I'm a 20-year-old college student who grew up in an area that was mostly Asian-American. Naturally, most of my friends from home are Asian, as is my girlfriend of four years. Thanks to social networking Web sites, anyone at my (mostly white) college can see pictures of my friends and girlfriend. A disturbing number imply -- or outright say -- I must have a "fetish" for Asian girls. My girlfriend is brilliant, beautiful, and makes me laugh like no other. I hope to marry her one day, but I'm worried that people will never believe I truly love her. How do I stop them from getting this impression? -- Misunderstood
Whatever happened to "Hi, howya doin'?"/"Wicked hangover. You?" These people get right to it: "Excuse me, but do you have a racially based sexual obsession?" You could respond with the truth: "Actually, I fell for the girl next door. She's Japanese, as was the girl next door to her, and the girl next door to her." But, maybe you'd rather give them what they deserve: "Actually, I'm just biding time with the Asian chick between crawling under tables at the library and trying to suck unsuspecting women's toes." In other words, perhaps their time would be better spent pursuing another disturbing coincidence from your MySpace page: Your sordid history of dating women with feet.
If you couldn't get turned on without feet, you would have a fetish -- a sexual compulsion for an inanimate object or non-sexual body part. If they had to be Asian feet, you'd have an Asian foot fetish. The "Asian fetish" you've been accused of is slang for an obsession with the stereotypical Asian woman -- submissive, subservient, and demure. That woman is readily available in porn and old movies, but if you've got to have her in real life, good luck. I know a number of Asian-American women, all complete failures as "fragile lotus blossoms" -- for example, my comedienne friend Sandra Tsing Loh, who got fired from the Los Angeles NPR station for saying a word you'll never see on one of their pledge-drive tote bags.
Sure, it's a bit of a surprise for a kid from some Midwestern suburb where everybody's as white as a paper towel to meet a white guy whose friends are all named Park (the Smith of Korea) or Chan (the Jones of China). If only he'd get knee-jerk inquisitive instead of knee-jerk ugly. Unfortunately, humans have a hard-wired tendency to be "tribal" -- most likely a holdover from when early humans had to band together to make it against the elements, wild animals, and other early humans. Harvard biologist E.O. Wilson writes in Sociobiology that xenophobia -- fear and hatred of outsiders -- "has been documented in virtually every group of (higher) animals."
Yes, The Naked Ape is now a college sophomore with text messaging: "Got geisha?" Translation: "Here you are, selfishly pursuing your own happiness over the comfort of friends, acquaintances, and web-trolling strangers." It doesn't have to be that way. The sooner you dump your girlfriend, the sooner people will stop assuming you're an Asian fetishist and start assuming you're a girlfriendless loser. Of course, this won't open their tiny little minds. Your best shot at that is letting them get to know you and your girlfriend. This takes focusing on what's really important -- not whether people believe you love her but simply that you do. Ultimately, even if college isn't quite the higher learning experience you thought it would be, with your girlfriend around, at least you won't have to remember it solely as "Pee-wee's Bigot Adventure."
DUBBED THE WRONG WAY
I'm getting divorced and going back to my maiden name. In keeping with the theme of moving on with my life, I'm considering changing my first name, too. I've never liked it; in fact, when people call me by it, I cringe. My parents seem okay with the idea, but my name does come from my family's roots. Do you think they're just trying to make me happy? I really don't want to offend them. -- Blank Slate
Books and movies have working titles, why not you? Parents mean well, but they make their best guess before the story even starts and cross their fingers that they won't end up with a four-star general named Bunny. Even if your mom and dad are secretly a little hurt, if they love you, they won't want you to go through life uncomfortable, especially if being comfortable takes only a "Name Your Baby" book and a trip to the judge. Some will tell you you're being silly, as in, "Oh, come on, what's in a name?" Well, if yours is something like "Dakota Finkelstein," probably at least a few people nodding to themselves upon meeting you, "Mmmhmm . . . young Jewish parents, drunk in the western-wear section at Ralph Lauren."
Got a problem? Write Amy Alkon, 171 Pier Ave, No. 280, Santa Monica, CA 90405, or e-mail AdviceAmy@aol.com
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