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The truth behind the lies

By: Hanna Wondmagegn

KittyZheng_03_webDespite a soft spoken Southern accent, Kitty Zheng faces more obstacles than most high school students in Burgaw, a town of 4,000 in southeastern North Carolina.

“I started school as the only Asian and then in high school, still the only Asian. I definitely got a lot of stereotypes,” Zheng said. “There’s always going to be people who stereotype me. There’s no other way than just to ignore and block it out.”

A rising senior at Pender High School, Zheng has had many encounters where her ethnicity and physical features became the basis that students judged her character and personality.

“There’s a stereotype of how Asians eat cats and dogs, and that offends me because I don’t do that,” Zheng said. “There’s the way my eyes look, the way my parents talk because they are not originally from here so they have an accent and don’t speak English very well.”

Other common stereotypical Asian standards are: having similar features, bad driving skills, being short in height and having the highest level of achievement either in school or the workforce.

Zheng’s status as a former valedictorian of her middle school and the current salutatorian does nothing to help oppose the cliche’ of Asians being at the top of the class, but for Zheng, it doesn’t matter what people say.

“The stereotype [of] being smart, I’m not really offended by that. I’ll take that as a compliment. People expect me to be on the top 5 percent of the class,” Zheng said. “[I] typically try not to focus on it just because I know if people see me get offended, they’ll see another thing to use against me.”

Although Zheng has managed to distance herself from such erroneous judgment about her, one incident during her junior year forced both Zheng and her sister, Kathleen, to come face to face with the harsh realities of stereotypes.

“Someone was doing drugs in cars, and from the back they looked Asian: black hair and short, and they suspected us,” Zheng said. “They pulled me out of homeroom class, and I was really scared and I was really upset.”

In a school with only one Asian and a town with a scarce presence of Asian families, only .44 percent of Burgaw town residents are Asian, according to a 2010 census, Kittie hopes to attend a college and enter a workforce that will possess a larger representation of Asians.

“I feel like whenever I get into a bigger city with more Asians, I will feel like I’m more in my comfort zone because they will know how it feels,” Zheng said. “Most Asians I’ve spoken to, they’ve experienced that and they do the exact same thing I do: block out that and just make a joke out of it instead of getting offended by it because when you get offended, more people do it.”

With the hopes of becoming a computer scientist, Zheng knows that challenges will still lie ahead, but this time for a different reason.

“Going into technology definitely surprised my parents because they thought I would do more things like doctor stuff because more women go into that field,” Zheng said. “People don’t think I’ll be able to do the work that’s in that field because they say rarely women go into technology.”