that there are a larger number of people who don’t understand the significance of it.

It’s hard to explain, but I’ll try.

Growing up in a culturally homogeneous place (read: white American) as I did, I interacted with a great deal of people who had never heard of Pakistan.  I still live in a place where most people’s experience of Pakistan boils down to a five minute snippet from CNN or FOXNews.

Some people have assumptions about the place, others have questions.

Sometimes, I feel like answering questions and addressing assumptions and sometimes I don’t.  My choice to identify as Indian is actually directly proportional to how many questions I feel like answering about my identity.  It’s been my experience that assumptions about Indians are far more accurate than ones being made about Pakistanis.

It also depends on who I am talking to.  A sort of intellectual or social relativism occurs, if you will. I don’t hesitate to identify myself as being of Pakistani origin to those who display an awareness of the fact that similar does not equate to the same.

I do realize that’s not exactly noble, and that I’m taking away learning opportunities from people by doing that.  But, you know what?  It’s not always my responsibility to be anybody’s token.

I don’t have to if I don’t wanna.

Is it this sentiment that may lie at the heart of the reason for the prevalent use of the term “Asian” in various discourses in this country?

I suppose it was hypocritical of me in this past week’s episode to be irate over Alexandra Wallace’s repeated use of the word “Asian” when I so carelessly navigate the waters of being Indian or Pakistani.  And, yet, I am angry.

I’m disgusted not just by the racism in the video, but also the casual grouping of a continent as one people.

A few hundred years ago, Asia was known as the Orient.

The Orient… stretching over the vastness of Central Asia, China, India, Japan, and even into some areas of the Middle East.

For the English and French, the Orient was more than a word.  It was an instrument, you see, aimed at diminishing the individuality and sovereignty of that region.  It was a way to transform real people and places into a vast, uncharted Other.  A group of “Others,” actually, which weren’t as important or capable as the people who had coined general terms to describe them.

Of course, I know that there are Chinese, Korean, Japanese and other folks from the continent that will call themselves “Asian Americans” and that those same people wouldn’t even consider me to be among their ranks.  Barring the fact that Pakistan and India both occupy Asia as well, it’s incredible to me that anyone would willingly shed a unique culture, language and identity for one that is a giant blob of high math grades, technical mindedness and dutiful children.

But, then, of course, I remember all the times that I’ve said I was Indian.

Because it was easier.

Because I didn’t care enough to correct people.

Because, if I’m completely honest, I tend to think most people don’t care to be corrected and even if they are corrected, it may not change much, anyway.

All that said, on the subject of Alexandra Wallace and her Asian rant video, of which I care never to speak of or write about ever again, I will admit here that perhaps my co-host may have been right.

Perhaps the reactions to her were stronger than they should have been.

Then again, there’s a lot of history of not wanting to make waves, of keeping our heads down, keeping to ourselves, working hard and not bothering to correct erroneous assumptions that we’re just sort of fine with being othered by the word “Asian.”

And maybe all that not caring and not being bothered crashed down on the head of a thoughtless young woman with extraordinarily bad judgment.

On a completely unrelated note, if you have time and aren’t suffering from UCLA video burnout, please watch this incredibly brilliant and thoughtful response to Wallace’s rant.  I have to say, I became a slightly different human being afterward.


Special thanks to my friend Kailyn for e-mailing me this video!


  1. B.E. EarlMarch 23, 2011

    Well, I left my comment on this subject on the last post. So, um, yeah.

    1. faiqaMarch 23, 2011

      But I’m replying to these… ugh. But, yeah, I LOVE THAT LINE. I used to quote it all the time. I still do, but I’ll insert “Indian” for Asian. It’s usually when I’m trying to irritate Tariq.

  2. KailynMarch 23, 2011

    So many things to say.

    First of all, I can understand your saying that you’re Indian to lessen the questions.. And after all, once upon a time Pakistan was a part of India. (I learned this from a family friend when I was growing up. She was from Bangladesh. Kind of looked like Apollonia. Yeah, that one. She was constantly explaining to folks that she was not Black.) Bottom line. Sometimes you just don’t feel like explaining,

    I knew an Indian woman when I was in high school who would check “Other” for race because she did think of herself as being “Asian.” My favorite family my last year of teaching in the classroom are Muslim from Sri Lanka. While this student looked similar to her Indian classmates, I knew there were cultural differences.

    Finally, that video? I can’t even put into words how it has made me feel since I first saw it. It applies to everyone. We all walk around with our preconceived notions of how others should act based upon our upbringing and experiences. The human experience in many ways is all about fitting into a group. And nothing feels worse than being made to question one’s place in society. Sometimes this makes us say some really obnoxious things.

    1. faiqaMarch 23, 2011

      Oh goodness!! I completely intended on crediting you for sending me the video!! I’m so sorry! SHE SENT ME THE VIDEO!! Thank you, my friend, it was incredibly life changing.

      I also check “Other” when I’m in a mood.

      1. KailynMarch 23, 2011

        No worries. I’m just glad you shared it because it’s something that I think everyone should see.

    2. faiqaMarch 23, 2011

      Okay, I fixed it. You’re credited. That was going to keep me up all night. 😉

  3. RenMarch 23, 2011

    Imagine how the Taiwanese feel!

    1. faiqaMarch 23, 2011

      I love their food… oh, wait… that’s Thailand...

  4. Sybil LawMarch 23, 2011

    Fantastic video.
    I guess I was just lucky to grow up with so many different people – Jews, Indians, Pakistanis, Asians – you name it. Just recently I’ve realized this, actually. My school was affluent, and I never realized the importance of that before, but damn – I’m not fucking stupid about cultures and whatnot, so, yeah – grateful.
    Plus there was all the good food…

    1. faiqaMarch 24, 2011

      The food… it’s always about the food. This is why this should have been a cooking show, I guess.
      Also, did ya just use Asian?! Did you not READ the post? 😉

  5. I’m not sure if it’s my extremely white-washed upbringing or that I’m just not educated enough about the world, but it wasn’t until I watch a British movie that I heard Indians being referred to as “Asians.” Until then, “Asians” to me meant anyone of Chinese/Japanese/Taiwanese/Korean/etc decent. Indians were Indians, Pakistani were Pakistani. Of course I knew they all shared a continent, but in my experience, they were all never referred to as being “Asian.”

    1. Miss BrittMarch 24, 2011

      Same here! Except substitute “watched a British movie” with “heard Faiqa refer to herself as Asian over and over again.”

      1. faiqaMarch 24, 2011

        I love how three or four times equals “over and over” again.

    2. faiqaMarch 24, 2011

      I suppose when people are trying to colonize other people… it’s all the same?

  6. BlondefabulousMarch 24, 2011

    When I was a senior in high school, we had the obligatory Cultural Awareness Week which meant almost diddly because we had only white kids and Hispanic kids in our school! The guidance counselor who ran all the activities always referred to Asians as “Orientals”. Bugged the crap out of me!!

    That was also when a teacher I adored informed me I was NOT WHITE! White is a color, not a person. Ever since then, I have always filled out forms saying I was Caucasian.

    1. faiqaMarch 24, 2011

      My World History teacher in 10th grade skipped all of the chapters on “Asian” history. But, you know, we spent like a MONTH on the Renaissance.

      And, you know what? You’re right… white is a color…I will henceforth consider amending my usage of the term white to describe people.

      Actually, back when I read about racial theory so many years ago, I found out that Asians are technically Caucasians, as well. There were three “great races”: Caucasian, Mongoloid and Negroid in that old school anthropological definition.. Ethnicity was then categorized under these three, right? Asians fit under “Caucasians.” In the modern sense, though, This is precisely the reason why I don’t refer to “white” people as Caucasians, but in the modern American usage, I suppose remembers the part about Asians being included?

      So, YES, I know what you mean… long story short, you’re not “white” if you don’t want to be so I won’t call you that. 🙂

      1. KailynMarch 24, 2011

        I kept saying to myself, “But aren’t people of the Indian subcontinent at least, technically Caucasian seeing as they are at least in part descendants of the Aryan?” Sorry but I used to teach Ancient World History. Which is why my Indian friend would check “other.”

        I’ll take things one step further for you. I took a class on multiculturalism for which the professor was a cultural anthropologist. He told us that in the field of anthropology, there is only one race — human. Everything else is a manmade construct in an attempt to give a sense of community and belonging.

  7. cageyMarch 24, 2011

    My Indian husband refers to himself as Asian and because of that, I started doing so as well. However! People look squinky at me when I do that, as in “He’s not Asian.” And then, I politely provide an impromptu geography lesson.

    Of course, I’ve still screwed the pooch, since I married a Catholic Indian (he’s speshul!). Now, I am left explaining why we don’t do Holi or Diwali, why Manoj doesn’t speak Hindi, why my baby has blue eyes, why we eat beef and why my married last name is George. Sigh. Win some, lose more.

    Also, I hate that we live in a world where you would rather say you are Indian than Pakistani. I remember in the early 90s, NO ONE knew where the hell Pakistan was much less that it was a country and now more folks DO know, but it is all negative bullshit. Again, SIGH.

    1. RenMarch 24, 2011

      Wait… your baby has blue eyes because you married a Catholic Indian? This nature vs. nurture thing is more complicated than I realized!


      1. cageyMarch 24, 2011

        Because of the Catholic heritage, there is a strong possibility that a least one Anglo-Indian is lurking in my husband’s bloodline. He didn’t even realize the possibility was there until our daughter came out bearing blue eyes.

    2. faiqaMarch 24, 2011

      I don’t say I’m Indian nearly as much as this post seems to indicate… (read that, right, Dad?) Our very close friends are Indian Catholic, and I remember another family in our circle of Pakistani friends thinking that they had converted when they came here. And THEN you should see the reactions of non-Pakistani origin people when I tell them that there are Christians in Pakistan! And they don’t get stoned! Often. KIDDING. No wonder I have to lie…

      1. cageyMarch 24, 2011

        People often assume that Manoj converted for me. Which makes me laugh every time. Nope, he was raised from the cradle, hard-core, On Your Knees All Day On Good Friday Catholic. He’s more Catholic than I am! I was the one who converted in adulthood (before I met him, though)

  8. RenMarch 24, 2011

    I was just reminded that when I travel abroad and am asked where I’m from, my immediate answer is “Texas”. (When I travel domestically, my answer is usually “Austin”.) Is it jingoist of me to presume enough US familiarity for such an answer? Or is it just Texan of me? I’d certainly be unlikely to recognize political subdivisions of other (non-North American) countries. Cities, perhaps, but states or provinces would likely trip me up. Of course, I’m talking about Texas, which is like a whole other country, so there.

    In the past, when I have mentioned you to others I’ve struggled to recall which of you and your husband were affiliated with which of Pakistan and India. Now I see that it’s really your fault that I’ve struggled with this. 🙂 (As for *why* this has been relevant in conversations I’ve had, I honestly cannot recall.)

    1. CocoaApril 5, 2011

      You know we Texans consider ourselves Texans first and foremost. 🙂

  9. sraikhMarch 24, 2011

    This question cracks me up. I was born and brought up in Singapore. My dad was born there. My grandfather moved before WW II from northern India to Singapore.

    The Indians in American refuse to accept that I am from SIngapore.(the next question is what part of India is your dada from to what is your last name)

    The Americans think Singapore is in China. Or that it’s a “fine” city or that we have canning and no chewing gum.

    I speak Mandarin, Malay and Hindi. I always write Asian.

    1. faiqaMarch 24, 2011

      “It’s a fine city” made me laugh out loud. Sheesh.

  10. windyfairyMarch 24, 2011

    Very sad to see you refer to America as “homogeneous” and white. Why do you think that is your experience? Growing up, my America was as diverse as a field of wild flowers. Sure, some people called some of what grew there weeds, but in our family, all of those plants were cherised. I remember that I wished and wished that my skin would tan and that my hair was curly. It’s what I saw around me and thought was beautiful. I lived through numerous sunburns before giving up and resigning myself to being a freckled albino. I still cook dishes that were taught to my mother by her friend who was from Labanon. I know how to “properly” wear the saris that I own. My children know who the Buddah was/is. I suppose that I should thank my parents for making sure that my world was rich and colorful. I don’t know how I feel about the video. I’m sorry that so many people are offended. I wonder, though, if it had been Margaret Cho making those complaints/observations, would it have been so offensive?

    1. faiqaMarch 24, 2011

      I wasn’t referring to America as being homogeneous and white…I was referring to the place I grew up in as so. While the wording may have suggested I was talking about America , in general, that would have been as silly as saying my husband grew up in, well, Asia. I grew up in a sandy beach town in Florida, as you know, and I stand by that statement that this town was very homogeneous and lacked both intellectual or cultural diversity to any notable extent.

      I also believe that Margaret Cho has a right to dissect her own heritage in a way that someone who is outside of it does not. So, no, I would not and have not been offended by Margaret Cho.

  11. hello haha narfMarch 24, 2011

    i learn so much from you

    1. faiqaMarch 24, 2011

      Thank you. XO

  12. whallMarch 25, 2011

    I think for the most part, people should try to determine if someone is really being lazy, ignorant, cruel or what the perspective is, when they use a bulk label. In general I think people are way too sensitive.

    I think what I’m trying to say was best summed up in Emo Philips comedy routine:

    Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, “Don’t do it!”
    He said, “Nobody loves me.”
    I said, “God loves you. Do you believe in God?”
    He said, “Yes.”
    I said, “Are you a Christian or a Jew?”
    He said, “A Christian.”
    I said, “Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?”
    He said, “Protestant.”
    I said, “Me, too! What franchise?”
    He said, “Baptist.”
    I said, “Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?”
    He said, “Northern Baptist.”
    I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?”
    He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist.”
    I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?” He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region.”
    I said, “Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?”
    He said, “Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912.”
    I said, “Die, heretic!” And I pushed him over.

    At some point, the familiarities are the same. At some point, the differences are apparent.

    It’s the weight we put on the differences that matter. To one person, it would be the 1879 vs 1912 that pushes them over the edge to hate, and to others, it would just be the first question.

    1. faiqaMarch 25, 2011

      I agree with this sentiment. In fact, I think the world would be a much more peaceful place if people took the time to identify where they lie on this line. I suspect that if many of the people who are pushed over towards the edge of of hatred knew that their “tolerance” level was low, they would reassess their point of view.

      And this is why, whereas it may seem like a person is being “overly sensitive” about issues such as race or gender, it’s important to dissect and bring up these issues. It’s awkward and uncomfortable, but in the end, I think if a discussion causes someone to simply be more conscious in their choices regarding what they believe and who they are, then something important has happened. Minds don’t have to change, that is rarely my personal intent, I just want minds to be aware of what they think, why they think that, and how their perspective affects the lives of others.

      I guess what I’m trying to say is that I have less of a problem with people who are intolerant of racial differences, sexual preferences, differing political ideology when those lower levels of acceptance are the product of conscientious evaluation of the situations at hand. It is my belief, though, that most people withhold acceptance of the other based upon knowledge that is not evaluated, but that is merely spoon fed to them by previous generations or… THE CONSERVATIVE RIGHT WING MEDIA MACHINE.

      Heh. I couldn’t help myself on that one. It just slipped out. Clearly, I’m brainwashed by the leftist political agenda. But I’m *aware* of that, so, you know, that makes all the difference. 🙂

  13. SelmaMarch 26, 2011

    That video is a brilliant response. Interestingly enough, the original video went viral in my son’s school and it has provoked a lot of outrage. In Sydney we have a very diverse community in a cultural sense and at my son’s school the population is more than 50% Asian. In Australia we refer to people of Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean, Japanese descent as Asian.

    I will give the last word to my son’s friend who was born in Taiwan: ‘She is only angry about the Asians in the library because we are getting better marks than her.’ Out of the mouths of babes, eh?

  14. CocoaApril 5, 2011

    The husband and I loved this episode of HTMH!
    I’ve often wondered why the Asian community seems to be so silent when it comes to prejudices hurled at them. It seems like prejudice against Asians is the among last of the “accepted” types of prejudice.

    I have noticed that lately the Asian community (both Eastern and Southern) have been more vocal about not standing for this crap. About two years ago, a legislative representative from Texas made some ridiculous comment about how Asian voters should adopt more American sounding names to make it easier for others to deal with them.
    It did not go over well! I was glad that the Asian community in Texas didn’t let it slide.

    Anyway, my philosophy is, if someone pisses you off it’s because they’re jerks, not because of their ethnicity, race, gender or sexual orientation. Alexandra should have realized that the people who were talking loud on the phone were probably just rude people. If she took the time to look around the library, there were probably more “Asian” people NOT talking loudly on the phone.


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