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A Reflection on Being Asian-American in Indy

Posted by: IndyHub
Posted: March 25, 2021
Categories: IndyHub

I’m a 23-year-old first generation Vietnamese American woman. I grew up in a small, conservative town in southern Indiana. The community is painfully homogenous: imagine a loaf of white bread dipped in bleach – that’s the diversity – or lack thereof – in which I lived. It feels like everyone looks, thinks, and acts the same. Those who don’t conform to the right white way are ridiculed. People of color are gawked at as if they are zoo animals, and I was no exception. 

I remember being as young as 4 when a couple of fellow kindergarteners approached me on the playground during recess, pulled their eyelids to a slant, yelled ‘ching-chong’ at me, and ran away laughing. Despite the fact that the town treated me like an outcast, I still desperately wanted to fit it, so I did everything in my power to hide my minority and assimilate into Eurocentric culture, adopting all the social norms as fast as I could to avoid being known solely as ‘that Asian girl,’ but to no avail. I suppressed my culture, but I couldn’t wash away my color, and this town’s  internalized racism never failed to remind me that I’d always be a little too yellow for their liking. 

Upon the closing of my senior year of high school, I became too fatigued to maintain this white-washed façade of myself anymore, so I enrolled as a PharmD and Spanish student at Butler University in Indianapolis. I intentionally chose Butler knowing most of my graduating class had chosen to attend IU instead, and I was hopeful that Indy would be more welcoming of a city. The first time I truly felt accepted was when I met my roommate during my freshman year at Butler. She saw me for me, and her kindness helped me learn to accept myself. 

Over these past 6 years of pharmacy school, I’ve developed a passion for ending healthcare disparities. My education quickly brought to light the relevance of racial bias in healthcare, and as a victim of racism myself, I’ve made it my personal mission to be at the forefront of pioneering a healthcare system that is accessible to all. I’m a firm believer that everyone deserves the highest quality of care regardless of class, color, or creed. As a Doctor of Pharmacy Candidate in my final year of school, I’m required to complete 10 clinical rotations to gain hands-on practice in various pharmacy settings. I went into each rotation vowing to myself that I would treat every patient with equity in alignment with my mission. 

To my dismay, racism decided to rear its head and complicate my plans. Racism has consistently been an impending threat lurking in the background, but the onset of the pandemic gave it a megaphone to spew hatred against the Asian community.  When leaders in the federal government used pointed terms such as ‘Kung Flu’ and ‘Chinese virus’ to describe COVID-19, there were those in Indiana that quickly latched on to anti-Asian rhetoric. 

As a result, I’ve experienced my fair share of racism at nearly every rotation site this year. Even when I’m extending a hand to provide healthcare, many of my patients fail to see my humanity before my skin color. I’ve been called a good number of racial slurs, and rather than sympathize with me, a decent amount of Hoosiers have had the caucasity to tell me that it’s not a big deal, and that I should let those slurs roll off my back. But I can’t just shake off some casual racism; I’ve grown too much to allow myself to revert to racism-tolerant-small town Katie. I’m tired of hearing the model minority trope repeatedly insisting that I don’t experience racism because I’m Asian. I’m also tired of Hoosiers thinking that racism couldn’t possibly infect Indiana because we were on the Union side of the Civil War. That’s the infuriating part about watching all of this unfold: people fail to recognize something or someone as racist unless the entity itself proudly wears the label. 

Even more frustrating is that I’m watching many of my peers grow too tired of seeing antiracism posts in their feed to want to sympathize with victims of racism. The issue is racism is far more cunning than anyone likes to believe. It’s embedded in our society, and Indy’s not immune to that. I’m hoping that sharing my story will embolden IndyHub readers to call out racism and when they see it. All it takes for racism and evil to prevail is for good people to do nothing. I’m hopeful that the good people reading this will have the courage to stand up against hatred alongside me and my community.


Katie Vo is a PharmD student at Butler University. She also has a BA in Spanish Language and Literature. She often jokingly refers to herself as an aspiring drug lord. Outside of school, Katie’s a foodie, always sampling new restaurants and constantly on the hunt for the best tacos. Connect with Katie on LinkedIn.

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