All Asians Look Alike, You Can’t Tell Them Apart

all asians look alike
We visited my husband’s grandma in her assisted living home yesterday. We met in the public meeting room rather than her apartment since we had all the kids with us. We thought it would be more spacious. As we were waiting for my mother-in-law to bring Steve’s grandma in a few lady’s spotted our transracial family and rolled over in their chairs to ask a few questions. The spokeswoman for the group managed to cover every Asian and adoption stereotype or assumption in the 20-minute segment we were visiting.
Typically, when a conversation like this starts, I find a way to quickly exit, but this situation didn’t allow me to escape since we were trying to visit with Steve’s aging grandma who we only get to see about once every two years. Unfortunately, our visit was dominated by this one lady.
Sometimes I exaggerate a little in my posts for the sake of humor, but this is no exaggeration. If anything this is underplayed. Here’s how our conversation went (with a few attempts to ignore, avert, and communicate with Steve’s grandma mixed in):
Lady: Are you babysitting these kids?
Steve: No, they’re our kids. We adopted them.
Lady: Are they from Asia?
Steve: Yes, China.
Lady: Iche, ni, san, shi, go! (big smile)
Me: I think that’s Japanese.
Lady: Oh, really? Hmm…I’m from San Francisco…There are a lot of Asian people there…I used to eat a lot of Chinese food.  I can even use chopsticks…Do you have any kids of your own?
Me: These are our own kids.
Lady: No, I mean, like kids you gave birth to?
Me: (holding back a sigh) These are our only kids.
Lady: So, their real mom just had ‘em and left ‘em?
Me: (I gave a brief explanation of why their birth parents may not have been able to care for them, including how they were all born with cleft lip and palate and the high cost of surgery).
Lady: So, is he gonna get his lip fixed (pointing to my son, Josiah, on my lap).
Me: (exasperation starting) He’ll be having surgery this coming year, right Josiah? (I smiled at him as he sat on my lap.)
Lady: I’m from San Francisco. There are a lot of Asians in San Francisco. Asian people all look the same.  Black hair, the eyes, skin. Ha! All the same. We have different color hair, eyes, skin. Not them. You can’t tell any of them apart.  Are they related?
Me: (at a loss for words) No, they’re not birth-related.
Lady: So you tried and tried and couldn’t have any kids of your own?
Me: (Suggesting to Steve that it’s time to make an early exit) We didn’t really try (that sounds ridiculous to her, I’m sure…and will only bring more questions).
Lady: (confused) Are you married?
Me: Yes.
Lady: And you just decided to get these kids?
Me: (sigh) yeah.
Lady: You’re such good people to take in these kids.
Me: Well, they’re a blessing to us. Steve, I think it’s time to go. 
Lady: Are they athletic? We used to go to the circus when I was a kid and the Chinese would do acrobats. I’m from San Francisco you know.  I can use chopsticks.  I ate a lot of Asian food.  You know why they don’t have knives on the tables in China?
Me: (sigh) No.
Lady:  They cut up everything small in the kitchen.  People would get into fights at the table and kill each other with knives. That’s why they use chopsticks. I can use chopsticks. I’m from San Francisco.
(This was where we had an intermission from her questions and got to have a short conversation with Steve’s grandma. But mostly Steve talked to his grandma, while I was bombarded with this lady’s missiles.)
Lady: (she piped up again) What are their names?
Me: (pointing to each child) Sheehan, Josiah, and Autumn.
Lady: So, you kept their Asian names?
Me: (confused) No. Those are western names.
Lady: Russian names? Oh.
Me: No, west…American.  They’re American names. Josiah is from the Bible. (Looking at Josiah on my lap with a smile): Right? You were named after a righteous king (he smiled broadly).
Lady: He was in the Bible? Tells you how much I know about the Bible. Ha!  Autumn?  Was she born in Autumn?
Me: Um, no, she was born in March.
Lady: Then why do you call her Autumn?  Autumn is August, September, and October.  Just call her Spring…I was born in Spring. April…Just celebrated my birthday last month.  It’s May, right?
Me: No, it’s November.  This week is Thanksgiving.
Lady: Is it? Oh…(she smiled and circled her ear with her finger indicating that she was crazy).  Then, you know they kill each other with their chopsticks too?
Me: (to Steve): Okay, we’re going to sit in the car. 
(To Lady): Nice meeting you. (And we said good-bye to Steve’s grandma, after maybe 20 words to her during the 20-minute visit).
Here’s a video my friend Kristine sent me.  Any adoptive family can totally relate to this video. It’s funny in a sad kind of way.

If you know someone who has adopted or was adopted, share this with them. They’ll get it. Tweet it, Like it, email it.

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All Asians Look Alike, You Can’t Tell Them Apart — 44 Comments

  1. Oh man I get she was definitely unbalanced to say the least, but seriously she needed to quit while she was ahead, which probably was at ‘Hello’, because the rest of the conversation sounded like out in left field. I am a nice person, but even I would have probably wanted to reach across and strangle her. Sorry, but that is just me. You are just a way nicer person than me!!

  2. I cannot tell you how weird I feel after reading this blog. First, I’m totally heartbroken for you that you had to deal with such a frustrating conversation in defense of your family. I’m sending you a huge hug. Second, I couldn’t help but laugh because I know EXACTLY what kind of woman you were talking to. I worked in an Assisted Living community for 5 years and my goodness… the dementia and racism-fueled conversations in that place are redonculous. I seriously had a 20 minute conversation with one guy and the only thing discussed was that his birthday was on Christmas Eve and he was somewhere between 74 and 124 years old. It took me a while to not be so hurt by some of the thoughtless things these people said, but when I realized that there’s a time when they’re losing control of their mind and they know it but can’t stop it (sounds like this lady was in that window of time)… well my heart broke for them. Even as they threw their barbs.
    You’re a wonderful woman, Kate, and an incredible mom. Your kids really are lucky to have you – and I don’t mean it in the way the video showed haha. You kept your cool, you showed them grace under fire, and you always gave a wonderful example of respecting others even when we think they don’t “deserve” respect. I hope this doesn’t sound too condescending, but I really am proud of you. Keep up the good work, mama!

  3. Wow. Just, wow. Elderly people mostly get a pass card because they grew up during the depression or WWII or have early onset dementia, but here…
    No pass. You have nerves of steal. I’d have burst into hysterical tears, then been arrested for popping an feeble lady in the jaw.

  4. Wow! Just wow…yea…usually you’re a little more patient with older people because they did grow up in a different time and they’re often not all there in their mind, but that’s just rude. Thanks for sharing that video…

  5. Wow. I don’t even know what to say. I’m pretty sure she managed to be offensive in almost every way possible- racist, ignorant, rude doesn’t even begin to describe it.

  6. Oh. My. Goodness. Horrible. But Sometimes you just have to laugh when you’re talking with old people–because reasoning typically doesn’t work. I grew up in SE Asia–and for the record, the “Asians” that I knew there thought all of us white people looked the same. I found that amusing, knowing the stereotype that some westerners have!

  7.! How horrible! One positive is that it gives you the chance to teach your kids about love, acceptance and compassion even when others are not loving, accepting or compassionate. We are in the beginning phase of adopting a foster child and we already have 3 children so I am sure we will get LOTS of questions. Thanks for sharing! :)

  8. Wow – I don’t even know what to say. This is … just wow… I can’t believe people would actually say stuff like that. I understand the first initial idiotic comment… but seriously – drop it. I think it is wonderful to adopt children, regardless of the reason.

  9. Kate, You handled that beautifully!! Not sure I could have been as controlled as you…The only thing I can say to make you feel a bit better about that conversation is that that woman definitely sounded like she had some form of dementia, since she kept repeating herself and didn’t know the season. I’m not saying that’s an excuse for her behavior, but it can certainly contribute to some of her horrendous comments.

  10. What an exhausting and horrible experience. Based on your story, it sounds like you handled it amazingly well. This sounds like quite a test of patience. You are a model family. I hope we all continue to evolve our understanding and acceptance of one another.

  11. Seriously. This is the second time I read this, and it makes me even angrier this time! That whole “kids of your own” garbage makes me want to puke. The circus??? You seriously are amazing for keeping it together. Hearing our children voice their insecurities about themselves is one of the most heartbreaking parenting experiences I have had yet. xo

  12. Oh my goodness! I would have been so annoyed! I guess you can’t really say anything, and I’m sure she didn’t mean anything by it. But jeez! I think it’s great that you adopted children. My husband and I have talked about doing the same. Great post! Happy Thanksgiving!

  13. SOOOO cracking up over that video. I am the world’s worst for retorting back to a stranger who rubs me the wrong way. I have no patience for it. Of course I’ve noticed, when I suck at something, God is sure to give me PLENTY of opportunities to work on it! Ugghh.

    I’m incredibly impressed with how well you handled this and quite sure your new acquaintance had no idea what angst and aggravation she was provoking. Kinda makes you feel sad for her.

  14. This is hysterical…and unreal! Just read it aloud to my husband and 11yo and they were rolling on the floor. Oh, and my husband says, “so, she can just make fun of old people like that?” haha. Came over from #findingthefunny!

  15. The only saving grace is that my kids didn’t hear or understand most of what she said. I had a conversation with my son later about it and he said he didn’t like how she kept interrupting. I pressed a little to see if anything she said bothered him, and he just said she talked too much. So hard to tell what sinks in.

  16. Not condescending at all. I was beating myself up later thinking maybe I should have done something more, like left earlier. For the worst parts, the boys weren’t listening to her (thank goodness!). I had my eagle ears on because I was in so much shock about what she was saying, so I was able to hear more than them.

  17. That is amusing. I was trying to explain “stereotypes” to my six year old this morning and he was able to understand it a little, surprisingly. He had no malice in his heart toward people who think like that, just confusion as to why they would think like that.

  18. Yeah, I’ve tried to avoid strangers that smile at me because sometimes it’s obvious they’re wanting to start a conversation about my kids. Thank goodness I’m an introvert and don’t want to talk to them in the first place. If I was an extrovert, I’d be struggling. I was able to talk to one of my sons about it and he didn’t hear most of what she said – thank goodness.

  19. I agree. It is heartbreaking. The worst. I’m just thankful They didn’t hear the entire conversation (the multiple times she said the same thing) or didnt understand it. Although, they will have to deal with this crap as they get older. I just have to help prepare them for it. Was just so shocked to have it all thrown at me at once!

  20. You seem to have handled it gracefully. Yay for you! :) As for the lady who is from San Francisco (it’s funny how she always seemed to mention that), I wonder if she was really thinking at all when she started talking that way. Oh, I watched the video and it’s funny

  21. :( im so sorry this happened!

    I did missions work in the philippines for several years and whenever people would see pics of hte kids that I LOVED they would say similar things “can’t tell them apart, they all look the same”. The ironic thing to me was, as the Filipinos I was with got closer to me they confessed that THEY thought all white people look the same. “just white, at least we have different shades of brown” hehe it amused me, that it went both ways.

    I think it’s wonderful that you adopted them and are willing to endure other people’s ignorance, and in such a graceful way! Your kids will learn a lot from you and the way you handle it.


  22. There are bad things (that appear on the horizon, expected) and there are weird things… the things that, when they happen, (some of us) have the impulse to look around to see if anyone else is getting how strange the event is…
    However, the way you relate your experience in this Post, it had me responding, at times, with those odd ‘startled laughs’ ex.: “no those are Western names…Russian names?”
    Your kids are fortunate to have such kind-to-unpleasantly-old-people parents.

  23. You are a saint for not smacking that old lady! I’m sorry that you had to deal with such nonsense. But it sounds like you handled it well. And your children are lucky to have you setting an example of kindness for them to follow. :)

  24. Oh my WORD!!! The depths people will stoop to is truly dumbfounding. I struggle to understand how someone can say such things without feeling the least bit uncomfortable with themselves. I am really glad you posted this and linked it up, to help people understand how ignorant and unkind things that we say without thinking can be so hurtful! Thank you for linking up with me.

  25. Ha ha ha…I love this post. People…when they don’t understand something {or don’t want to understand} they will say the craziest things. While the hubs and I don’t have any experience with adopting kids, when we were adopting our dog {before we had our daughter}, a few of my family members thought we were getting a dog because we couldn’t have kids/didn’t want to have kids. We were only 25!!

  26. I also found this from TALU. I can’t believe the nerve of that lady! Who told old people that they’re allowed to be racist once they reach a certain age?? I certainly wouldn’t have handled that situation with nearly as much grace as you did. Good for you!

  27. WOW, just wow! Makes you wonder what the others in her group were thinking. It would be bad enough if it was just you she was speaking to, but for people to do it in front of the kids is truly astounding!! [#TALU]

  28. So, their real mom just had ‘em and left ‘em? – Audible sigh
    And you just decided to get these kids? – Audible oh my goodness

    To the video – audible repetitive – WOW
    Those ladies played their part so well if I saw them on the street I would totally give them the evil glare.

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