the water got high and she never got dry

Tuesday, February 07, 2006

also, dude, chinaman is not the preferred nomenclature

One of my deeper, darker wishes as a child was to have big blue eyes. I never really wanted to be blonde, but what I would have given for big baby blues.

As woefully outnumbered as I was by white classmates, I didn’t have much appreciation for my Asian eyes and their pesky epicanthic folds. I definitely had a bit of the classic “Why does nobody around me or on TV look like me” identity crisis.

I hated being asked where I was from and this loathing increased the older I got. “Texas? But no, really, where are you from?” No really, I’m from Texas.

I’m not all that skilled with chopsticks. I get by, but unless it’s sushi, I’m just as happy to use a fork, something that earns a lot of good-natured ribbing from friends. What can I say, as the very model of an assimilated Asian-American, I didn’t use chopsticks at home and at restaurants, they weren’t a novelty item to me.

The ex-boy and some old friends liked to say that they didn’t even think of me as Asian, I didn’t give them a hard time about it, because I knew they meant well – that they didn’t see me as their Asian friend or girlfriend, they just saw me. But sometimes it bothered me to hear the ex-boy say that. I am indeed Asian, so what does it mean to not see that?

When it comes to race and gender matters, the ex-boy used to joke about how militant I was. This also bugged me. I don’t think I qualify as militant because I care about race and gender relations, nor does it make him a bad person that as a white male, he had absolutely no perspective on the minority experience.

I find it interesting what things make me laugh as opposed to cringe, when my skin is thin versus thick. Why does it bug me when someone is needlessly and arbitrarily referred to as “Chinese” instead of “Asian”? Do they really know the person was Chinese, not Japanese or Korean? A lot of the time, I can’t tell just by looking.

An ex-friend once made a crack behind my back about how I never seemed to find her Asian fetish comments funny. Talk about “yellow fever” was a big thing in college, it certainly didn’t help that there were two other white guy-Asian girl couples in our group. “I wish that I was Asian, but only so that I could get a boyfriend.” One of my least favorite comments ever. A friend of the ex-boy’s first comment to him after meeting me? “I didn’t know you dug Asian.” My impression of this guy never improved over the years.

But at the same time, my friend M, who is an equal-opportunity spouter of outrageous and un-P.C. things, completely fails to offend me with his over the top jokes about Asians. And after the first guilty laugh, “Supplies!” cracks me up every time.

I’m very conscious of stereotypes and one of my unfortunate quirks is the almost personal sense of embarrassment or chagrin when either a TV character or a real life stranger conforms to an Asian caricature, whether it be a horde of Japanese tourists or a waitress who speaks broken English or goofy William Hung being the unattractive, asexual Asian guy. I think I feel a sense of wanting to distinguish myself from them – “See I’m All-American and speak perfect English, I’m not like that at all!” This is something I still struggle to overcome.

My parents made the executive decision when my brother and I were young that it would be too difficult raising us to be bilingual. They couldn’t possibly have known that my brother and I are both really good at picking up other languages, or how many times they’d have to utter a disclaimer about our not speaking the language when introducing us to other Koreans, or how much I wish I could have retained that part of my heritage. I suffered from that common problem of not fitting in with non-Asians because of how I looked but not fitting in with other Koreans and even family members because I was too Americanized and didn’t even speak the language.

Just as this post is a bit of a hodgepodge of thoughts, so is my racial identity composed of bits and pieces from both cultures that I am still trying to knit together.

And I’ve learned to love my eyes.

4 Old Comments:

Wow.

Can I relate to this post. Being a fourth generation Japanese American has been perplexing at times. I'm so far removed from Japanese culture, yet still feel very entitled to defend it and to practice certain aspects of it.

I remember clearly one time at dinner with my folks and my dad yelled at me for not using chopsticks. This came from left field, seeing as it, my parents never actually taught me to use them or enforced it at home. But ever since then, I make an effort to use them when eating out at Chinese, Korean or Japanese restaurants.

I understand that weird line of what's considered funny and what's insensitive. It doesn't help that sometimes it seems acceptable coming from certain people and not others.

My brother had a weird experience with a represenative from UCLA and I blurted out, "was he white???", in front of my white boyfriend. It felt really wrong.

Anyway, I appreciate this post and agree...I've learned to love my eyes too.

By Blogger Bittersweet, at 9:07 AM  

i appreciate this post as well--growing up in a small town and being chinese, i looked different from everyone else, but i didn't understand why.

my bf is white, too. he likes to use chopsticks more than i do.

By Blogger Sub Girl, at 2:40 PM  

I think this is one of your best posts. Thanks for sharing.

By Blogger Ms. Charisma, at 9:51 PM  

bittersweet and sub girl:
One thing that is nice is knowing that I am far from alone in this, I know a lot of Asian Americans go through the same thing. Knowing it's a shared experience helps.

Thanks, august.

By Blogger felicity, at 10:07 AM