ID please…

This entry is a continuation of yesterday’s blog.

One workshop I attended was very fascinating.  It was titled “Being Multiracial, Multiethnic, Multilingual:  Asian-descent in the Age of Obama.”  I loved the speaker, Dr. Teresa Williams-Leon, who happens to be Japanese-Caucasian.  She was engaging, energetic, and charismatic.  She was there to discuss her research in multiethnic groups, such as whether different classes of half-Asians associate with one particular half or not. However, multi-___ research reveals the dynamic intricacies of life.  Coming out is not a clean break; people are subject to social pressures and numerous influences.

A proper definition of stereotype is a distortion of reality, resulting in preconceived (often exaggerated) notions.  According to Dr. Teresa’s research, multiracial people are influenced by class, parents, phenotype, country, gender, etc…  Interestingly, she found that there is a tendency to be closer to positive stereotypes.  For instance, in Asian-Hispanics, there is a shift to lean towards the Latino side based on physical appearances and some more negative stereotypes linked to Asians.  However, with age, there is greater flexibility and longitudinal progression in identity development and acceptance; there’s less of a “stuck” feeling.  There is more opening up to previous identities.

Thus, we have parameters when we interact with people.  We have expectations and naturally fall victim to generating stereotypes.  And yet, when we get to know people, we learn about the individual.  Clearly, we cannot just simply assume and be right all the time.

Of course, we touched upon just a few major Asian stereotypical features:  technologically superior (think Mitsubishi, Nissan, Honda, Samsung, Nokia, Japanese toilets!, Chinese electric fly swatter, Taiwan’s MRT subway that beats NYC rat-infested lines, etc…), trustworthy, passive, modest, hard-working, money-making (DLB-Doctor-Lawyer-Business alliance), etc…

To finish up, we looked at multi-ethnic famous people.  For instance, Barack Obama himself is African-Caucasian.  AND, he is as close to an Asian president as America has seen, since his step-father originated from Indonesia.  Then there are also Tiger Woods, Kimora Lee, the awesome Apolo Ohno, and the playboy husband Jon of Jon&Kate duo.  Tiger Woods has viewed himself as unique as a “Caublasian,” with connections to variety of classes and cultures.  Kimora looks like a really tall and tan Asian lady, but on television, she comes off as assimilating well with the hip-hop community; and yet, she does incorporate oriental themes in her fashion and names for her children.  Clearly, racial identity is complicated and highly variable…

For me, I’m not multi-racial; I’m just another ABC who’s had multi-lingual skills.  A fill-in-the blank exercise we had to try was this:  Although I seem ___ people don’t know that I’m ___.  Okay, this can be a fun activity to play on this blog.

1. Although I seem Chinese, people don’t know that I’m illiterate.  That is, I can only speak and listen to Mandarin, but I never learned to read or write. As Dr. Yeung mentioned in her keynote speech, how can a person know so much about a language, and yet be illiterate.  People have complimented on my developed Mandarin, with a few funny pronunciation differences that’s more due to my parents’ backgrounds.  But, I cannot read or write, except for my name (eh, what’s the use of that when I have a legal, English name).  My mom has said, “What do you need reading and writing anyway? You’re in America, you need English!”  Well, I’d like to travel and perhaps try working some time in Asia; it’s still my homeland, history-wise.  I’ve had limited opportunities to visit and work in China or Taiwan or other Asian areas, but I’d like to incorporate some more time during my medical career.  Hence, for the past 2 years of revitalizing my heritage, I’ve picked up more Mandarin via KTV (yes, I watch Jay Chou MVs to sharpen my reading), dramas, and news.  Yes, funky alternative to Chinese school.

2. Although I seem Chinese, people don’t know that I’m also Taiwanese. It’s a touchy subject, it’s controversial, it’s sensitive.  It’s become a political debate and alliance nightmare, nearly to the point of military threat a few years back.  My mother’s Shanghainese, my father’s Taiwanese (with roots near Shanghai)… I joke with my friends, I might as well say I’m floating in the South China Sea somewhere.  I’ve had influences from both ends.  Just listen to me talk in Mandarin, and you will deem my speaking funny.  Sometimes I sound ABC, other times I say words TW way or Shanghainese way.  Each dialect is different around China/Taiwan/elsewhere, and native speakers pick up your ethnicity very easily.

My sister saw a commercial on Sino TV and it showed a bunch of Asian students preparing for those summer enrichment classes and acing the SATs.  One kid said, “Next time on your application, check off other and write Taiwanese…”  Yes, TW pride is sky high and it’s affecting me.  If you look at my music choices and drama selections, you’ll see where my loyalties land =D

3 thoughts on “ID please…

  1. Hello it’s me again! I didn’t notice your new post!

    I think there are a lot of people like you out there … like me! I can speak and listen to cantonese (I’m from Hong Kong) but I can’t read or write. I’ve also taken many classes to try and learn but it is SO difficult. Most Chinese people are very shocked when they find out I can’t read or write my own language. I guess it’s really frowned upon and like you I’m hoping to go back to Asia to work because that’s where I feel like I should be but it’s so difficult when you’re illiterate in the local language.

    It must be tough being a Chinese and a Taiwanese. Once I accidently said “but we’re all Chinese” to a Taiwanese friend of mine. I didn’t even think about it before I said it and I didn’t mean any harsh feelings but things quickly got very heated even after I apologized. What I was thinking was “we are all Asian” but what came out was we are all “Chinese” and to me who hasn’t experienced the history and doesn’t really understand the politics it’s really difficult to fully grasp the situation.

    I feel like there’s a lot of racism in China. Especially in Hong Kong where people identify as “Hong Kongers” and not “Chinese”. It’s just like that commercial you mentioned … even when you buy things online they separate Hong Kong from China so it’s really ingrained in everything and everywhere. Just like you see something that says “Made in China” and people immediately think “low quality or cheap labor” unlike “Made in Italy” which projects a completely different image.

    Great post! Those illustrations really says it all.

  2. LOL, I had a fun time writing this one, and finding the pictures!

    I think we’re both in the same boat with other Asian Americans here. It’s great to hear that you want to touch base with your roots as well. I think it’s a great way to stay connected and involved with who you are. And we’re in a better position to understand multiple cultures and communicate with a range of people.

    I believe my cousins were sent to Chinese school to learn to read and write, but my parents did not think it was necessary. My mom especially thought it sufficed to speak and listen to Mandarin. But it wasn’t until recently when I attended college did I get more exposure to other people from my background. Then, I thought, “I can be more in touch with myself instead of hiding,” b/c in my old community, it was pretty undiversified and white. Now, I have a range of friends as well as interests, one of them being learning Mandarin (and other languages) through entertainment. When I volunteer at the hospital, I’ve been able to communicate with patients in Mandarin, b/c otherwise, they’d have trouble asking questions and getting the care they need. So I do believe I’m in an influential position to understand and connect with other Asians. I hope to continue building that.

    I also have a number of Taiwanese friends, and most connect themselves in that direction, though most of us are ABCs. It’s interesting how touchy the topic can be, but I’m smack in the middle so I can go both ways. That’s all political stuff I get bored with lol. But same thing with HK people, they also find pride within themselves, which is amazing as well. I do believe in sovereignty in those few states, b/c the idealism and the cultural unity is so different from China. It’s also true that the “made in China” label does strike up the image of laboring workers, as my mother used to be among that working class before she escaped the misery she was in. Perhaps my family upbringing has influenced me greatly, but I’m glad to hear from your end as well.

    And again, when I classify “Asian” it’s multifaceted. I have Korean, Chinese, Taiwanese, Cantonese friends… but to us, it’s easier to group together b/c we still bond very well on many different levels. We also learn from each other, including similar types of cuisines or fashion trends or what we watch in dramas… I think that matters, instead of thinking it as racism. Now it would be racism if someone thinks all Asians do this or look this way… that’s just wrong.

  3. Haha funny that you mentioned dramas because I also watch a lot of “Asian” dramas because of my friends from different cultures. I LOVE Japanese dramas and music from Taiwan 😛 In fact I’ll be in Taiwan again in June for the Jay Chou concert!!

    Anyway, I just wanted to comment what you said: “it would be racism if someone thinks all Asians do this or look this way… that’s just wrong.” I totally agree. On that note, I was directed to a blog called “The Asian of Reason” by my professor and I saw an entry about the “Variability in the Physical Attractiveness of East Asians.” I was quite insulted and you might see my comment on the bottom but obviously no one took note of what I said nor did they question their racist mindset. If you have time, take a look:

    And thanks so much for your replies!!

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