morpheus85 saidWe don't use the term "oriental" because Americans have deemed that term 'politically incorrect"...although Oriental (with a capital O) is, by definition, more specific and correct than "Asian". It refers to The Orient, or the East, specifically referring to China, Japan, Indonesia, and the like. This did not include what we now refer to as "southeast asian" people. I have numerous immigrant friends from Japan and China who referred to themselves as "Oriental".....until some of my American friends told them that it was not PC. Wow.
I was informed by some of my asian-american friends that people are not oriental... people are asian... objects though are oriental.
Go figure. Its some crazy mess of words that sometimes I wonder "how many times can i put my foot in my mouth today" at times.
Speaking as a Canadian, I have no idea why the term Oriental grates on people and didn't even know it is supposed to have racist undertones though I worked in the US for two years. Some people take being PC way too far.
That said, I've been called some deliberately racially epithets but I can't say that really bothers me too much anymore. I also confess that just as I've wished I was straight, I have wished I was white - though I also quickly revert into the realization that if I wasn't both gay and of Chinese descent I wouldn't be who I am today and I am pretty happy with who I am today.
Also on the topic of things that grate on me, I am Canadian first. I realize there are those who do not feel the same way, but my ethnicity has little to do with my nationality - and stuff like this isn't really that simple - since new immigrants and old ones feel differently about such things. My friends will openly call new immigrants fob's (fresh off the boat)s. They on the other hand will call people like me CBC's (Chinese born Canadians) / ABC's (American born...) or less charitably Bananas - Yellow on the outside, white on the inside.
I went to China for the first time about 7 years ago and it's also kind of funny there. I mean realistically, Asian societies are some of the most racist in the world (though effectively according to the UN Durban Racism conference a few years ago, only white people can really be racist). The term "Gweilo" is used to describe foreigners - literally translated to mean devil people. Because I don't speak the language particularly fluently I know there are a few people who derisively call me a gweilo.
On the other hand, I have colleagues who are very nationalistic who believe that it's ethnicity first not nationality and they think that I should consider myself to be Chinese (despite my libertarian politics which I sometimes keep to myself depending on who I am talking to in China). To tease one of them I tell them I am (literal translation) a Hong Kong person because that's where my parents are from despite being born and raised in Canada. It sends him off on a rant - which, frankly, amuses me.
I also had the good fortune of working in finance at an NGO in Uganda. They don't really have a name for people from the Orient and at the time (2002) I bet I could have counted the number of people of Oriental descent (say that ten times fast) on two hands in a city of 3M people and most of them worked at the Chinese restaurant downtown. They called me, along with the white people, mzungu's - sometimes derisively and sometimes in endearment.
I should also point out though that I have a lot of friends from India/Pakistan who do consider themselves to be Asian which also makes things absolutely confusing.
Bottom line - it's the intent that matters (though to be honest, I'm not sure that there are very many kind and well meaning ways to say things like "chink" ;) ).