Hai Ha (21) was born in Vietnam, raised in Germany and her parents are Vietnamese. She came in 2018 to The Netherlands to study psychology at RUG. She identifies herself as a German Vietnamese Cis-Woman.
What kind of upbringing did you have? There is also a term: “Tiger parents or Tiger mom”. Did you have a similar upbringing?
I did not have such an upbringing that is similar to the tiger parents. My parents always wanted the best for me and said they wanted to give me a better life/future than they had. However, they never pushed me to do anything I didn’t want to do. I really appreciate that. What was typical for Asian parents was that they worried a lot about me though. I was not allowed to stay out late like my friends and could not do similar things like them. Sleeping at another’s place was often not permitted and also they disliked it when I went out a lot (not even for partying but just to the cinema or to meet friends was already seen as “bad”).
Are there any taboos or things that you can’t discuss with your parents?
I never talked about boys with my parents and never about sex which I think is sad and I do regret that I did not try hard enough. I mean, it is never too late… I am already trying to be more open and honest with them, but I also don’t want them to worry too much about me, especially my mother. Of course it is different from my surroundings.
I had mainly German friends who did not have such problems and hearing them talking with their parents as if they were their friends was really shocking to me but also, I was just jealous about their relationship. In hindsight, I do find myself being more empathetic and understanding. I do acknowledge the cultural difference more and I try to respect that but also try to be more honest with my parents.
Do you feel close with your Asian roots or not?
I honestly don’t feel that close to my Asian roots. I am grateful that my mother taught me how to speak, write and read Vietnamese when I was younger and I am also grateful for having had the experience of being in a Vietnamese community in church but I never felt really connected to my roots. I don’t really know why… Maybe it is because I never had a lot of Vietnamese friends and was rather German socialized. Also, I never researched my background that much. This is for sure something that I would like to do now to feel more connected with Vietnamese culture.
Did you ever feel ashamed of you being Asian?
I don’t feel ashamed to be Asian. I used to feel embarrassed about my name when I introduced myself and people did not understand, or people just looked weird at me. I did feel ashamed about my parents for not speaking German and I still do sometimes but I really try to not feel any shame anymore because I should not, and as time has passed I realized that I should be proud of my background and that my parents cared so much for me and were so hard-working that they did not have time to learn German. I am trying my best to not care anymore. I am still not where I want to be but I’d say that it is a progress for sure. Also, I am actually very happy to not be white lol.
Did you ever have a role model when you grew up?
I never had a role model in my life. I think it can be nice if you have one that guides you or a person you look up to, ideally someone you can talk to in difficult times but I do not think that it is necessary. If you have one I think it can be more helpful if the role model is also Asian in my case because it is easier to relate and you will find more similarities.
What do you think of the Asian representation in The Netherlands?
I think Asians are not well enough represented in the western media, not in Germany but also not in the Netherlands, maybe a bit more in Berlin as it is a little bit more diverse but generally you see mainly white people in the media. Therefore, I don’t feel well represented and I think the media is definitely responsible for more diversity. I think in this case it is also important to mention tokenism, which means Black, Indigenous and People of color are only shown on some posters or so but nothing else is done within the company itself to encourage diversity or hire more BPOCs.
This is sometimes even worse than not representing any BPOCs as the companies profit from pretending to be diverse but don’t care at all. I think it is hard to change something if I am not directly involved in the media business or doing something in this direction. With my psychology background I think for instance just working as an Asian psychologist can contribute to more representation or improving the diversity in organizations indirectly through counseling or coaching could be helpful. Personally, I have not done anything in this direction yet, even though I sometimes think that merely my presence in an only white classroom is already some kind of representation.
Do you feel like you’re the ‘The Asian Model Minority Myth’?
I think that this is really bad. It is just a stereotype and apparently it was created for racist reasons to stop the civil rights movement which makes it even more horrible than it already is. However, I think many people hold this stereotype which makes me really frustrated. I am honestly the exact opposite. I am very tall for an Asian person and I would also not consider myself as quiet. So, I do hear a lot of comments often from people that say I am atypical from the “average” Asian person. And again, I am reduced to the culture I am from and not seen as an individual that can have unique traits.
What made you who you are now?
My parents, my sisters, my friends, my year abroad in Cambodia, the political festival In*Vision in Berlin (definitely recommended!!!)
Have people also made comments about you being Chinese?
Yea, people always think that I am Chinese because of course this is the only Asian country that exists. It’s actually really stupid considering the fact that in Berlin the Vietnamese community is soooo huge and people still greet me in Chinese on the streets (besides the fact that this is racist they are also so ignorant and don’t even notice the big Vietnamese population in Berlin). I needed many years to try and figure out how to respond to stupid comments, often I ignored it, only few times I said something back but I think now I realized that there is no one answer to this problem. It always depends on my mood, the circumstances and the person.
What are stereotype Asians in your opinion and where does that come from? Do you see other Asians like those stereotypes?
Short, skinny, nerdy, good in math, shy, quiet. I think most of them come from other people and from media like movies, where the Asian guy is always the nerd or not popular with girls etc. At some point I might have even internalized some of the stereotypes, but I want to actively fight against them. I do know some that fulfill those stereotypes but at the same time there are enough Asians that do not fulfill it. I don’t believe in biological reasons that would justify any stereotypes, only the one about the Asian blush when drinking alcohol. That’s a fact haha.
Do you know any Vietnamese stereotypes and do you identify yourself with that?
Short, small, good in math, shy (pretty similar to the general Asian stereotype I‘d say).
What stereotypes and comments have you heard about your appearance?
As I mentioned before, I get a lot of comments about my height. I don’t mind that that much because I like being tall but I am annoyed by people asking me where I really come from when they are apparently not satisfied with me saying Germany. Also, I hate it when people talk about my heritage in the first 5 minutes that we met, as if there was nothing else to talk about?
Do you ask white people too where they really come from or if they have ever been to Germany? It is just annoying to not be seen as an individual. A few years ago, I felt more insecure and also hurt when people asked me weird questions but now I counter sometimes or I am just not nice to the person anymore. So, at some point the person will feel that the question was not appropriate.
What racist remarks and discrimination have you experienced?
I fortunately never experienced really bad discrimination. Everything was rather verbal, people were saying ching chang chong or konichiwa on the street to me. When I was younger, the other kids often made fun of my name and made it sound like a karate kick or something, which maybe is a reason why I disliked my name for a long time. Now, still people say stuff like: “Hi Hai Ha” and laugh because it is sooo funny apparently. There’s not a particular situation that I remember most.
And at the beginning of the outbreak of corona I felt like people were looking at me weird and I heard that my parents got racist comments because they have a restaurant, but personally I did not experience anything bad luckily related to COVID-19. As mentioned before, I don’t feel much anymore when people make such comments because I really got used to it, which is bad, but maybe I just also know better now how I can deal emotionally with that in order to not feel as mentally strained as before.
What is a funny trait or what is something that not everyone knows about you?
I am good at speaking voices for stuffed animals… especially for sheeps haha.
In Asian culture, it is normal as a woman to get married as soon as possible, have children, and become a housewife. Because when you have a husband, you have children, you have “made” it in life. How do you see it?
I think this is very old-fashioned and I do understand where it comes from and the justification behind it, but I am advocating for the emancipation of women and I would also consider myself a feminist.
Where do you stand now and what are your plans for the future?
I am studying Psychology in my 2nd year now and my plan for the future is to do something with my degree that will contribute to improving the social struggle of BIPOCs and their communities. I want to empower the community and increase diversity in as many fields as possible. I am happy where I am right now, but I know that there is still so much more to discover, about myself and about the world. I am eager to learn more about my roots and especially about activism.
What do you want to give to the readers? What do you hope to achieve?
I want to thank Rui for giving me the opportunity to share my experiences and I hope that after having read the unique stories of all the people in the project you will notice that we are also just individuals with different traits and characteristics. I hope that you will think twice the next time you say a racist joke and also think about the consequences this can have, not only for one person but for a whole community.
These stereotypes have existed for a long time and it is not easy to overcome them, but it is possible when you actively reflect on your behavior (actual fact I learned in Psychology!). Also, I would like to encourage you to be actively anti-racist because silence means violence. Read and educate yourself about racism because we need allies, especially white allies because fighting this fight alone is too exhausting…