Hawaiian? Filipino? Chinese? How Asians are Perceived in NYC

Anderson Hsu, 21, born in Taiwan, came to New York five years ago. "As long as they don’t call me Chinese, I am fine...We are just Taiwanese. I don’t consider myself Chinese. But for them, we are all the same. I'll get annoyed when they call me Chinese." (Photo by Yehyun Kim for Voices of NY)

Anderson Hsu, 21, born in Taiwan, came to New York five years ago. “As long as they don’t call me Chinese, I am fine…We are just Taiwanese. I don’t consider myself Chinese. But for them, we are all the same. I’ll get annoyed when they call me Chinese.” (Photo by Yehyun Kim for Voices of NY)

[Editor’s note: Yehyun Kim is completing a one-year internship with Voices of NY and the Center for Community and Ethnic Media. She interviewed and photographed the individuals in this photo essay.]


I like Flushing. Everything in the bustling Queens neighborhood is cheaper, I can get authentic Korean and Chinese food and there are large Korean grocery stores. But there is one thing that troubles me when I go to Flushing. Whenever I take the No. 7 train and walk around the area, Chinese people keep speaking to me in Chinese without even asking me if I am Chinese. Sometimes, even non-Asians say “xie xie” (“thank you,” in Chinese, pronounced shyeh-shyeh) after I’ve made a purchase.

I’m Korean and have always believed that I have a typical Korean “look.” And I once believed that East Asians from different countries each had their own distinctive “look.” But I began to wonder. After a while, I decided to talk to individuals who appear to be East Asian – Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean, and Japanese – and ask them both how they self-identify, and how they are perceived, by other Asians and by non-Asians.

There are 1,135,000 Asians in New York City, according to the 2010 U.S. Census – the greatest number in any U.S. city. Of this number, about 57 percent, or nearly 650,000, identify as Chinese, Taiwanese, Korean or Japanese either alone or in combination with other racial and ethnic groups.

This is just a small sample of how these individual see themselves – and how others see them. Their comments are illuminating, and sometimes surprising. Asians and non-Asians alike should pay more attention to the differences between people, in order to overcome stereotypes that too often lump all East Asians together as a group.

(Photo by Yehyun Kim for Voices of NY)

Jessica (Photo by Yehyun Kim for Voices of NY)

Jessica, 20, born in Taiwan, came to New York four years ago

Actually if I were told that I look like Korean, I would be a little happy. Because that means maybe I’m well dressed or I have a little bit of makeup on my face, like I’m dressed up. Or Japanese actually.



(Photo by Yehyun Kim for Voices of NY)

(Photo by Yehyun Kim for Voices of NY)

Shogo Kubo, born in Japan, came to New York 10 years ago

Whatever people say doesn’t matter. But most of the time, people say that I am Japanese. Sometimes people say that I am Vietnamese. I like it.




(Photo by Yehyun Kim for Voices of NY)

Ginn Doll (Photo by Yehyun Kim for Voices of NY)

Ginn Doll, 24, Korean American, musician, born in Seattle, came to New York seven years ago

I always get that, “You should go into K-pop.” I always hear that. Nothing against it. But here’s the problem: I don’t know any K-pop… I want to stay in American pop music because that’s who I am. I’m an American.


(Photo by Yehyun Kim for Voices of NY)

(Photo by Yehyun Kim for Voices of NY)

Ernest Lam, 22, Chinese American, born in Pennsylvania, came to New York in June

Some people think I’m Filipino, some people think I’m Mexican sometimes cause I’m fairly dark… I mean, I don’t really care, like even if they think I’m Filipino, or Japanese or Chinese, I don’t get annoyed… It’s pretty cool…’cause then I have something to talk about. It’s like a point of conversation. If they misunderstand who I am, then first of all I can correct them. I can tell them who I really am. I can also play with people sometimes…

I don’t think they’re expected to know. It’s like, if I saw a white guy on the street, I’m not going to be like, “Oh, you’re Italian!” or “You’re French!” I wouldn’t know. I would have to ask them.


(Photo by Yehyun Kim for Voices of NY)

Cindy Ham (Photo by Yehyun Kim for Voices of NY)

Cindy Ham, born in Korea, came to New York at age 6

People would automatically assume I am either Chinese or Japanese. I never really get “Are you Korean?” which is really bothersome. But I am used to it… But then first I would be upset, because what do I have to do in order to look like a South Korean?




(Photo by Yehyun Kim for Voices of NY)

Jason Hong (Photo by Yehyun Kim for Voices of NY)

Jason Hong, 17, Korean American, born in New York

I think I’m more Korean American, but raising up, I define myself more as Korean than American.

Why is that? My parents are very traditional so [Korean] church, and grandparents, everything I learned was in a Korean perspective, not the American way. So Americans say learn respect in school, I learned respect in home…

More than half my life I’ve been mistaken as other than Korean.

Which ethnicity? Filipino… I don’t feel bad. I got dark naturally. I really don’t care what they call me ’cause I know I’m Korean. I just correct them.


(Photo by Yehyun Kim for Voices of NY)

Jessica Tong (Photo by Yehyun Kim for Voices of NY)

Jessica Tong, 31, Chinese American, born in California, came to New York in 2002

People always think I’m Hawaiian or Filipino. People never think I’m Chinese because of, I guess, the way that I look…

It used to really offend me a long time ago because I identify with my Chinese culture very strongly. But now that I’ve lived in New York for such a long time, and I’ve had the opportunity to mix with so many different Asian people, I realize that most foreigners just don’t know the difference. On a real level, we all really do look the same to them.


Mathew Chen

Matthew Chen (Photo by Yehyun Kim for Voices of NY)

Matthew Chen, 24, Taiwanese American, born in Upstate New York, came to New York this year

New York City in itself is a very multicultural place, it’s not something that is so judgmental… that someone would make as much of a snap judgment based on your ethnicity or your background. It comes off a lot more how you present yourself as a person, again, going down to interacting with people, how you speak with them, how you carry yourself. I think that’s more important than the way you look when someone first approaches you.


(Photo by Yehyun Kim for Voices of NY)

Jennifer H. (Photo by Yehyun Kim for Voices of NY)

Jennifer H., 21, Chinese American, born in Connecticut

I’m third generation, so when I was growing up, I always thought of myself as being white basically because my parents never did the Asian things. We never made Asian foods, I never used chopsticks, I don’t know how to speak Chinese, which really stinks… A random person on the street, they probably see me as probably an immigrant. We just talked about this in class. There’s something called a “forever foreigner” complex, basically. No matter how long you’re here, they will still see you as “forever foreigner”… I feel really annoyed.


  1. EducatorSchmeducator says:

    You only interviewed 20-somethings so the headline should indicate that this is about young adults

  2. To all my Chinks, Japs, Gooks, Slits, Slants, Slopes, Fishheads, Zipperheads, and fellow Mongoloids. They sure have a lot of words to hate us, don’t they?

    I’m here to tell you that we were all born into a war. It’s not a conventional war, the kind with tanks, fighter jets, or attack submarines. No, this war is more like a street fight. Bring your fists, hearts, and minds. Where is the battlefront? It’s not being fought in far away lands, or taking place on some foreign soil whose mother tongue you can’t pronounce. It’s being fought right here, right at home, right on your doorstep.

    They call it a culture war. That’s a lie, culture has nothing to do with this. Let me tell you brothers what it really is. It’s a gang war. Gangs, divided along race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and every other way you can subdivide and atomize a human being, have congregated under one prison roof to duke it out for turf. That prison is America, home of gangsters, and the biggest, roughest, toughest, most feared gang on the block is… well, shit, do I really have to tell you?

    You know who it is. You know who be rolling deep. You know who reps their set, all across media, magazines, news, TV, and every public venue you’ve ever attended. You can’t miss it. They vandalize buildings, bridges, churches, streets, and stadiums with their gang signs and logos. You go to their parties. You listen to their music. You work alongside them, but never with them. They hold all the money, hell, they MAKE money. They own the police, the judges, the politicians, and the government. They have many names: paleface, gringo, honkey, haole, laowei, but you will know them by this sign: they are all, uniformly, White.

    Let’s talk about the LA Riots. No, not the manufactured ones in 1992, where they pitted us against Blacks to break us apart. I’m talking about the LA Riots of 1871, or more precisely, the LA Massacre of 1871.

    In the dim gaslight of recently installed street lamps, armed bands of men dragged cringing Chinese to gallows hastily erected downtown. Bodies soon were swinging from two upturned wagons on Commercial Street, as well as the crossbar of the Tomlinson Corral, a popular lynching spot that just the previous year had been used to string up a Frenchman named Miguel Lachenais.

    As the Chinese were hauled up, a man on the porch roof danced a jig and gave voice to the resentment many Americans felt over the Chinese willingness to work for low wages. “Come on, boys, patronize home trade,” the man sang out.

    “Patronize home trade”? Sound familiar? Still think evil can be wiped out overnight? That the leopard can change its spots?

    The bloodlust was not only in the men. A woman who ran a boardinghouse across the street from Goller’s shop volunteered clothesline to be cut up for nooses.

    “Hang them,” she screamed.

    A boy came running from a dry goods shop. “Here’s a rope,” he called helpfully.

    Still think their women are not racist? Still pine after blonde hair and blue eyes? Brothers, this is what they think of you. This is how they treat you. Hang you. No matter their beef with their husbands, never forget they still belong to the same gang.

    Of all the Chinese in Los Angeles, Dr. Gene Tong was probably the most eminent and beloved among both his countrymen and Americans. He could have made much more money hanging his shingle in the American part of town. But Tong stayed in the Alley, dispensing both traditional and modern cures from a small shop in the decrepit Coronel Building.

    As Tong was dragged along the street, he tried to strike a bargain with his captors. He could pay a ransom, he said. He had $3,000 in gold in his shop. He had a diamond wedding ring. They could have it all.

    Instead of negotiating, one of his captors shot him in the mouth to silence him. Then they hanged him, first cutting off his finger to steal the ring.

    Look at this poor yellow fool. That’s right, fool. He forgot he was one of us, not one of them. He became a Doctor, and healed their sick along with ours. He integrated, nay, ingratiated, himself with their gang. Had White friends, who loved him. His reward? Death. Death and degradation, for the crime of being born a chink, for not being one of them.

    This is our history, brothers, our real history. Think this was an isolated incident? No sir. Massacres of Asian people are as American as baseball and Mom’s apple pie. They hate us; they want to kill us. Hell, they don’t even hide it.

    I can see the dim stirrings of protest in your eyes already. Not all of them are bad! We just need to work harder! We just need to be like Dr. Tong, ingratiate ourselves to their gang, and they’ll spare us! The ones today are different!

    Poor fools.

    Let me tell you a story. It’s going to sound like a fantasy epic, or maybe a space opera. It is literally that fantastic. Stay with me.

    Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, there existed a tribe of savages. These savages were violent. Perhaps that was their nature. They squabbled and shed their own blood over a tiny peninsula in the middle of nowhere and the neighboring lands around it, while the people of Earth were busy building human civilization for thousands upon thousands of years.

    Then one day, their mad scientists (and they love their mad scientists) created new toys. These toys allowed them to travel to far lands and distant places. Tired of fighting each other, they decided to sail to other places in search of newer, more fertile grounds to pillage and plunder. They sent ships out across the whole world, and discovered, to their shock, that people existed other than themselves, and they LOOKED DIFFERENT.

    See, they couldn’t stomach that, these savages. They always had conflicts with each other, but there was an understanding there, a respect borne out of shared heritage and bloodlines. Even when they hacked each other to death, they still saw themselves as “Men”. All their philosophers, writers, and poets only ever talk about “Men”, when it’s clear that who they’re talking about is themselves, and only themselves. Like those who believed the Earth was the center of the Universe, they thought that all life on this planet revolved around them.

    The encountering of what they thought were alien species therefore resulted in an existential crisis. They knew their own nature. One of their own thinkers, a man named Thomas Hobbes, had already called them out. Solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, short. Since they only knew themselves, they thought these other people were like them as well. A threat. A menace. A peril.

    So they did what they do best: they went to war. This small little band of savages, who heretofore had never been seen on the stage of world history, sent out their armies and battleships on a campaign against the entire planet. And, thanks to their mad scientists, they used forms of warfare hitherto unseen to conquer and subjugate every corner of the Earth.

    They called this war the Age of Discovery. It lasted 600 years, and towards the end, they had covered every habitable continent and killed or enslaved, sorry, assimilated all the free people of Earth. Brothers, they are the f***ing Borg. They had no culture, no history, only the appropriation of other cultures and other history. They came outta nowhere, and descended upon us like a plague of locusts. Space invaders, with their gunpowder and germs. We were colonized by the motherf***ing Martians.

    Check out this map, for those of you who think I’m crazy. Ignore the different colors, that’s disingenuous. Think of it all as one color, because that’s what it really is. They conquered the whole world, and built Whitetown.

    What is Whitetown? You can see it in their movies. Whitetown is their gang’s dream. The dream of Manifest Destiny. Whitetown is Disney: a shining Pleasantville where they can walk the whole surface of the world free of care and worry, while people of color toil in the subterranean underground beneath them. We are just singing birds, talking mice, and sentient furniture to them – born “natural slaves”.

    Look at any Disney movie. You’ll notice that it’s always “once upon a time”. What time? The past 600 years, when upon becoming exhilarated by their early victories over native peoples, they came to a collective conclusion. “We’re better. We’re different.”

    You see, they love themselves. They love the fact that they accomplished what all their predecessors couldn’t; the dream of both Alexander the Great and the Romans. They think they’re the shit. In order to celebrate and mythologize themselves and their bloody achievements, they brought forth a new idea into this world. Race.

    White people believe in race. They believe in it as fervently as they believed the Sun revolved around the Earth. They believe a totem pole exists, that it is part of the Creator’s natural order, and that they sit at the top of it – the imaginary Caucasoid race, the superhumans who conquered the world. Guardians of the Planet (and with our spaceships, someday the Galaxy). This belief in race is like a religion to them: its official name is Racism.

    The capital of Whitetown was America. Forget the Declaration of Independence, 1776, the Founding Fathers, and all that other nonsense they brainwash you with in school. That’s just brothers bringing family drama, they had already decided long ago to enter into the Caucasoid fraternity. America is the dream of this tribe of savages and their new religion – the first ever, pan-White country on the face of the Earth.

    America, home of the free (White man), land of the brave (White man). Where it doesn’t matter if you’re a quarter Italian, three fifths Anglo, ten percent Dutch, or 5 percent French. They love you. We love you. Come to this new land, where we’ve exterminated all the natives. Come here, free of Old World hatreds, and the previous strife that divided us, come and become a king, with your own castle, and your own colored slaves. We believe in Racism. We believe that White people are the only free people of the Earth, that it’s our genetic destiny. That’s the American dream. That’s White Supremacy.

    What are Asian Americans? We are the living embodiment of White Supremacy and Racism, the vision and religion they believe in. In us, they have accomplished what their fantasy is for all races: complete and total subjugation. It has gone on for a long time, their agenda was obvious from the beginning. First, massacres. Then, when that wasn’t enough, quarantines. Finally, the most obvious method – breeding programs. Eugenics. Population control. The Chinese American population, 95% male, by 1900 had declined by 20% over ten years due to the institutional pincer of anti-miscegenation laws and the Page Act. Coincidentally, that’s when our stereotypes began to be widely propagated in their media: sexless, weak, effeminate. Then they brought over women from Asia from their countless wars and rebalanced the population. Trophies. War brides. For White men.

    Castrate the men, turn them into labor, and breed with the women until their offspring become racially “pure”. That is the agenda of White Supremacy towards us. It is not even a secret, we see it every day, all around us. A race of palace eunuchs and concubines in their Sleeping Beauty castle. That is what we are, today, in 2015.

    We weren’t always like this. At one point, we sided with the Blacks. Blacks, who felt the whip, who felt the knives, the guns, the hoses, rebelled against their crazy deranged inhumane religion. They marched into the streets, and they went to war. Whites call them “violent” but what we should really call them is “brave”. Brave, for standing up to White Supremacy and their armed enforcers, the police. Brave, for bringing fists to a gunfight, to go into battle after battle knowing it would be a slaughter. They were not willing to live as persona non grata. They had souls, and fought to keep them. We did too. Yellow Peril supports Black Power.

    And Blacks won a major victory. They call it the Civil Rights Movement. They achieved their dream. Not Martin Luther King’s dream, but the dream of Malcolm X. They set up their own nation within America. City-states. Whites call it Compton. Or South Side Chicago. Or Old Harlem. They set up their own militia to counteract the White militia, the police. They call it the Bloods and Crips. Who led the Baltimore riots? They even have their own schools, HBCUs, to counteract the Historically White Colleges and Universities, the Ivies. While Whites retaliate by trapping them in poverty, harassing them with their badged goons, and refusing them access to real education and wealth despite all their doubletalk over affirmative action, one of theirs even rises to the Oval Office and sits on the marble throne in their White House. They have their own culture, a counter-culture. Black America. What is Tyler Perry, but the FungBros for Blacks?

    Unfortunately, Asians lost. We were only men, our sisters had abandoned us. The police cracked down on us. And too many of us sold out, willingly became palace eunuchs in return for “protection”. Protection, like the mafia “protects” storeowners from their cronies. We pay them with money and our daughters as tribute, and in return lounge around in the sun on the housekeeping grounds, neutered and complacent, isolated from their world and hated by our former allies who saw us turn traitor. We count the pennies they toss us and fantasize about f***ing our masters’ wives with our cut-off dicks. We sold out. We sold our souls. We’re all house chinks. I’m one too.

    Think I’m making this up? I spoke to an older Chinese American married couple who arrived here in the 60s. They were around for Vincent Chin. They screamed at the television when they saw him killed, and shouted curses when his killers walked free. They swore at the White gangsters in the kind of loud voice that only Mandarin speakers can bellow. But they still told their daughters not to date black, threatening to disown them, and silently allowed them to date White after White. They knew what they were doing.

    They sold out for us. Because the older generation knows the true face of White people. You walk the streets of America today, and you think you have it better than other minorities do. You don’t get harassed by cops. Of course not, cops are the palace guards, and you’re already inside the castle, in the servants’ quarters. You hoard up the little Monopoly money they give you, and spend it on shit they created, so that the wealth never remains within our community but goes to their laundering fronts – white malls, white shopping centers, white retail stores. There is no For Us, By Us. We kill ourselves studying so that we can attend their HWCUs, only to get shunted off to the retard corner while they mingle with the sons and daughters of their fraternity’s true power brokers: the Clintons, the Bushes, the Kennedys, the Vanderbilts. Are you a part of Section X?

    Your security and your livelihood is based on trust, the trust between a master and his dog. When they call you smart, it’s the way they would call their pet Pomeranian smart. “Oh, so smart, look how quickly Fido learns to shake! Look how good you are at math!” We walk on the edge of a precipice everyday, and don’t even know it. Witness the White Rage in South Carolina, or even in reaction to an interracial couple in a harmless cereal commercial in 2013. Brothers and sisters, you only think they are on your side because you’ve given them your balls, attended their re-education camps, and opened your legs to them. See what happens as soon as a brother dares to speak out against them, or a sister dares to scorn one of their advances. First, they will whitesplain to you, evangelize their religion of Racism. If you persist, you will see their true face, the face screaming “Hang them!” in the largest mass lynching in American history. Heed my warning.

    Why am I telling you all this? Well, master’s on break and I’m jived up on coffee. Plus I rolled balls this weekend, and it gave me a lot of clarity. But mostly brothers, I want all of you to understand the world you live in. The colonial period officially ended in 1999, when Portugal finally returned Macao to China.

    Listen, we don’t live in 1984 any longer. They’ve become more clever, more subtle. This is the next stage of Whitetown, what their scholars call “Western hegemony”, where you are controlled not by guns, but by what you love — your entertainment, your middle class lifestyle, your IKEA infested bachelor pad. This is our Brave New World. They invented the fields of psychology (controlling minds), sociology (controlling people), political science (controlling nations). Do you think they’re doing nothing with this knowledge? Do you think World Controllers don’t exist?

    Brothers, we were born in the last days of the Evil Empire, and for those of us in America, we live in the vents of the f***ing Death Star. In order for us to continue our fragile existence here, we must learn to wake up. We must come together and stand in solidarity, instead of constantly competing and undercutting one another to win their favor. The problem with being palace eunuchs and concubines is that we are completely at their mercy, and as history has shown, they have no mercy. We may be floating around in opium dreams today, fantasizing about Miranda Kerr and Megan Fox and similar white images of beauty they beam into your head, and tomorrow we’ll be under their boot, kicking and screaming as they drag us away to concentration, sorry, internment camps.

    How do you become aware? You need to learn to think like they do. You cannot understand the colossal world of Whitetown and the machinery they’ve built to sustain it without understanding the way they see it. There is a racial slur for them, one that cuts them to the quick, a word as offensive as “nigger” and “chink” because it’s embedded in their culture and history.

  3. Hawaiian isn’t asian. get your facts right.

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