Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Chinese Boys are not Normal...

Sometime around Valentine’s Day I was chatting with my 5 year old daughter about what the holiday means. I can’t recall how we got onto the topic of marriage but I was teasing my daughter. Now my mom is very traditional who wants all her kids and grandkids to marry Chinese (well she got 1 out of 3 for her kids). So I playfully ask my daughter, “Grandma will want you to marry someone Chinese, so when you grow up are you going to marry a Chinese boy?” She replies, “No.” “Why not?” I ask. “Because they’re not normal,” she replies matter of factly.

Huh? That wasn’t the response I expected.

First of all, I don’t have any problems with interracial relationships based on mutual respect of the individuals and I grew up in a pretty mixed family. And neither will I pressure my children to marry a person of a certain race or ethnicity. IMHO, it’s all about the individual. However, we know Asian men are unfairly represented in American society and myself, my fellow Ricedaddies here and many other individuals are working to counter that. But I didn’t think I already need to start doing that with a 5 year old.

“Because they’re not normal…” What could possibly be going on in the mind of a 5 year old to cause her to say that? Did grandma already start pressuring her? (My mom’s insistence only served to push me away from Chinese girls when I was growing up, rebel effect if you will.) Was it something someone told her? Something she saw? Did William Hung come to Arizona???

“Why are they not normal?” I finally decide to ask her. “Because they aren’t…” Gah, typical 5 year old response, got to change strategy.

“Are your brothers normal?” (Oops, took a risk, maybe normal wasn’t a good term to apply to my sons, hehe.) “Yes.”

“But aren’t they Chinese?” “No.” “Is Daddy Chinese?” “No.” OK, now I am really confused. I need reinforcements. “HONEYYYYYY!” and I explain it to my wife when she arrives.

“What type of boy do you want to marry?” And without hesitation she names her oldest brother whom she absolutely adores.

OKAYYYYY… As my wife and I discussed it later, she concluded our daughter wasn’t identifying herself as Chinese because we don’t speak Chinese at home and the “real” Chinese people are the ones she meets at Chinese school. And my wife thinks the “not normal” part comes from the Asian boys she has had contact with. To be fair, I don’t think they aren’t normal at all. But they are her age and in my daughter’s perception just aren’t as good as her gold standard oldest brother. (Argh, I think her standards might be pretty darn high because her oldest brother really did a good job of playing with and caring for her. Maybe I should feel sorry for her future spouse… Or [evil laugh] I could do more damage by having her watch My Sassy Girl!)

But that leaves the question open about her own self identity and I wonder how my sons view themselves. (My guess is that they feel they are just who they are at this point.) My wife and I have never directly brought up the issue of identity before because we didn’t feel the need to at this age. But without any real domestic Asian American culture around where we live, maybe we ought to start planning a strategy to show that Asian Americans aren’t foreign and foreign Asians are normal.

The kids have some exposure to some foreign language media, are learning Chinese, etc. But what is lacking is unbiased media with Asian Americans speaking English and doing what Asian Americans do. (The last time they had that was watching Survivor: Cook Islands with me, LOL!) So I guess it’s something we need to work on.


Gayle said...

Wow! That must have been a great shock to hear your daughter say that. We totally need Asian Americans, particularly males, in more prominent roles in the media, sports, society. I grew up wanting to be blonde hair blue eyed because that's what I was told was normal by tv, movies, books. But my parents really worked to instill a positive image of asian/minorities and myself. I think that was the single biggest thing that turned me around. But I still didn't marry an Asian boy. Most of them seemed apathetic to politics and social issues.

eliaday said...

i feel compelled to speak out in defense of all the amazing asian american men i have had the pleasure of knowing and dating. THEY DO EXIST. (and they can be political, aware, advocates for women, and good in bed!)

i talk to me daughter (age 2) a lot about her identity. she used to think that people were chinese only if they spoke chinese, but we've moved beyond that. she knows that she is korean and chinese and american and that mommy is chinese and american. we read books with asian american characters in them. we stay away from mass media. i don't really know what she thinks "chinese" means. hopefully she'll be comfortable talking about it no matter what.

i hope from all of this she will learn that being asian or being different isn't abnormal. maybe she'll just think her mom is abnormal.

Ka_Jun said...

Nice post. Hearing that your daughter (and sons) are being affected by society at 5...sobering...yeah, better bone up on our game plan, too.

Monster Daddy said...

You know it makes you wonder what my daughter would be thinking now if she didn't have her older brothers.

They are only 4 and 2 years older than her but we made them take care of her since she was born.

The boys read her bedtime stories when she asks, they let her sit on their laps when she's watching a "scary" movie, they bathed her since she was 1, she climbs into bed with them when it is thundering outside, and of course play with her. (Yes, I am serious, I got the boys to do all these things.)

Some people think I was training my boys to be the anti-stereotype. I think I was just making them be who they should be for their own sake. But I guess their behavior has been a good example not only for my daughter but for other people they come in contact with.

There's one Asian family where the siblings don't get along and the brother will actually punch his older sister. Geez, what kind of example is that to her. But my oldest son is like the only boy I have ever seen her play with.

He's strong, he's carried her across a room (impressed her enough that she told her mom I found out later), gave her a birthday kiss, tickles her. (OK, I admit I nudged him to do some of that.) It's stuff, I guess she would never have seen from other Asian boys her age (least not where we live.)

Make a difference? Maybe.

angie said...

my kids are korean and caucasian . . . and it kills me when my almost 7 year old daughter says we're chinese. arrgghhh! insread, i tell her i'm korean and her father is caucasian, but we're both american.

the ignorance of others never fails to frustrate me!

R2Dad said...

I think kids are often at a loss for the most appropriate word, and "normal" is such a loaded one at that. My hapa kid insists he is chinese, though he doesn't speak cant/mand.--the opposite thinking of your 2 year old. R2 interacts with different cantonese speakers every week but to him not speaking doesn't make him any less chinese, which doesn't make sense to me but more power to him. And he has a huge kid-crush on asian men, which cracks me up and DOES make sense--we live in a chinese neighborhood. I do not envy the much more difficult parenting job Monster Daddy has than mine. I believe he has to prevent his surrounding community from encroaching on his values, while I let the community here do the heavy lifting.

tkguy said...

nice post. I am no expert. this post is touching upon identity psychology. I believe identity is something developed through out a person's life. However, it gets solidified I think between the middle part of the childhood through the teenage years. During this time the child tries on a few
"identities" before choosing one.

In my opinion the parents and siblings may not have a big role in developing a child's ethnic identity. The father, for example, is imo more defined by his father figure role than by his ethnicity. This might explain why the daughter do not perceive her family members as Chinese. In other words to people whom we are really close to, ethnicity don't play a very large role.

In my opinion the child's social influence outside of the family will play the biggest role in determining his or her identity. The people in their social circle. The person whom they perceive as the "coolest" kid. The media the kid is exposed to. Who are the child's heros? Goku or Dwyane Wade? All these things and more will influence the child's identity.

One interesting thing I've found is that minority children with a strong ethnic identity are happier.

tkguy said...

My link got chopped. Here it is.

Hopefully this will work

Monster Daddy said...

Interesting study tkguy. I read parts of it but I think the researchers suffer perpetual foreigner syndrome. Terms like calling the US a host country - like when does it become just our country?

While they conclude that high levels of ethnic identity is beneficial I have to question for how long and what kind of ethnic identity? They mostly focus on children of immigrants. As generations pass, the tie to the ancestral culture will weaken or the Asians here will be locked in a time warp.

My wife and I are 2nd Gen, my kids therefore 3rd Gen. Only my parents have been in China and their memories date back to the Civil War, a real time capsule of Chinese culture. I can't expect my kids to understand Chinese culture from the mid 1900s.

Japanese Americans are in their 5th or 6th Generation in America, have little language retention but maintain a small but distinct identity apart from Japan.

And I've read that some people believe an Asian American culture will arise with more Pan Asian marriages occurring. I think either of the above would be a good thing.

To me heritage is one thing, culture is another. Culture is something you need to really experience, heritage is something taught. I am teaching my children to be proud of our Chinese heritage but they can never be a part of Chinese culture while living in the USA. Amd why not form a unique identity?

When they grow older I hope to have them spend some time in China. But I expect they will return to the US and I hope there is an Asian American culture here for them. Personally, I feel I already am part of an Asian American culture. Maybe Ricedaddy will become a distinct AA term. :)

Monster Daddy said...

P.S. As an update, my daughter is now quite aware of what being Chinese is. And her grandmother should be relieved to know she likes Chinese boys who are like her brothers. ;)

Rob said...

I've been stating, for the longest time, that I believe America's media machine is causing massive amounts of psychological influence and needs to be considered a priority when it comes to fighting for racial equality.

My boss always confided in me that as soon as someone has a certain type of image attached to him/her, it is extremely hard to shake no matter how hard they try. I've been a hard worker for the same company for 3 years. I could slack off and no one will ever notice because I have the aura of work ethnic around me. However, if someone is lazy but changes into a hard worker, people will still perceive him as lazy.

Image, once negative, is extremely hard to shake and that's why I find it extremely perplexing why Asians, Asian men specifically, don't make fighting harmful stereotypes in media a top priority.

Companies spend billons of dollars a year to make sure they have a great image and departments dedicated to public relations. Is our image of Asian men worth any less?

There is proof of how the public consumes this type of image politics. A magazine, on car ratings, released a report on vehicle reliability. What was interesting was the effect of brand labels and how they are perceived with the consuming public.

They found the South Korean brand, Hyundai, to rank very low in quality during it's first few years (rank 17) but has since climbed to rank 4. Additionally, Mercedes Benz, which is trademarked with quality, has dropped down to near the bottom of the list near Dodge.

What's interesting to note is that Mercedes Benz sales have done very well while Hyundai is still lagging behind. Why? It's because society has been turned to recognize certain qualities with certain individuals.

Mercedes' cars could be roving deathtraps but they'd still fly off the shelves but Hyundai will still trail behind because their image has been tarnished by a bad start.

Time will change things but it takes years, even decades.

If we had a complete 180, it would take decades for people to view Asian men as normal people.

Anonymous said...

Due to her age, I suspect that she doesn't even grasp what "Chinese" means yet! (After all, even some adults have trouble with that...)

I babysat for a six-year-old once, and I was going to have my friend sub for me one day. I told the child about his special new one-day babysitter, and tried to describe her personality, etc.

While wrapping up my description, I added, "She's Chinese" and he instantly asked, "Do I like Chinese?" I knew he had Chinese-Canadian friends at school, and then it occurred to me... maybe he didn't differentiate between races/cultures yet. "Chinese" / "Canadian" / "Russian" / "French" ... none of those terms really held any meaning for him yet. I found it interesting.

thisislarry said...

great post monster daddy!

I can identify with your daughter. when I was growing up and had to go to chinese school on the weekends, i thought the 1st generation chinese kids were 'not normal' because they didnt covet members-only jackets and Vans. they in turn thought us 2nd+ gens were bananas, because we did.

Sarah said...

> when does it become just our country?

The short answer? When the media and the majority-population actually accepts us as American.

Those 5th generation Japanese are still considered foreigners by most non-Asians--and even 1st-gen Asians.

Also, a lot of Asians Americans tend to stress how "American" they are and often distance themselves from the native-Asians. And this can definitely affect how a child sees themselves.