At Stuyvesant, a school full of students with origins and ancestors from around the world roaming the hallways, different cultures are almost bound to mix. Looking at the sea of students at Stuyvesant, one can tell that a majority of the student body is Asian. However, what most overlook is that the term ‘Asian’ is just a word representing race, that represents a group of people from a single continent. Asia itself is made up of around 48 different countries, translating to at least 48 different cultures.
According to the News article published in Volume 6 Issue CVII, “Deconstructing Race at Stuyvesant,” Stuyvesant represents 55 different countries, many of which are Asian countries, like China and the Philippines. Since the majority of the student body are Asians, students are exposed to a variety of Asian cultures. However, despite the individuality of each of the cultures present at Stuyvesant, stereotypes are still present.
Sophomore Zheng Chen summed it up, “Basically, everyone thinks that Asians are the ‘smart’ race that are better at academics, and they do everything […] and they have no time for fun.” If the stereotypes ring true, being Asian apparently entails being academically inclined, without having any spare time. Chen, in her own experience, has seen discrepancies in this assumption, “Not all Asians are smart, not all Asians spend their time studying.” Adamantly, Chen said, “They want to have fun, too!”
Stereotypes are not always aimed at a single race, but also at specific ethnic groups. Chen shared experiences with stereotypes regarding her ethnicity, Chinese, saying that many people presume they are stingy with money. These cliches are spread even more through the media. Chen explained that most of the television shows she has seen depict Chinese characters as stingy or studious.
Sophomore Noelle Gloria is from the Philippines, and in her own experience, she has noticed that stereotypes for Filipinos are different from the usual Asian stereotypes. “They’re more perceived as artistically talented people, like art, music, and entertainment,” she said, which is different from the usual preconceptions about Asians. Gloria has found truth in some of these Asian assumptions, but she felt that “Nowadays, people are taking these stereotypes to a different level, where the stereotypes are considered offensive.” Sometimes stereotypes may be insulting, yet other times, they could be regular punchlines. Gloria believes that jokes or stereotypes have been crossing “the line [between being funny and being offensive] more and more.”
On the other hand, sophomore Julia Lee believes Stuyvesant is open and accepting to all these different cultures.“Stuy is a smaller version of the real world with different cultures from different neighborhoods,” Lee said. “[Stuyvesant students have become] really great at overcoming the barrier of being culturally diverse and aren’t judgmental based on one’s background.” Despite the existence of various stereotypes that we are subconsciously alert to, we try our best to be open-minded, to embrace all cultures.
Being exposed to all the different Asian backgrounds, the viewpoints that one forms seem to depend on the appeal of the cultures. From Chinese to South Asian to Korean culture, some are more easily embraced than others. The interest in these various Asian cultures seems to stem from one’s curiosity and the popular aspects of the culture, like music or entertainment, in both the larger society and among peers at Stuyvesant.
“I feel like I’m more inclined towards Korean and Japanese culture, which are more well known. For me, I think that’s because you hear a lot about how, say, Japan is a lot more innovative and really cool, and Korea has K-pop and is very approachable,” Gloria said.
Similarly, junior Michelle Yang compared Chinese culture to Korean culture.“There are more aspects of Korean culture that seem more appealing, making it more preferable towards the vast majority of people. For example, Korean music and entertainment have been a very big interest lately and it leads to a deeper [curiosity] in Korean culture. Chinese music is less well known in comparison, and because of it, Chinese culture doesn’t gain the same interest,” she said.
A reason for this is due to China’s widely varied culture. “China is very large, and each region has a culture of its own; it makes it harder for people to embrace Chinese culture because of the very fact that there is a lot for them to learn,” Yang explained.
The publicized aspects of the culture are not the only way one may be exposed to a culture and gain interest in it. Most become aware and gain knowledge of the culture through the influence of their friends, when they are introduced to the arts or entertainment values of that country. “When I was very young, all my classmates watched Japanese animes, and I started watching it pretty late than the others did,” Chen expressed. “I like anime because it’s an escape from reality, like the settings, the characters, the different words, and it’s just so exciting.” Having the ability to connect with others through different cultures allows people to share a common interest and become more immersed in a culture.
Similar to Chen, Lee gained more interest in different cultures, especially Chinese culture, through her friends. She explained, “Lately, I’ve been starting to pick up bits of Mandarin from my friends and have been practicing speaking a few words. It’s fun, and I enjoy learning new things from them.”
Despite the influence that the spread of culture through friends or society may have, the way one views a culture ultimately depends on one’s own personal preference and interests. While the characteristics of a culture may appeal to one person, it may not for someone else. Sophomore Raisa Khuda stated, “How interesting one finds some aspect of a culture shapes how that person views the culture as a whole compared to the other seemingly less interesting cultures.” In other terms, one’s opinions and acceptance of a culture come down to the individuals themselves.
Stuyvesant’s diversity encourages students to be curious and inclined to embrace different cultures through finding one’s own personal interests in the culture and sharing it with others. We are naturally curious, and having a diverse student body gives students a launchpad for discovery, as well as a basis for friendships. Despite the distinct upbringings we come from, Stuyvesant students have used their differing cultures as a way of unification.