Chico international students face racism

Frank Li, director of the International Education office. Photo Courtesy of Chico State.

“Fuck Asians!” was not what Rie Ikebe expected to hear on her first outing in the United States.

Ikebe, an international student from Japan studying communications, and her friend were walking on Nord Avenue when a man drove by and started shouting racial slurs at them, she said.

“It felt like they were kind of cheating,” she said. “They just said that and drove off without having to face me. It’s not fair. I was kind of shocked, depressed and sad.”

Instances of racism towards international students are not uncommon, said Frank Li, director of the International Education Office. In any intercultural interaction, incidents of racism may happen.

More than 700 international students are enrolled at Chico State and an additional 150 students are a part of the intensive language program, Li said.

After spending almost one year in America, Ikebe said she has now grown numb to people shouting racial slurs at her.

Ikebe said her first roommate in Chico blamed the Japanese for killing Americans in World War II.

“One of my roommates got drunk and suddenly said Japanese people killed Americans,” she said. “He started telling me how much Japanese people were gross.”

After the roommate threatened Ikebe with a knife, she decided to move out, she said.

“He was drunk and kept saying these things over and over and then he grabbed a knife,” she said. “So I escaped and moved out the next morning.”

Ikebe said she hasn’t spoken to her old roommate since the incident.

“I never talked with him after that because he wasn’t respectful and I didn’t understand why he could say that to me,” Ikebe said. “It’s already over. It’s time to forgive each other and understand each other.”

Japanese students are not the only international students facing racism in Chico. International students from Saudi Arabia are often called terrorists by some Americans, Ikebe said.

Ikebe said she had a Saudi Arabian friend who was called a terrorist for wearing a hijab. Her friend had to move in with her brother because she was afraid.

One international student, who prefers to remain anonymous, is also no stranger to racism.

“I don’t really go around downtown,” he said. “If I do, it’s in the daylight because I don’t want to get into trouble with drunk people who make fun of Asians.”

The student still does not know how to react when strangers insult him about his race, even though it has happened many times, he said.

“I’m a really quiet person and I can’t react in an aggressive manner,” he said. “I feel like apologizing even though I don’t have to.”

He said he was surprised that racism was an issue in Chico because there are many international students living in town.

“I would expect some small rural area to have racism just because there aren’t many international people, but Chico has so many international students so I didn’t expect it to still be here,” he said.

To end racism, at least in Chico, students and members of the community should educate themselves on different cultures, Li said.

The Cross Cultural Leadership Center hosts workshops on different cultures so students can have a better understanding of other races, he said.

“Things like this happen because of a lack of understanding or fear and that can be fixed with education,” Li said.

The next workshop, Nov. 12, will be about Chinese culture and will directly focus on racism.

“It may seem like a lofty goal to promote international understanding, but through these activities we’re doing it,” Li said.

Although there are many differences between cultures, it is important to focus on cultural similarities, he said.

“There are so many things we have in common with people of different cultures,” Li said. “We need to focus on those commonalities because they will bring us together, rather than our differences which will spread us apart.”

When international students face racism, they are encouraged to meet with advisors so that the International Office can talk through what happened with them, he said.

“We definitely provide support when these incidences take place,” Li said. “We want to avoid and prevent those incidences from happening, we want international students to have a safe and high quality experience.”

Madison Holmes can be reached at [email protected] or @madisonholmes95 on Twitter.