Rui Jun (24) was born and raised in The Netherlands, her parents are Chinese and her dad grew up in Vietnam. She identifies herself as Chinese and Dutch. She studies at Art Academy Minerva in Groningen.
What kind of upbringing did you have? There is also a term: “Tiger parents or Tiger mom”. Did you have a similar upbringing?
My parents wanted me and my brother to strive for the best, school was the most important thing when growing up. I remember she bought a lot of school books which weren’t necessary for school so I could do more (calculating) exercises after school. We went to the library a lot, and I liked to read. I always felt bad when my grades weren’t that good, and I wanted to do better and I tried but it didn’t really work out for me. I thought that something was wrong with me because I saw in the media that “Chinese people are supposed to be smart”. Other kids were praised a lot when they achieved something in their studies by my mother.
My parents weren’t around a lot since they worked very hard to make a living for us. Me and my brother kind of raised ourselves, that’s why we became very independent.
Are there any taboos or things that you can’t discuss with your parents?
Yes, we didn’t talk about a lot of things. It’s very hard to express my feelings and thoughts, because they also didn’t do that. If I heard from other people how open they talked about some things it made me realize how different I am from them, because I couldn’t have those conversations. Relationships, sex, feelings and more became easier to talk about when I became older but it’s still weird to talk about it.
Do you feel close with your Asian roots?
I feel very close with my Chinese roots, because I also speak Wenzhounese which is a Chinese dialect. I always felt very different from the other kids at school and in the neighborhood. I didn’t know a lot of other Chinese people when growing up, because there were mostly white kids at my school. When I was younger I didn’t want to be Chinese, because I was bullied a lot. I wanted to be white instead, because that’s what I saw in the media and around me. Being Chinese was considered “weird”, “disgusting” and a “dog and cat eater”. I never ate dog and cat.
I started researching about my background only during my studies at Art Academy Minerva. My dad fled from South Vietnam after the war to The Netherlands on a boat. He is one of a few thousands of survivors from that trip. It was very hard to ask certain questions because we never talked about such a topic before. It’s a very personal and slow research. My father never really talked about it or his feelings at all, and I think it was a very traumatizing experience where he still suffers from. I’m still very interested in researching more about my background and family history because I think it’s important for my future work as an artist, but I think it’s also good because the history is also who made me who I am today.
Did you ever feel ashamed of you being Asian?
Yes, when I was younger I felt ashamed because people would point out that I am Asian and different. I didn’t want people to point at me or shout things at me, or look at me because of the way I look. I was bullied a lot in school and people made “jokes”, insulting me multiple times. No one did anything about this, and it was very traumatizing because it was because of my skin color and my appearance.
I became very insecure because of the bullying. I wanted to be white and not who I was, or have the appearance, name and culture that I have, because people considered Chinese people: “disgusting”. So I also felt ashamed. When I applied for any jobs, people also answered with: “Dear Mr..” and that’s when I realized that they didn’t even have read or opened up my resume. I have a picture of myself on there, it was very disappointing.
Did you ever have a role model when you grew up?
I think it’s very important that I could identify myself with someone. I never had any role models when I grew up. The Asians I saw in the Media were only stereotypes and they made fun of Asians. Because the media portrayed Asians as “weird”, “disgusting”, “not civilized, because they eat everything” I felt more ashamed, because other people saw me as that as well. At one point I believed what the media and people at school said.
I think it would be very different if I did have role models that look like me so I didn’t want to be white and want to have bigger eyes. Then I would become proud of my roots at an early age instead of wanting to distance myself from it.
What do you think of the Asian representation in The Netherlands?
I was born and raised in The Netherlands. The only Asian representation there is stereotypes and making fun of Asians. I don’t feel represented at all in The Netherlands. I don’t identify with any of those characters. When growing up I watched a lot of TV and I struggled with my own identity.
I haven’t really thought about Asian representation a lot before, until I went to research my identity and roots and saw how the media portrays Asians. When I learned more about the subject, I realized that it had a great influence on myself that I wasn’t aware of. The media has a lot of influence on people in a subtle way, because it’s now so mixed as if we have the control. I don’t think a lot of people realize that they play a huge role in our society and the fact that Asians are not well represented is a part of a bigger problem: the racism and discrimination people experience in daily life. It’s not always very visible because there is also a lot of racism and discrimination within bigger institutions.
Hopefully, with my voice, speaking up against racism and discrimination especially for Asians, and creating a safe space and community like: Asian Raisins and this game Guess Who: Asian Edition, and with not only sharing my own story but also stories from other people, hopefully, I will bring more representation and changes within the media culture but also awareness towards this problem about racism and discrimination.
Do you feel like you’re the ‘The Asian Model Minority Myth’?
I don’t feel like the Model minority myth at all, I always felt bad when I had bad results because my mother praised other kids with better school results. The pushing and seeing that other Asian kids are smart made me insecure about my own abilities, because I couldn’t live up to that. I also think that people think that Asians are very smart because of that stereotype and the “Model Minority Myth” the media portrays. I don’t think it’s positive at all and it causes a lot of harm.
What made you who you are now?
Definitely my past and what I experienced. The people I have around me, that support me and also how I grew up.
Have people made comments about you being Chinese?
Yes, when people point out: “Hey, look, a Chinese” or something like that I feel very weird and awkward, even though I have Chinese roots. I think it’s very rude when people shout stuff like that, and they are strangers. I don’t really get the fact that some people are acting very strange or ask strange questions only because I look Asian?
What are stereotype Asians in your opinion and where does that come from? Do you see other Asians like those stereotypes?
I think that Asian stereotypes are shaped by the media, and it has continued for many years. All people are different and I think some of the Asians I know do resemble some of the stereotypes that have been portrayed in the media. But not everyone is that stereotype and I think many people forget that.
What are stereotype Asians in your opinion?
Asian stereotypes, the Indian (mostly a guy) always has a thick accent in movies and series. The Chinese stereotypes/characters that come to mind are I think: very smart and nerdy, Kung Fu fighter, people who can’t prunounce the ‘r’ and they change it into the ‘l’, heavy accent and not being able to speak good English or Dutch, being very funny and acting dumb, mystery woman who doesn’t have any lines, submissive.
I don’t identify with any of those stereotypes/characters at all. I also rarely see any of those stereotypes in “real” people.
What stereotypes and comments have you heard about your appearance?
People would start the conversation in English, even though I spoke in Dutch in the previous conversation. When I start talking back in Dutch, some people will keep on continuing the conversation in English. I’ve heard that I don’t look Chinese but Korean, Japanese or Thai. I’ve also heard that I’m pretty for an Asian/Chinese person.
I feel very weird when people comment on my appearances like this. I don’t feel comfortable at all, and what does that even mean? I think my identity changes through time, because of all the new things I learn and experience. In the past I cared a lot about what other people thought of me, but on the other hand I also didn’t really care about that. I struggled a lot and I debated about it for such a long time. Now I have gotten somewhat older and now I don’t really care about what other people think of me or how they perceive me. I do keep on being alert of how people react when I walk past them. I ask myself: what body language are they showing, or what do I see in their expression?
What racist remarks and discrimination have you experienced?
I’ve experienced a lot of racist remarks and discrimination, during my childhood and growing up in The Netherlands at school, work and the streets. In the past, I didn’t really think about all the things that have happened to me or what I experienced, because I wanted to forget that part. When I think about it, write about, or say it out loud I relive the time that traumatized me.
The two memorable things I’ve experienced is when I was younger around 9 or 10 years old. I w
What is a funny trait or what is something that not everyone knows about you?
I’m both chaotic and a perfectionist. I love to eat spicy food but I can’t always handle it 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 the Asian culture is very traditional and old fashioned. I think it’s okay to be a housewife if you choose to be one. If you are forced or suppressed to do something that you don’t agree on is problematic in my opinion. In the modern days, when you grew up more in the West instead of Asia I think the mindset has changed. People don’t marry as soon as possible anymore, but I think in my family, women have to marry before or around 30. I’m not sure if I’m going to.
Where do you stand now and what are your plans for the future?
Currently I’m stressing a lot about this graduation project I’m working on and Asian Raisins. My plans for the future is keeping on creating awareness towards racism and discrimination and especially towards Asians, because we are forgotten in the racism and discrimination debate. As if Asians don’t experience any racism and discrimination in their life.
What do you want to give to the readers?
I hope the readers will realize that there are a lot of different Asians with different perspectives. I hope people will realize that Asians are not the stereotypes they thought they would be, or the minority myth. I hope they would learn more about the different stories people have which are not told by the mainstream media. They are simply not given a platform. I also think that within the Asian community there is also a lot of taboos, color-ism, racism and discrimination which needs to be addressed as well. With starting up the conversations and sharing these stories, hopefully Asians also do feel represented in the game and that they are not the only one to experience these things.
I will keep on continuing sharing those unheard stories. I hope people like to make and play the game and have some fun, and hopefully I will achieve that there is awareness towards this normalized problem. I hope people will realize and acknowledge that there is a problem in today’s society and media. Normalizing racism and discrimination causes problems, and unfortunately I am one of the many living proofs.
I have so much more to say but you can follow me on Instagram.
Where can we follow you?