The Time I Was Told To ‘Go Back to Your Own Country and Improve Your English’

An ad for the movie Pitch Perfect. Is it perpetuating stereotypes of Asians?
An ad for the movie Pitch Perfect. Is this how Americans think of Asians?

Recently I went to see a movie called “Pitch Perfect” with Emanuele, one of my best American friends.

“How did you feel about that?” she asked me on our way to the parking lot. We pushed the door and walked into freezing wind.

“Well, yes I think that is pretty much it. It’s true,” I said.

I knew exactly what she was asking.

In the movie there are two Asian girls: One speaks in a really quiet voice and has a weird accent; the other only hangs out with people from her own country and hates American food and culture. It feels like they are so different and somehow crazy.

“That is how some Americans think of Asians, right?” I asked.

“Well, to some degree, yes,” my friend Emanuele said. She said some Americans don’t like Asians because they don’t understand them. “Sometimes they don’t even know anybody from Asia,” she said. “They learned it from movies and other pop culture.”

Out of the movies and into reality

When I first came to the United States I had a strong will to talk to people and improve my English. I smiled at every single person I met and tried my best to talk with strangers. As a journalism student, I have gotten to interview state senators and House representatives, a nuclear scientist, and even a gorgeous great great grandma who opened a hand apron shop to support Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity campaign.

Once when I was working for a local TV station, I needed to interview the East Lansing mayor in time for a deadline at 9:00 that evening.

“Please,” I said when she told me she was too busy that day. “I have to get this done by 5:00 today. I only need 20 minutes.” She agreed and I drove for half an hour to her office building to get the story done.

I am not afraid to talk and I am always willing to ask questions, but sometimes I am afraid of people’s reactions when I talk.  Not everyone is as willing to accept me as that mayor was. Sometimes being an Asian and having the accent that I have has put me in uncomfortable situations.

A couple of weeks ago I was working on a story about property taxes for a Michigan local newspaper. I needed to interview a farmer in the field.

“Hello, this is Silu, I am a correspondent for XX newspaper,” I said.

He hung up without a word.

“There might be something wrong with my phone,” I thought.

So I walked into the office to use our office phone.

“Hello, this is Silu, I am a correspondent for …” I repeated the whole sentence again.

“Where are you from?” a voice asked.

“Oh, originally I am from China,” I said.

“Then go back to your own country and improve your English before you come here!”

He hung up again.

That is one of my worst experiences in the United States. Worst, but not the only one of its kind.

Good friends get you through it

Emanuele and I continued our conversation about Asian stereotypes all the way from the movie theatre to our parking spot.

“It is not always like that,” Emanuele said. “I like international students. I can learn a lot from them.”

Emanuele and I met in my first class in the United States. We work together, we hang out every week, and she always invites me to her family gatherings.

Sometimes we cannot understand what the other is talking about. But both of us have the patience and intelligent to figure it out.

“We are best friends now, aren’t we?” she asked.

“Yes, we are,” I said, opening the door in the darkness. “I do meet a lot of gorgeous people here. Thanks dear. Let’s get into the car. It is freezing.”


  1. I was glad to read this post. The response you describe happens to me at least 10 times a day here in Kunming, China. People point, laugh and shout “Hello! Laowai (foreigner)!” on the street, and laugh every time I open my mouth. Yet their entire focus seems to be on copying and acquiring everything they see from the West. It’s unnerving. Seeing how it happens in the States as well helps put it all in some perspective.

  2. This is laughable. Not the blogpost, the contents. Who in America SPEAKS English? Not a single person. Any person who knows the Linguistic history of the “English” language knows it is SO FAR OFF from what “English” was in the 7th century that most of it’s vocabulary is from Latin (through French) and it’s grammar is from the Norse languages. How can Americans be so arrogant AND ignorant about speaking “English” when the English language ceased to exist in the 10th century? (c.f., Norman French) The language that Americans speak is an amalgam of languages.

    1. What person today can say that they speak a language that hasn’t changed at all in over 1000 years? Are you kidding me? Languages change both in grammar structure and in pronunciation, and as far as I’ve experienced they all borrow from other languages as well. That aside, I truly believe that at least most educated people (anywhere in the world, including America) are very understanding of people who are learning to speak a different language. Maybe it’s my background and I am biased. I do tend to converse with many international students and I myself am trying to learn a foreign language. That being said, the only experience I have with people being rude to those trying to learn a foreign language is when the people being rude are uneducated, immature, and ignorant. I really do believe it comes down to education. Hate is very easy to teach and to learn and most people do not question it once they’ve learned it.

  3. The feature above writen about The language and attitude miss match in a satrang society, lookes more like a piece of artisticaly carved out with a great aesthetic sence of selection of beautyful words, to maintain the outer shape of idol of a pleasont surounding and a romantic mood without giving up aura of actual truth of the subject.
    Its really amazing to justify both the truth and the cinceptual dreaming up at a time.
    The auther seems to be a Short Story writer, rather then a symple journalist.

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