As an adopted Asian American child in Connecticut, Tessa Woods felt lost in a mostly white community.
Adopted from Vietnam at five months old, the 23-year-old photographer had “subconscious identity issues.”
“I never felt fully ‘Asian’ enough because I didn’t grow up with a traditional Vietnamese background,” she said.
In middle school, Woods was part of a clique of girls who were Asian American. By the time she reached high school, they started to drift apart.
“They seem to not want me to be in their group because I didn’t have the traditional Asian American experience growing up,” she said. “Rejection from my own ethnic community hurt.”
Throughout her life, Woods faced typical Asian stereotypes, especially those related to being Asian and female.
“I would say my experience with discrimination has been more of fetishization or invalidation,” she said.
In her youth, peers often asked her “where are you from?”
“This question invalidates someone,” she said. “There is a way to ask someone’s ethnicity without being rude or creepy.”
To add insult to injury, most of the people confronting her with that question were white men.
In her dating life, backhanded compliments based on Woods’ ethnicity are all-too common.
“In the dating world, [it] would go as far as ‘You look pretty for an Asian girl’ or ‘I’m trying to date a hot Asian chick,'” she said.
Woods hopes for more respect towards Asian Americans in society, especially in light of anti-Asian hate crimes nationwide.
“I really hope that post-pandemic, people treat Asian Americans nicer,” she said.
This article is part of a series called “The Trauma of Racism,” where we highlight the effects racism and xenophobia can have on minority populations.