CONTEXT: I was born in America to parents of Filipino and Chinese descent. I was raised a Catholic all my life and am still a practicing Catholic to this day.
At my university, I’m involved with the Catholic student group, Newman Community, and we plan lunches with speakers, volunteering opportunities within the area, and other activities in addition to managing the weekly masses. During my first year, we had a dinner with a nun from a nonprofit that one of the seniors was going to be volunteering at after graduation. The dinner was a nice, cozy environment: it was the Newman Board, the deacon who helps us manage events, the priest who leads mass every week, and the visiting nun. After she talked about what she does and what the nonprofit is, we had the chance to go up to her and talk to her.
I went up to her and introduced myself. I can’t remember the exact phrasing (it’s been a couple of years since this happened…), but I recall her asking me if I was Buddhist since I’m Chinese. To which I responded, no, I’m a practicing Catholic. I recall her looking shocked.
I didn’t think much of that moment at the time – my first year at my university was a time when I wasn’t fully aware of my identity and I wasn’t in touch with the significance of it. I remember being confused in the moment, and then I just shrugged it off and went about my business.
However, when I think about it now, it was, in a way, ignorant of that nun to make the assumption that since I’m Chinese, I’m Buddhist. I know she meant no harm when she asked me that question, but it just goes to show how inherent biases can be harmful in how we think and how it can skew our perspective of the world. That assumption also was an attempt to comparmentalise my identity and to box me in to what was considered “being Chinese.” First of all, I’m not just Chinese – I’m Filipino and American as well. Second, not all Chinese are Buddhists. My grandparents on my mom’s side were Buddhists, but that doesn’t mean I’m Buddhist.
I am definitely guilty for my own inherent biases, biases that I inherited from my parents and from society in general. Sometimes, I fall back on them (yes, I’m guilty!), but I am trying hard to not make any assumptions about anyone and to continue to grow with awareness. It is interesting to learn where people come from, who they are, and what drives them, but it’s not encouraging at all if we keep making assumptions about them, thinking that we know who they are already and what their beliefs are. There’s no correlation between your ethnicity and your religion. Just because you’re Spanish doesn’t automatically make you Catholic. Just because you’re Indian doesn’t automatically make you Hindu.
So, overall message of this post is, before stating an inherent bias or assumption, ask the person. The conversation will be a lot better if you ask rather than making an assumption.