Loving Myself: Why racism is a feminist issue by AsielWritten by Asiel Yessengeldina
Since I was a child I found it quite easy to integrate. I learned all the languages fluently, like any other foreigner in Luxembourg. Growing up I never really noticed subtle things that started to bother me later.
I was born in Kazakhstan, in central Asia, and moved to Luxembourg in early childhood. When moving to a different country you face a lot of obstacles. The language barrier was inevitable, since the average Luxembourgish person speaks 4 languages. Growing up most people assumed I was Chinese or Japanese, despite the existence of 46 other highly diverse Asian countries.
The second obstacle is integration. It’s one of the most convoluted processes, because it’s hard to say where to draw the line as a foreigner of a different racial and ethnic background. You can either fully become a part of a different society, giving up everything of your own, or incorporate new values while keeping your own identity; assimilation versus integration.
Another difficulty we encounter during this obstacle is unconscious racism. By the time I was a teenager I viewed myself as Luxembourgish; I had received my passport, I spent most of my life in this country, and I spoke the languages fluently. It was clear to me that I was closer to the Luxembourgish culture than my own mother’s heritage.
Foreigners are often asked where they’re from. As an Asian declaring that I’m from Luxembourg, I was often followed with questions of where I’m “really” from, or where my parents are from. Some might think it’s an acceptable way to address the topic, however when it’s one of the first questions asked when you meet someone, it’s not. Asking this adds a statement of exclusion and directly divides us from groups with whom we may identify.
It’s offensive to downsize a person’s personality to a stereotype of an ethnic background. In early childhood, I used to be bullied and mocked for being Asian. Once I hit puberty and my early teenage years, things started to change. I realised how objectified and racially fetishized Asian women were. Some men viewed them as submissive, hypersexual and exotic. It is hard enough as a girl to find one’s own identity, but harder still when there are sexual expectations that I felt pressured and unwilling to satisfy.
The constant reminder that I could not be Luxembourgish, despite having all the similarities of a Luxembourger, damaged my sense of identity. I despised my background due to my ‘oriental’ looks and lost touch with my cultural heritage. I deliberately tried to whitewash myself out of a feeling of not fitting in, inflicted by living in a predominately white society.
This is why I often considered the double eyelid surgery that is so popular in South Korea, in hopes of looking more Eurocentric. I felt proud realising that my native language had faded from my memory, but as I got older I realised what a shame it was for me to give up this part of my identity.
As an ex-soviet society, my country of birth saw me leaving as an act of betrayal. The country encouraged patriotism and I soon became an outcast, as the only person unable to speak ‘my own language’. I became a persona non-grata in both my country of birth and the country I had lived in my whole life. I lacked a sense of belonging.
Later on, I was surrounded by more international people who had gone through similar struggles. Sharing what we’ve gone through made me realise I wasn’t the only person with this experience. Today, I just shrug it off and laugh about it. I learned that there’s more to an identity than a mere country.
Now I know that no one has the right to dictate my identity, and that in a society that profits from self-doubt— loving myself is a rebellious act.
Photos courtesy of Asiel Yessengeldina.
Asiel Yessengeldina is a Politics and Psychology student and an intersectional feminist. She cares about mental health and the environment, and loves backpacking and travelling, thought provoking conversations and self improvement. She speaks five and a half languages, enjoys drinking Long Island Iced Teas with friends on a night out, and loves Game of Thrones. Find her on Instagram at: vslyxdn.