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Excerpt from Oral History Interview with Ran Kong, November 25, 2000. Interview K-0269. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) See Entire Interview >>

Misconceptions and misunderstandings about Asians by white Americans

Kong describes some of the "preformed notions" that white, native-born Americans have about members of some ethnic communities, remembering one white doctor she met who not only confused Hmong with Laotians, but refused to sympathize with their affection for large families. She thinks that schools can foster increased understanding with planned events and cultural exchanges.

Citing this Excerpt

Oral History Interview with Ran Kong, November 25, 2000. Interview K-0269. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007) in the Southern Oral History Program Collection, Southern Historical Collection, Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Full Text of the Excerpt

BARBARA LAU:
You've told me before that a lot of the girls that you go to school with are from small towns in North Carolina.
RAN KONG:
Yes.
BARBARA LAU:
And most of them are white, right?
RAN KONG:
Yes.
BARBARA LAU:
What impact do you think new communities of people— I mean, there's Cambodians, there's Vietnamese, there's Hmong. What impact do these new communities, do you think, have on North Carolina? How has that changed North Carolina? Do you have any sense of that?
RAN KONG:
What these new communities, like Asian, like Hmong and like Laotian and stuff like that, what impact they have on North Carolina? I don't know. I think like these communities have been here for a while now, and so people are now just getting used to them. But at the same time, I think there's still a lot of North Carolina that doesn't understand these communities. I was at a dinner the other night, and I was near a doctor. And he turns around, we were just talking— he was talking about how his patients were all Laotian, and there were so many of them. And he was like, they like to have so many kids. And you know, why is it that they have so many kids? And I was like, well, from the Laotian people that I know, they don't like to have many kids, okay. But Hmong people they value kids. And so kids are a good thing, it's a good thing to have a lot of kids. It's totally respectable in their community, whereas in American culture, lots of kids, more expenses, less kids, less expenses. And so I said to the doctor, I was like, are you talking specifically about Hmong people? And he was like, that's right, that's it —- I tell them, you know, family planning, birth control. And he was like, they get offended when I tell them that. And I was like, well, I can understand that they would because to them children is a good thing. It's good to have big families. It's good to have lots of children. The expenses with each additional child, that's something that they don't ever think about. It's always like here's a new addition to the family. You love the kid as soon as it's born. And so just from that alone, you can tell that people, they see, and then they already form opinions, and then they judge before they really understand. And so with these communities, I'm sure people already have like preformed notions of what they're like. And you have to strive to understand people first before you can really judge them.
BARBARA LAU:
Well, do you think the addition of these new communities has been a good thing for North Carolina? Are there good things that these communities bring? What do you think those might be?
RAN KONG:
I think it's good. You drive down some streets in North Carolina now and you'll see Vietnamese restaurants. You know, hello America, welcome to Vietnamese food, you know. It's a taste of Vietnam here without having to go all the way to their country, and so just in terms of new things, new ideas. And I don't know, I like diversity. That's because I'm different, but some people may not like it. But I think diversity is a good thing. And I think if the American Government allows it, then people should try to accept it.
BARBARA LAU:
What ways do you think teachers in schools could help kids who are different feel more a part of things?
RAN KONG:
In a way, you hate to be pointed out, but at the same time, teachers in school— I don't know— I think that once you get into the classroom like you know you focus on the subject. But I think overall for the school, I think it's good to have days or events that are specifically for these people to perform or to talk. Like at Salem College, we had an international dinner just last week. And it was great, because some of these girls have never had food from Ethiopia. So when they had indetto (phonetic), we were just like, oh, she didn't like it. I see her plate is all going in the trash. And then others were like, oh, this is so good, what do you call it, and stuff. So just in terms of exposing them to who you really are, like this is what you eat, this is what you wear and stuff, in a way it gives definition to the word Ethiopian, or to the word Cambodian. It's not just because we live in America, it's not just a word to me now, it's who my friends are. It's, who my teachers are. I understand what it is to be American. It's not an empty identity. Do you know what I'm saying? Whereas I think when some girls who meet me, you're Cambodian, well, what is Cambodia specifically? What is behind the meaning of that word? Why is it significant? So when you do these things, it defines it for them. It defines Cambodian for them, it defines Ethiopian for them. When we get up and do a dance, that's Cambodian. So just in terms of making them understand that there's people. There's people, there's ideas, there's culture, there's so much. There's as much behind Cambodian as there is behind American, you know? So in that sense.