Category Archives: Asian

Asian Attraction, Part 3

Another two installments of the “seeking asian female” series called “They’re All So Beautiful” has hit YouTube.

Here’s the third episode:

This one is interesting as it asks Asian men to join the conversation about Asian-Caucasian couplings. Some Asian men express frustration in the attraction that Asian women have for Caucasian men. In response, an Asian woman says that dating an Asian man would be “like dating my brother.” Personally, I have felt the same and refer to my two best, male Asian friends as my “Big Brother” and my “Little Brother.”

In addition, one man described Asian women in this way (I believe my husband could attest to this.), “quite belligerent, demanding, controlling, and not afraid to say what is on their [sic] mind … not afraid to act independently on what they feel.” This completely contradicts the first installment that asked Caucasian men what they sought in Asian women.

The most disturbing segment of this video (in minute 4:43) is the Caucasian women’s subtleties in descriptive language of Asian women.  These two women continue to describe the couplings as “white males and Asian girls,” and “Asian girls looking for white men.” Why refer to other women as “girls”? Demeaning, belittling, and just plain name-calling, in my opinion.

Installment four goes like this:

Here we dig further into the attraction that Asian women have for Caucasian men. The culture card comes up here. Stereotypes are being flung to all parties … Asian men, Caucasian men, Asian women!

One Asian woman says that what attracts her to Caucasian men is that they are independent (exactly what an Asian man called Asian women). Now we’re getting somewhere.

We learn that the highest percentage of interracial marriages are made up by Asian women married to Caucasian men. There it is. My love for my husband plays into a statistic that proves this Asian fixation.

Thankfully, Dr. Benjamin Tong, Professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies, comes to our rescue, saying:

“Love has nothing to do with selling out on a people, has nothing to do with disloyalty. Love is something that simply happens between two people, and it can cross gender and race lines … ”

I needed that, Dr. Tong, on this, our eighteenth wedding anniversary. Love is love.

Asian Attraction, Part 2

The documentarian who is producing “seeking asian female” has also produced some short video studies of the Asian attraction.  Her first goes like this:

The studies look into the term “yellow fever.” The fever refers to something one cannot control. Elaine Kim, a UC Berkeley Asian American Studies professor puts it this way, “Part of it has to do with a fascination with something that seems totally different … even physiologically different.”

A young woman is interviewed here who has dated men who have this “yellow fever.” She laments, “Can you not tell me to change my race? I can do anything else but that!” I wanted to sit down with her and say, “Don’t change anything about yourself. Just find the person who loves you for yourself!”

What are we doing? Why do women feel the need to change themselves? Why must Asian women scrutinize love for fear that it is a fetish?

In the second study, she addresses whether only white men have Asian fetishes.

Words that describe Asians?  Exotic, petite, gracious, have a level of maturity, sweet, beautiful.  The author of The Asian Mystique, Sheridan Prasso hits the nail on the head, saying, “Everyone has something that turns them on, and there is nothing wrong with that … what is wrong is when it crosses a line into expectations with behavior.”

But the quote I most reacted to is this one from Dr. Benjamin Tong, Professor at the California Institute of Integral Studies,

“What fixed images tend to be prevalent in fixed communities? It would be the case that in the white community, ‘Latina women are hot, difficult to control, exotic as well, but they’re fiery, ’ ‘Asian women are more controllable; they live to please,’ ‘Black women, wow. They’re too powerful. Watch out for the Super Mama! She’s really the boss in this house.’ That might sound corny, talking like that, but in everyday language, you still hear these things.”

As an Asian American with Puerto Rican roots, I do not feel that I fit any of these white perceptions of my race. If you asked my husband, I’m sure he would tell you that I am strong-willed and certainly not submissive or controllable. In my Puerto Rican family, we have a term for such a woman. Strong women who love life, are Gonzo Girls. We relish it, celebrate it, and live it.

We spend too much time compartmentalizing people. I suppose it is human nature to make sense of ourselves by generalizing and grouping. We live in a world that wants facts, data and percentages. I argue that we are far more than that.

The faces we are born to wear …

As I have been reading research on transracial adoptees, I am realizing that while we have similar stories to share, we also have widely varying views on adoptions. Logically, we are different people and no two of us are alike.

The interesting thing for me, is that my feelings about race align more with my first generation Asian friends (as introduced here) than with Asian adoptees.

My first generation Asian friends, Adrienne and Katherine, were Asian minorities in their childhood communities, much like me. Adrienne blogs about her small town experience:

“The moment I first appeared on the playground of my new elementary school, the noisy chatter and laughter of children at play abruptly ceased, as if someone had pushed a magic mute button. Feverish whispering closely followed the eerie hush that had suddenly descended upon the playground. Little blond heads leaned in close together as the children conferred with each other in obvious bewilderment and consternation at the appearance of this alien in their midst. Innocently, they tried to work out how my face got so very flat, whether my eyes hurt all the time, or whether one would eventually get used to the pain of having eyes like mine … ” (Read the full post here.)

Katherine recalls her childhood in this way:

“When I was growing up my grandmother used to say to me, “You may feel like you are just like them, but no matter how you feel, you will never look like them.”

I was born in the U.S., the daughter of two Asian immigrants who came here in the 1960s for graduate school. My parents disagreed on the extent of our assimilation into American culture: my father spoke to me only in English while my mother spoke to me primarily in her native tongue. My father was more adventurous in terms of eating non-Asian foods; my mother was less so. For me, there was no question—I felt 100% American and wanted to be just like the other kids, and anything that set me apart from them was a source of burning embarrassment. I begged my mother to cook American dinners like macaroni and cheese and spaghetti and meatballs, buy me the same kinds of clothes and shoes that the other kids wore, and fiercely resisted her attempts to teach me any other language that was not English. Every day at school, and while playing in the neighborhood, I saw only white children—and after a while I assumed I was one of them.

But I wasn’t. Some kids would make faces at me, pulling at their eyes until they were all squinty, pretend to speak Chinese, and laugh. Some would tease me and ask me to “say something Chinese” as if I was some kind of circus freak show. And of course there was the “Chinese, Japanese, dirty knees…” taunt that was said in a sing song-y voice. It seemed like every time I started to forget that I was different, I was reminded that indeed I was. Only when I went to college in New York City and saw first hand the incredible amount of diversity did I realize what I was:  a banana. Yellow on the outside, white on the inside.

I’ve lost track of the number of times an Asian person has approached me and started speaking to me in Chinese, assuming that I’m fluent in Chinese because of how I look.  On fewer occasions, I’ve had Caucasian people compliment me on how well I speak English, assuming that English was not my native language because of how I look. Time and time again I’m reminded of the potential disconnect between how I perceive myself and how others may perceive me. All people face this problem to some extent, but for first-generation children of immigrants who are caught between two cultures and who grew up without the benefit of racial diversity—the problem becomes especially complicated.”

Adrienne, Katherine and I are very proud Asian women. I stress the word, “women” because as I have written about in the post The Ideal Beauty, I believe some of our past insecurities stemmed from the portrayal of girls and women in the media. When young girls are exposed to blond bombshells (think Cinderella, Barbie and the girls of Teen and Seventeen magazine), we and our non-Asian peers believe that is what we should be. Asians are virtually absent from our American media culture.

My mother was fully aware of the one-sided representations. She made sure I had Asian dolls, including dolls from Japan, Korea, Vietnam and of course the Asian baby doll.

Notice, however, that my little sister clutches a blond doll. While my sister is half Caucasian, she is also half Puerto Rican. In the 1970s, there weren’t many brunette dolls, let alone Hispanic ones. My sister clutched her blond dolls until the introduction of the Darcy dolls, sporting not only a blond, but a brunette and a red-head.

While we all had our struggles with our identities, I believe that every person, adopted or not, struggles with his or her appearance intensely through adolescence and continually throughout life. Each person also resolves personal struggles in his or her unique way.
I enjoy the fact that I can text Adrienne and Katherine my photos of Asian market wares, only to find that we are having parallel experiences. (See Adrienne’s funny photographic tale here.) Their mothers are teaching them, and in turn, they teach me.

Adrienne’s parents inspire her and me. Her recent post summed up her feelings:

“At times I’ve felt like this was more their country than my own, even though I was born and raised here. Thanks to my patriotic parents, I’ve attended schools and have hung out with people who have tended to regard patriotism with suspicion – as something corny and anachronistic. I think it was only when I began to travel abroad that I realized how very much I do appreciate this country and how much there is to love about it.

‘THAT’S America,’ where nothing is impossible and where there are people hard at work making sure wrongs are eventually righted, and where there is a process to ensure that they are. That’s my parents’ America, and I’m glad to be living in it too.”

Yes, and in this country, we can freely be who we want to be … say things as we choose … even experience other cultures. That’s our America!

Love is enough.

The subtitle for Barb Lee’s Adopted film is “When love is not enough …”.  What kind of love is she talking about here?

I argue that love is enough.

The love I know came in the form of handmade, Korean clothes for me and my entire brownie troop. That love also displayed all my Asian dolls on shelves in my room.

That love stood between me and the bullies who hurled their personal insults and attacks at her.

That love forgot that I couldn’t bear her red-headed grandchildren.

That love wore small, silver Korean shoes (Hwahye) on her charm bracelet.

That love cried as hard as I did on the day I moved to Rwanda, shortly after my wedding.

That love wrote letters almost daily and sent them across the ocean to a post box in Kigali.

That love’s eyes twinkled the first day they set their sights on her first grandson … this, despite the fact that her lips were silenced by a stroke.

That love worked tirelessly to be able to have this moment with her first grandchild.

She left us twelve years ago on this day. But her love is here and growing in me, my sister and our children. Her love will forever be with us, and that is enough.

Gangnam Style makes us all feel Korean … or not.

Today, Gangnam Style, a video by the artist PSY has hit more than 835 million views. It is the most watched video of our time.

Interestingly, this video on its own has opened up the Korean culture to mainstream. As a middle-aged woman, I first heard about this song at the ChuSeok celebration this past September. At which time, my twelve-year-old son gave me the “Seriously, Mom, you haven’t heard this?” look.

So now, it has finally reached my sphere and entered Glee. This week, the Glee cast will perform their version of this song.

The question this brings to my mind is “How does Jenna Ushkowitz feel in all this?” The actress is a Korean adoptee, like myself. From this snippet, it appears that she feels somewhat out of place trying to learn the correct Korean pronunciation.

Here is a glimpse of what we all as Asian adoptees feel at some point in our lives. We desperately feel that we are just like any other American. Yet, we are lumped in the Asian category, and in Ushkowitz case, we are typecast as the Asian student … overachiever, dating within our race, going to “Asian” camp.

We aren’t as simplified as that, but the media portrays us all as stereotypes to some degree. To be fair, Glee works in these stereotypes for all its characters.

I’ll sit back this week and enjoy the Glee version of Gangnam Style with Jenna Ushkowitz giving it her best Korean performance! Perhaps we will see more character development as well.

So, it’s hip to be Korean, at least to dance to Gangnam Style!

Hapa

Living in Rwanda, my husband experienced something I had felt for a long time.

He could not hide the fact that he was different. When we were in the market, kids and adults would point and whisper (though he could hear), “Wazungu,” Kinyarwandan for “white person.” It was disconcerting.

As I have written, two Korean adoptee women have entered my life and are teaching me a little more about myself. They each adopted two Korean children, something for which I admire them deeply. In the process, one of them said her husband mentioned that the tables had been reversed once they visited Korea. In Korea, he couldn’t hide his race. His wife, on the other hand, could finally blend in.

I have spent a good portion of my life trying to blend in and secretly wishing to meet someone as confused by race as myself. On the one hand, I wanted to be seen as white or Puerto Rican. On the other hand, I wanted validation that being Asian was okay. As a teen in the 80s, I searched Teen magazine for Asian models. There were few, maybe one every few months in the Teen Model Search finalists.

TV gave me no respite. The media had few Asians other than Connie Chung, to whom I was often compared as I studied print journalism in the late 1980s, and Yoko Ono, to whom I was referred when I wore large sunglasses. At the time, I was trying to assimilate, and in my efforts to do so, I would often shun such comparisons.

Regretfully, I didn’t share this feeling of alienation with my parents. My mother sensed some of it, as she special ordered an Asian baby doll for me.

These experiences drive me today to create a better childhood for my own children. While they are mixed race, both Korean and Caucasian, they are often placed solely in the Asian category. My husband and I have sought to place them in racially diverse communities and schools. I’ve tried to make sure they see themselves as both races.

We own a fantastic book, Part Asian, 100% Hapa. In it, photographer, Kip Fulbeck, has photographed numerous subjects who are part Asian, from children to adults. My children pour over this book. It is worn from all the page turning and marking. It affirms them and assures them that they are not alone in their confusing ethnicity.

While I hated the references to Yoko as a teen, I relate to her now as a mother. Her son, Sean Lennon, has written the forward in Fulbeck’s book that addresses my children’s feelings.

Sean Lennon says, “It is only human to want to belong to a group. … If, like me, you are half-Japanese and half-English, you will in Japan be considered white, and in America be considered Asian. This can be lonely at times … ”

Yet, this book reassures my children that they are not alone in their feelings.  They are indeed Hapa!

Inspirational Children

Tonight, my son shared a video with me. His struggles with being happy in his own skin and his need to be accepted has been worrying me. He’s entering the age where one questions oneself and often takes on the attitudes of those around him.

As a parent, I know he must make the journey, but having gone down the same road, I know the conflicts he will face. He has faced some in the past … being called “Chinese” (not that China is bad, but it is often said in a very derogatory way). I explain that such references only means that the speaker is uneducated about the different Asian races.  While I say this as neutrally as possible to him, I cannot deny that it puts a pit in my stomach as it did when the same was said to me as a young girl.

I was called “Chinese” as well as “Cambodian Refugee,” and children would pull their eyes into slants to mock me.  In gym, I was paired with the only other Asian child, a boy, during square dances. While I struggled to just fit in, I was always reminded that I was different. I was not white, nor did I have a plain Jane name.  I wanted to blend into the background; I wanted to be white or black, for those were the two races in my hometown. I wanted desperately to fit in.

Before our decision to become parents, my husband and I talked about my childhood and what we could do to save our children from the heartaches I had felt in rural Tennessee.  We decided that we would always live in a racially diverse community. We chose the Wisconsin home we did because of the racial make-up of its public schools.

As my boy entered middle school this fall, we felt we had done all we could to make sure he would blend in. But in reality, we have learned that no matter what we do, there will be children who want to belittle others. No matter what we, as parents, have done, we cannot protect them fully from the growing pains of bullying and belittling.

What we have done is made sure that he knows that he is well-loved and that he is beautiful just the way he is. Tonight, I realized as I watched this video with him that he not only knows he’s special in his own way, but that he sees that he is not alone. He understands the lyrics of this Lady Gaga song, and he felt a kinship with this little girl.

This is just the kind of performance I needed to see … shared by my boy.

A snowy reunion

We were hit … hard. Snow drifts and crazy temps. In Wisconsin, that rarely constitutes a snow day. But today was our day.

I personally was very thankful for the extra time spent with my kids today. We were able to start the day with the four of us in our queen bed together. We all gazed at the white wonder outside. Once the moment was over, it was time for friends. Phone calls and arrangements. All in our house to keep the activity around.

Today was not only groundhog’s day or a snow day, it was the tenth anniversary of my mother’s death. The snow reminded me of the story of the little match girl. As a young girl my mother played this tragic figure in a play. She told me she was cast because of her red curls.

The Little Match Girl is one of my daughter’s favorite story books. It was also owned by my mother. In it, a young girl must sell her matches on the street as a snow storm brews. She lights one, then another to keep warm. Eventually, she freezes to death but is taken up to be with her deceased and beloved grandmother.

My girl has never known her grandmother, and I think she feels a connection through this book. She feels the tragedy of never having known her grandmother, but also wishes for that opportunity to see her in another lifetime.

The snow did not bring death today like it does in the story. Instead, it brought back lovely memories of snow days in Tennessee. My mother baking. Her inventive sleds of black trash bags and cardboard boxes. The photos she took of my sister and I dressed in multiple layers and sporting red cheeks and smiles.

For the last month, I had dreaded today. And yet, today was a day of happiness, filled with the joy of being a mother, my mother.

Eerie echos

Sweaty palms, butterflies. It’s 1984. I am waiting for Mr. Anders, our biology teacher, to call out the first name. He always returned tests in the order of best grade to worst. I want so badly to be the first name. He says that the highest grade was a ninety-nine and a half. And then he says it … my name!

Elation is quickly replaced by personal disappointment at the small mistake I made that took that half point away. I’d studied. I took mental pictures of all the diagrams and my notes, but I missed that minute nuance.

Today, I read an article about Chinese mothers. Amy Chua has written a book about the parenting contrast between Eastern parents and Western parents. I find it all quite intriguing and am thankful for my Western upbringing.

But the most troubling part for me was identifying with the children and knowing the need to excel no matter what.  The need to have that perfect 100. I had that need, and it was not prompted by my Western parents. They were always full of praise.

Is the drive innate? My parents did not push me. But I pushed myself and see elements of it in my parenting of my children. Am I the Asian mother described by Chua?

I have wanted my children to take piano, but mainly because I was never afforded the opportunity. I allowed my son to quit at 7. My daughter now struggles, but I am holding steadfast in having her continue. I have watched silently as my son chose the violin for his strings class (then silently felt a victory).

Additionally, I have overreacted at lesser grades and bought workbooks for my children or designed homework when they didn’t have any. I want them to want what I so badly wanted at their age.

Now, I’m struggling. Is what I want bad for my children? Am I becoming the Asian mother? Is there a balance that meshes the best of both?

Can I get a 100 in parenting?

Back to normal

Welcome 2011! Although, I must admit that 2011 still feels like 1977. A few days before school let out, my daughter came home saying that she wished she could have “wide eyes.”

My heart contracted in anxious pain, and my mind went reeling back to 1977. Kids surrounded me as I tried to leave my new school in rural East Tennessee. Taller kids, big mocking faces and chants of “Me Chinese. Me play joke …”

Before we had children, my husband and I discussed my hometown and my childhood experiences. We decided that once we had children, we would only live in places that were ethnically diverse. Madison is just that. So, I found it quite shocking that we would be dealing with this issue here.

As I’ve posted before, my daughter is struggling with her own ethnic identity. Of our two children, she is the one who looks less Asian. When we asked her why she wanted “wider eyes,” her response was “Because then, I would be normal like my friends.”

“Normal” is a word that creeps into my blog often (Mistaken Identity). To hear my daughter say it, not only showed her painful need for acceptance, but also brought back my old, childhood insecurities.

As a parent, I want to protect her. But life is filled with the need to be accepted and the need to conform. So now, I must pull out my best mommy advice from my mother’s guide to life.

“Your uniqueness sets you apart. Rejoice in that.”