Tag Archive | Identity

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


What It Means to Be Asian American??!

Last Saturday (4/17/10) I attended NYCAASC- NYC Asian American Student Conference at the Kimmel Student Life Center.  All NYC university students organized and attended this educational get-together.  My friend Joseph has been on the committee, so he suggested I attend.  And so I did.  I do not think I really socialized with other Asians, but I certainly had my day’s worth of Brundin and education.

This year’s theme was “Change in Motion,” whatever that deeply means.  The keynote speaker was Miriam Yeung, a rather enthusiastic, resounding, and witty woman.  She started asking the audience to respond to the veracity of Asian stereotypes:

1. Asian parents have dreams for their children to be doctors (similarly, lawyer or business leader). She herself listened to her parents and reached as far as taking the MCATs before realizing what she wanted to pursue in life.  And me? I will be a doctor b/c that’s my life’s passion.

2. All Asians look alike… Who has ever been confused with another Asian? Well, that certainly has happened in high school when there were only at most 4 Asian kids in my classes.  Plus, my sister still gets confused with me with my ol’ teachers.  Damn it, NOT ALL ASIANS ARE CLONES.

3. Parents think you are too young to understand… Yes, my parents, particularly my mother, thinks I’m her child forever and I will not survive as an adult in the scary grown-up world.

4. Asian families came to America as immigrants. Most students who raised their hands were 2nd generation, hence ABCs (American Born Chinese).  In my family, my parents immigrated between the 70s-80s.  My father came over from Taiwan when he was 18 y/o to pursue a Bachelor’s degree.  My mother did not come until she started writing letters and dating my father, after which marriage and citizenship followed.  I like to kid around that my mother used my father to escape Communist China and seek opportunities in America.

Anyway, it’s still very horrible and disgraceful that the US passed the Chinese Exclusion Act back in the 1800s to bar the immigration of the Chinese.  It was not uplifted until much later in the mid-1900s.  Still, it still resonates and sends shockwaves that a liberty-loving US could be capable of such discrimination and negative action.

5. Asian families encourage Americanization.  TRUE THAT… While my father does not really care, my mother definitely does.  I guess, she really did not like her experiences in Communist China back in the day. She looks down on my learning to read Chinese characters and growing interest in traditional/cultural values and pursuits.  AND she really wants my sister and I to marry a white dude (uh, I prefer Asian, but I’m totally open… just don’t want to be pressured like that). Hey, I may be ABC, but that does not stop me from staying in touch with my ancestral roots.

6. Asian guys are feminized and nerdy… This is funny, but there’s a hint of truth.  Take my dad- he watches romantic dramas, he’s passive compared to my mother, and he likes to carry a man-purse like Joey on FRIENDS.  I do not think it’s a big deal, American society still remains sexist.  Boys have to be strong, muscular, and dominant.  If guys are too thin, they don’t give off the “man” feel. And what’s wrong with some intelligence and nerdy chic glasses?  Well, I used to be the opposite, the typical, rebellious tomboy, until about late adolescence.  Only then did I start paying attention to my looks and wearing pretty dresses and sandals.

7. Asians are math wizzes... No comment.  Asians are human calculators.  Just try using my dad.

End note:  There are plenty of other stereotypes out there (like how Asians are such posers- a really funny one).  Why pick on and stereotype Asians!  We’ve been brought up with hints of traditional undertones and heritage.  We work hard to reach our goals and we strive high.  Yes, our parents can be difficult and nagging, but they love us at a higher level.  We unconditionally follow filial piety and respect our families until there’s no room left in our pumping heart chambers.  We were given the gift of our very existence, so we honor and love our parents from beginning to end.  We’ve been trained play with calculators early on and master the SATs to get into brand-name universities.  Families have immigrated or escaped harder lives to carve the path for the future generation.  I do believe these beliefs and values still hover over families today, no matter how much we try to assimilate.

A few more notes from Dr. Yeung’s speech.  She was different.  She became an activist.  She came out as a lesbian to her parents, who initially disapproved.  She became depressed after her parents’ failed to accept their beloved daughter.  However, she matured and became a role model.  Here were some of her messages:

1. BE ACTIVE:  Asian Americans come together to form a bridge, one between cultures, languages, values, and futures.  ABCs understand both English and Asian languages.  I have been the translator around the house for a number of years, answering phone calls and communicating with strangers or salespeople.  We are the connection between immigrants and the future.  We still face constant stereotypes, so we need to take a stand for ourselves in today’s ever-diversifying global community.

2. Again, Asian families in America are preoccupied with becoming Americans.  It’s all about what Americans like to do and then adapting likewise.  At the same time, we need to keep in mind our unique identity and hold on to our special history and heritage.

3. You have to be your own person and not just the “perfect” child to make parents happy.  It’s the 21st century… times have changed.  Besides, America is all about freedom, liberty, and activism.

4. We have more work to undo sexism, racism, and discrimination. It’s still out there, and it can get ugly… Next blog about the South Philadelphia High School assaults.

5. Again, BE ACTIVE!  It’s the least you can do for yourself and the future of Asia-America.