Shut up and Sit Back

by Lin Yuhan /
Lin Yuhan's picture
Oct 20, 2014 / 0 comments

This is what happened to me yesterday on the bus.

Around 7pm, I caught the 71C bus in Allegheny County, Pittsburgh. I bumped into a Chinese girl, so we started to talk in Chinese. Both of us are foreigners but came to the United States when we were 16. Therefore, we are well aware of the courtesy of not talking loud in public. I try to lower my voice when I speak in Chinese, because I’ve noticed how people here assume Asian stereotypes in public. Of course, I do not want to perpetuate such an assumption.

Unfortunately, my Chinese friend and I picked the front seat of the bus, which was fairly close to the driver. We were chatting and laughing just like most of the other people on the bus, except in Chinese. What happened next turned my so far a good day around completely. The bus driver suddenly looked back and yelled at us, “you two need to shut up. Just sit back.”

There were 5 seconds of silence. Everyone then started to chat again, except my friend and I. I was embarrassed and speechless. My cheeks were blushing and I felt goose bumps. I do not like to confront people whenever there is a conflict; yet, I am passive-aggressive. I guess the Confucianism that was implemented in me gave me the reaction to first reflect and criticize myself. Yet, did I do anything wrong?

My Chinese friend got off the bus and one of my students, an American girl, got on the bus. We hadn’t seen each other for two semesters, so we started chatting; this time, louder than before, and, in English. I intentionally spoke louder to see if the bus driver would turn around and demand me to shut up and sit back. No, she did not. I could not tolerate the feeling of being bullied and inferior anymore.

I am a Chinese woman living in the United States, the country that was founded by immigrants coming from various cultures, having different colors of skin, and speaking different languages. Those distinct backgrounds were embraced and endorsed by a mutual passion for the American dream. Many activists nowadays are constantly fighting for monitory rights, women’s rights, and endeavor to eradicate inequalities.

I prefer not to believe that prejudice is human nature; if so, Rosa Parks would never been praised as a hero for civil rights. Meanwhile, you constantly hear people criticizing others by expressing “speak English,” “this is America,” etc. Fortunately, many of my friends have given me compliments on my English skills and even assume I am Asian American because, allegedly, I barely have any accent. I took it for granted that I never had to deal with unsatisfying customer service because of an accent; my classmates and colleagues value my opinions that are expressed through my fundamental knowledge of English.

However, at the end of the day, Chinese is my native language. I choose not to give up my language on the bus; Rosa Parks did not have to cover her face to earn the bus seat, didn’t she?

I then decided to talk to the bus driver, firmly and aggressively. I said, “Excuse me. I never knew there was a rule that you couldn’t speak Chinese on the bus until today. This is America, where everyone has the equality to speak whatever language she wants to. Don’t tell me what to do when I’m not doing anything wrong.”

I got off the bus before my stop. My cheeks were blushing again and I had goose bumps. The bus driver opened the front door and screamed at me, but I did not hear anything. I was not embarrassed. I was proud.



Lin Yuhan is the Culture and Politics Editor at Wandering Educators, and a college student at the University of Pittsburgh