‘Riverdale’ star Jordan Connor Yuen on why he stopped ‘running away’ from his heritage and reclaimed his Chinese last name

'I feel like I’ve lost a little bit of who I am and my heritage and I just want to get back to that.'
Published May 14, 2021 5:44 p.m. EST
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Riverdale actor Jordan Connor Yuen has been very open and honest about his struggle with embracing his Chinese heritage on social media. Earlier this month, Connor Yuen shared a video to Instagram about his grandmother’s passing and how her final words to him were his Chinese name. 

He said that he felt a lot of guilt because he doesn’t know how to pronounce his own name and he doesn’t remember what it means.

When speaking with Etalk’s Chloe Wilde, Jordan spoke about finally embracing his Chinese heritage and his last name, which he has now included in his professional name.

“A lot of things led up to that, especially with my grandmother. I was posting on social media that she had passed away earlier this year. I think that coupled with a lot of the racism going on surrounding people of Asian heritage has really kind of sparked something in me. I think those are some major factors,” Connor Yuen explained.

He said that his grandmother was the matriarch of his father’s family and she went through a lot coming to Canada.

“They started one of the first Chinese restaurants in Redvers, Saskatchewan. They were the only Chinese family in town and growing up, my dad and his siblings all experienced pretty severe, extreme racism,” he said.

Connor Yuen continued, “For my father to have me and my siblings and for us, to kind of experience similar racism and for that to escalate into what it has now through the COVID-19 pandemic I feel like I can’t really sit silent anymore."

"In order to honour my grandmother's memory I wanted to speak out about it and speak out about who I am, my heritage, in the hopes that it would help others relate.”

The 29-year-old actor added that it’s “pretty silly” racism still exists today but was open and honest about all the time he's spent "running away" from his Chinese heritage before his conscious decision to start embracing it.

He said that growing up in a community that was predominantly white caused him and his family to “stick out.”

“This isn’t to say that all white people are terrible. I have so many Caucasian friends and I’m half Croatian as well so half my family is Chinese and half of my family is white,” he added.

Connor Yuen said he felt it was important to share because he thinks people might assume that he didn’t experience racism or discrimination in his youth.

“Growing up, I think I started running away from my Asian heritage because I’d be called names like ‘chink,’ or ‘chingchong’ or ‘buddha’ or ‘banana boy.’ Just crazy things," he said.

"I remember there’s one pretty severe incident. I remember coming home and someone had spray-painted on our garage door, ‘Go back to China.’ That stuff was happening in the late ‘90s. I can’t even imagine what it was like for my dad and his family in the ‘70s,” Connor Yuen shared.

The Hospital Show actor said the reason why he dropped his last name and went by Jordan Connor stemmed from the racist incidents he dealt with growing up.

“Part of growing up for me was hiding the fact that I was Chinese, hiding the fact that I was Asian or that I was different. Also, being mixed race, people didn’t really know what I was. They thought I was Latino or they thought I was First Nations or Native American. To me as a child, it seemed like, sadly, almost better to be anything other than Asian because Asian was what I was being made fun of.”

Connor Yuen said when he first started acting, he went by Jordan Connor Yuen and it was “pretty difficult” for him to break into the industry.

“I would often go out for [the roles of] 'Asian guy' or 'tech computer character' or a 'nerd character' because there were all these stereotypes surrounding Asian males. I’d also even go out — and I think this is still a thing today — I would go out a lot for 'the gay friend.' I think part of that is there is some discrimination against seeing men of Asian descent in a leading romantic role or as masculine.”

He revealed that when he changed his name to Jordan Connor, it was “an immediate flip.”

“I started going out for bigger roles; I started going out for leading roles; I started getting more work. As sad as it was for me to leave this piece of me behind, it was also like ‘Oh, great. I’m working now so this must be a good thing,’” he remembered.

That’s when he stopped talking about his Asian heritage and tried to hide the fact that he is half Chinese.

“In that process, I feel like I’ve lost a little bit of who I am and my heritage and I just want to get back to that. I want people to know that you can do anything and be anything if you’re Asian. There shouldn’t be this discrimination,” Connor Yuen said.

The actor said he thinks it’s “about time” that the entertainment industry steps up and becomes more inclusive.

“There are so many more stories that need to be told as our country progresses and as America progresses. There are more and more people being born, kids that I see younger than me, like, being born of mixed descent, being mixed race. I think they are starting to open up about that but there are a ton of stories that should be told and I think it’s about time the entertainment industry caught up, especially the film and television industry.”

He says that there is still a long way to go, referencing the feeling of “inclusivity for the purpose of inclusivity.”

“Just to fill a quota of people of mixed race or POC and so, I think we have a long way to go in simply telling stories that are personal to people of colour… I think what’s happening now is definitely a change towards growth and towards inclusion, true inclusion. But I think more than ever now is the time to start creating stories about diverse people,” Connor Yuen added.

Jordan also has a message to anyone who witnesses Anti-Asian racism. "If we see violence or if we see something that we don't agree with or that we want to stand up against, instead of waiting for somebody else to do it — and I know it's really scary — but stepping up and saying something is what's really going to help put this racism and discrimination behind us."

 

BEFORE YOU GO: Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice releases 'Open Eyes' for Asian Heritage Month

[video_embed id='2200552']BEFORE YOU GO: Chinese Canadian National Council for Social Justice releases 'Open Eyes' for Asian Heritage Month[/video_embed]