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Orient Express, the quick and easy way to offend: Minority Report part 1

Aside from my name and the variations that people have come up with from it–and believe me, there have been plenty–I’ve been called many things throughout my life: shorty, shrimp, midget girl, squirt, George, Asian Power. Those are just some of the nicknames I’ve come across over the years. Obviously, at only five feet, my lack of height has caused many to comment on it. George is a reference to the Weasley twins from Harry Potter (Wynn is Fred) and Asian Power was what my old gymnastics coach used to call me and my Chinese American teammate Becky in reference to our tumbling ability.

For the most part, I’m not easily offended and despite all the things I’ve been called–both good and bad–it usually doesn’t bother me when people stray away from calling me by my name. However, one thing that I do get offended by is when people use the term Oriental in reference to mine or other people’s Asian background or even Asia itself. It really bothers me when people use this word because it is in fact, a derogatory way of referring to Asian people. I don’t know how many people know this, but it’s true; it dates way back to the time of the explorers and when the world was being “discovered” by Europeans. I’m not going to get into the origins of the term. It’ll just take too long and stray from my point. You can read more about it here if you want.

One of the reasons I get so offended by this term is because the images that come to mind are of rich businessmen from the “West” (AKA Caucasian men from the US or Europe) having their every whim catered to by either a room full of subservient Chinese concubines or Japanese geishas and my feminist values cringe. This brings me to another point. In my opinion, Cambodians are not what you would traditionally refer to as Oriental. I think that’s more of the East Asian cultures–China, Japan and the Koreas–or the “Far East.” Cambodians, as well as other cultures such as Vietnamese, Laotians, Thai are more often considered as Southeast Asians because geographically, that’s where we are. According to Wikipedia, other countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines are considered Southeast Asia as well but since they’re islands, they’re Maritime Southeast Asia.

Getting back to my point, I fortunately have not come across much useage of the term outside my time in the classroom when we’ve talked about it in class discussions. I’ve been here for less than two weeks and I’ve already heard it used or heard of it being used at least twice now. This isn’t even what upsets me. No. What upsets me is the fact that both times it was not used in a way meant to offend. Meaning the people who used the term don’t know that it’s meant to be an offensive word. So in this case, instead of being offended, I just was saddened because some people just don’t know.

If these people weren’t so nice and if they didn’t mean well, I’d fantasize the following conversation/scenario between us:

Me (pulling out my handy, dandy pocket atlas): “Point to me on this map where you find a country called the ‘Orient.'”

Other person (looking confusedly at the map): “Uh…”

Me: “Can’t find it?”

Other person (shakes head): “No.”

Me (in exasperation as I smack them upside the head): “That’s because there isn’t one!”

Other person (wincing from my blow): “Ow!”

Me: “What you’re looking for is the continent of Asia. It’s made up of almost 50 individual countries–none of which are called the ‘Orient.'”

Other person (with a look of dawning understanding): “Oh.”

I’ve already admitted to having a violent imagination so don’t hate. It’s not as if I’d actually act this out. It’s just fun to imagine.

*Sigh* If only…

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4 comments on “Orient Express, the quick and easy way to offend: Minority Report part 1

  1. Yeah you’re known your your upside-head-whacking tendencies!

    And you carry a pocket atlas? how very handy indeed! is that why you have such a great sense of direction?

    Also, it’s ok to say oriental rug right? because it’s an object…

    I think I will be clicking on that link above now. I love your blog because I always learn so much whenever I read… and not just about grammar but everything else worldly too!

  2. […] been discussing my Asian American background a little more than usual. It was even the topic of my last post (I’m not counting my Updates post). So, in my normal fashion for whenever I discuss major […]

  3. I’m sorry but there are just few problems with your argument here. First of all, the whole finding a country called the “Orient” point? Well on that argument, could you please point out a country called “Caucasia” ? So by that logic should all white people be offended by the term Caucasian? Also, “asian” is an inaccurate term. Asia contains many nations, like Russia, India, and Iraq. Yet these people are not “asian.” The Orient on the other hand, refers to the eastern part of Asia and by definition most commonly includes China, Japan, and Korea. So calling someone Oriental would be much more accurate. Also, as demonstrated by your examples, the term Oriental has not been used in an offensive manner for many many years. So why get offended over nothing?

    Now, on the other hand, your point about Cambodians, Vietnamese, and other South East Asian ethnicities being not included in the Orient is very valid, and hence one should have no reason to refer to them as Oriental.

  4. @ Brian – You make some very good points.

    I understand your comparison between the terms Caucasian and Oriental. I looked it up on Wikipedia and the term “Caucasian” comes from the Caucasus Mountains and the area surrounding them, which are “generally perceived to be a dividing line between Asia and Europe, and territories in Caucasia are alternately considered to be in one or both continents.” So, geographically speaking there is an area called Caucasia. And technically speaking, some Asian countries would fall into that category. I guess you can say that there is an “Orient” as well because Oriental means east, which is where Asia is located in relation to the U.S. Where I take offense with the term is the derogatory connotations that come with the word.

    As for “Asian” being an inaccurate term, I don’t know any Iraqis but I know a fair amount of Indian people who would be offended to not be considered Asian. Geographically speaking, they’re south Asians. I do agree, though, that Russians can be tricky and I’ll admit that I usually consider them European or Eurasian. I consider that a “chicken or the egg” type of conundrum.

    I agree that the Orient refers to the eastern part of Asia but I’d rather just call that area East Asia.

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