I find many discussions around diversity and racism to be very black and white. The Latinos are starting to get louder, and even though as a native Angeleno I feel like I'm automatically part Latina, I'm feeling left out of the conversation. What about us Asians??? Thanks to my ancestors, you have tea and guns!
It wasn't until recently that I realized I've suffered an identity crisis practically my whole life, because either I'm a "banana" or I'm stereotyped for being Asian. In case you aren't sure, a banana is someone who is "yellow on the outside, white on the inside." I'll dig in further in a bit.
When you're six years old, and some grown-ass man starts yelling at you, your mom, your little brother, and little cousin while getting in line for Matterhorn at Disneyland, and goes on to blame you for killing his father in WWII, clearly assuming you're the wrong kind of Asian--by "wrong kind" I just mean that he thought we were Japanese when really we're a bunch of crazy Chinese people--that leaves scars, mental scars and scars on the heart. Then you go to school and someone calls you a banana, and that leads to a lot of confusion. First of all, I'm not a huge fan of bananas and banana peels gross me out. Bananas have to be just ripe enough for me to eat them, otherwise, I won't touch them. They can also be in my nut bread, or lightly blended into my smoothie. Some people go crazy with bananas in their smoothie and then it's just like having a thick liquid banana which is gross. Also, there's a restaurant called Puckett's in Nashville that makes a mean Elvis French toast, and that's the only other time I'll eat bananas. Secondly, my skin is not yellow, it's more like toffee, and when I have a really nice tan it's like a nice rich caramel, and when I'm pale I look like dusty toffee. Good thing my skin doesn't taste like toffee or I might eat my own arm.
The point is, sometimes kids would call me a banana, because I like things like country music, Shakespeare, Irish dancing, and there was even a time I watched a lot of NASCAR. If you've ever been to a race, you'll understand the excitement. Mind you, I come from a very global background and also love Latin music, belly dancing, and Ethiopian food. So really, the kids got it all wrong. I'm not a banana, I'm a bag of skittles! Taste the rainbow.
Needless to say, I too am fed up with racism. I'm SO tired of dealing with people's ignorance, rudeness, and incomprehensible fetishes. Everyone thinks Asians are quiet and passive, but hello?? Remember Tiger Mom? I actually didn't read her book, but I imagine she roared like a tiger. Or meet my mom! She'll squash you in a shouting match any day. So, where are all the crazy Asian moms in this madness?
It's interesting, when I lived in the South, I discovered how black and white some of the country still is. It's sad. It really is. I didn't deal with much personal racism in the south, thank God. For the most part I was either accepted or a curiosity, because even in LA it's not so much the norm to find an Asian girl well-versed in country music--and I'm not just talking about that frat boy music all over the radio these days. I'm pretty sure there was even one couple who once took a picture with me after a show because I was probably the first Asian they'd ever met in person. That or they thought I was Lucy Liu, which I wouldn't be offended by; but c'mon, we don't all look alike! Plus, shes twenty years older than me so I'm not sure if that would be a compliment for her or a dis on me.
I did, however, meet someone who told me that "as long as [I'm] not Japanese..." and that same person also told me, "It's crazy. When I first met you, I was so surprised at how well you speak English, like no accent at all." Country boy say what??? Not only is English my native language, but I also studied Shakespeare and speak 3 other languages. I wasn't sure whether to feel offended or laugh, so I laughed and was simultaneously offended. Yet, I couldn't fault him.
I realized there's a difference between ignorance by circumstance and ignorance by choice. You can't blame a person for not knowing more than s/he has known his/her whole life. However, when encountered with the opportunity to learn, grow, and understand, and a person chooses not to learn, grow, and understand, that is ignorance by choice and not okay.
In fourth grade, we had to memorize a piece of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech. "I have a dream, that one day my four little children will live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." Dr. King, I am still waiting for this day. I very much look forward to the day that we can stop trying to fit each other under labels based on race and ethnicity, because we miss out on some pretty wonderful experiences when we can't see past skin color.
Maybe then, I'll also be less confused about myself. I really don't want to be a banana. It's really mean to do that to a kid when you think about it. How can I not be American enough and not Asian enough? I've oft been made to feel like I'm not American enough because I'm not white, or on the other side of the spectrum, like I'm a traitor to my heritage, because well, I'm American (to put it simply). Why do we have to be so extreme y'all? Also, don't forget I'm an Angeleno, so I'm part Latina, too.
Screw labels! They're so restrictive and misinformed. Labels are only helpful when it comes to things like your spice cabinet. It's important not to mix up ground cinnamon and ground ginger, or salt and sugar, or parsley and cilantro! Actually, I never know the difference between parsley and cilantro. You could garnish my food with a four leaf clover and I wouldn't notice. That's not true, I'd take that four leaf clover, put it in my pocket, and thank the chef for good luck.
So, I'd like to leave you by breaking a few stereotypes I'm tired of and hope that one day I'll never have to find a polite or smart response to such stereotyping:
Now that I've proven to you how ridiculous and offensive stereotypes are, can we please finally make Dr. King's dream come true? It's been fifty years! Literally fifty years this year since he was assassinated and 55 years since he made this speech.
One last thing, please don't ever make fake Chinese language sounds. It's infuriatingly offensive, and I will throw a pork bun straight out of the steamer at you if you do.
BIG LOVE & HUGS