Friday, September 02, 2011


(Seeing Louis CK at the Sydney Opera House this boss.)

I'm finally getting around to reading a book that's been on my list for a while: Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama.

Though I'm just a few chapters in, the book has already caused so many thoughts to swirl around in my head that I need to write them out somewhere. These first few chapters deal mainly with Obama's realisation and journey through reconciliation with his mixed race identity as an adolescent. While I can't say I entirely relate, I can mark parallels with having a mixed race upbringing and mixed culture/minority upbringing.

There was an exchange between Obama and an old man named Frank that was pretty powerful:

"You can't blame Stan for what he is," Frank said quietly. "He's basically a good man. But he doesn't know me. Any more than he knew that girl that looked after your mother. He can't know me, not the way I know him. Maybe some of these Hawaiians can, or the Indians on the reservation. They've seen their fathers humiliated. Their mothers desecrated. But your grandfather will never know what that feels like. That's why he can come over here and drink my whiskey and sleep in that chair you're sitting in right now. Sleep like a baby. See, that's something I can never do in his house. Never. Doesn't matter how tired I get, I still have to watch myself. I have to be vigilant, for my own survival."

Being a minority isn't something you think much about yourself when you're younger, it's more along the lines of being reminded you're a minority either by your parents or your peers, though YMMV (your mileage may vary.) You'll always remember the first time you were called a racist slur or your physical characteristics mocked, because it's always a shock. Here you have a kid or two living in the same neighbourhood, speaking the same language, going to the same school, and because your skin colour isn't one they're accustomed to, they mock you. What the fuck? Then they pull your eyes back and speak in a gibberish language they think sounds Asian...for no other reason except that they can, because they have power in numbers.

Fuck you, wonder your country is broke (jk)

Except when they don't.

Side story:

In college, my fraternity was throwing one of our awesome house parties (no really, it was 3 floors of awesome) and I was stuck on keg duty. The keg was in our kitchen, and we had a huge counter separating the kitchen from our living room walkway. I'm behind the counter and I have over two dozen people waving their red cups in my face over the counter while I'm filling up their beers and I'm telling them to chill out and that I'll get to them. Our parties were pretty diverse; we had Asians (of course,) Latinos, African Americans, and white people on a consistent basis. So I'm filling cups one by one whilst talking to people, and this white guy says out loud "Hey! Konichiwa! Konichiwa! Fill up my cup Jap!" I stopped, glowered at him and yelled at the top of my lungs for him to get the fuck out of here. He refused the budge, so I smacked the cup away from his hand, cleared the area and told some bros we had to "escort" him out. We "escorted" him out swiftly.

I don't know if this still happens as frequently today, as racism/discrimination doesn't seem as prevalent...but kids in school might have a different perspective.

Walking stereotypes rule

I'm sure these childhood incidents could have played out differently had I been more assertive, had more self-respect, if my father taught me how to deal with these things, or there were more Asians around. Who knows, the past is the past and it's made me who I am today. But because it's mainly due to ignorance, it's not something you want to hold onto since it can cause you to become jaded about people of different ethnic backgrounds in the future. It's just weird when it comes from other minorities, since you'd expect them to understand what it's like to be discriminated against or called a racial slur. However, it is something you do hold onto and causes you to seethe with anger when you hear these things happening to your parents.

It's a huge WTF moment. My parents moved from their native country to the land of the free, to seek opportunities to better their lives and their childrens' lives. The culture is vastly different from East Asian culture, their families and friends are thousands of miles away, and English isn't their first they're not going to have a walk in the park compared to others born and bred in America with generations of family lines. So when you hear about someone criticizing/mocking their accent, or potential nepotism occurring when promotions are handed out when you know they're trying their hardest, it makes you want to deck someone.

I'm a bit of a hypocrite though, because I totally hate on FOBs...but only the FOBs that refuse to integrate. I think it's funny when I think to myself that they should learn how to speak English, or GTFO of my country. The irony of the thought is funny, since this technically isn't my country...not the thought itself. That's racist...because if I'm Asian and think this, what do white people think? Anyway, why go to a country to study or work, and then associate only with people from your native country? If the official language of a country is English, then learn how to speak some damn English! I get that familiarity breeds comfort, but if you're planning to spend the rest of your life in a foreign country but you refuse to participate in it, you're just leeching off that country. It's also grounds to develop an Us vs. Them mentality, which further causes tensions in the greater community because no one talks to one another or makes an effort to develop an understanding of what other cultures are all about.

I'm guilty of this as stated in a previous post, except instead of mainly hanging out with Taiwanese, it's Asians I hang out with. I'm working on it. It can be difficult because familiarity really does breed comfort. Asian Americans, or even Aussie Asians, know what it's like growing up as a minority with two vastly different backgrounds: Western and Eastern. On the one hand, your parents teach you virtues synonymous with Asian culture and on the other hand your peers and the entertainment you consume growing up is all westernised, unless you submerse yourself in Asian entertainment. These people can relate to your issues of trying to establish your identity and relate to your experiences with racism/discrimination, making it a little bit easier to get along with them. White people, unless actively seeking company of other Asians only know what's presented to them through the media, so while they think they might know, they really don't. (Side note, there are TONS of cute Asian FOB girls in Sydney, but I'm utterly disinterested in Asian pop culture or that FOB "look"...pale skin is gross. Inasmuch, I've very westernised and hate the whole "cute" act.)


Back to what Frank said. I know westernised culture, I've lived it my whole life. But people on the other side will never know what it's like, unless of course, they move to an Asian country (Asians are pretty damn racist.) So when I think about friendships and relationships, I find it's a little easier to engage with others who share the same Asian American background; but that shouldn't be the only reason you're friends with someone or start a conversation with someone right? That makes you just as racist as someone who ignores you because of you're Asian. It's a balancing act...especially if you want to diversify your relationships. But it makes sense I guess... though it's funny how when a white person tries to befriend Asians they get labelled with things like Yellow Fever, or Anime Freak, or something along those lines...but when an Asian tries to befriend white people they're not given any labels, except from other Asians...twinkie comes to mind. Way to go guys! Can't we all just get along?

Venturing into this topic elicits my thoughts on serious interracial dating but I'll save that for another post.


At September 3, 2011 at 1:23 AM , Blogger Inside the Life of an Art Center Transporation Design Student said...

Haven't gotten around to read Obama's book yet, but seeing as how I spend 4 hours in my car everyday, I might look into getting an audio version of it. Apparently, Obama reads the book to you, so there's a handful of choice sentences you'll hear in his voice.

I agree with your post completely. As far as immigrant Asians slow assimilate, LA would be the epitome of this phenomenon.

Hope you're doing well in Australia - How's the construction market there? :)



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