Thursday, March 08, 2007

Shades of freedom

I've been reading a bunch of posts lately, by hapa parents and/or parents of hapas, about that periennial old miscegenated bugaboo [no, not the stroller, look it up], the "why don't I/how can they/who's keeping me from fit(ting) into the group(s) I/they claim as my/their own" question. Twizzle touched on how the media's "black enough/not black enough" game with Sen. Barack Obama raised the old questions for her and her daughter over on Kimchi Mamas. Carol wrote about yearning for a community of multiracial/interracial AsAm families and why it's important to her on Bokumbop. Over on her blog, Mama Nabi sought tips about how to teach her mixed daughter about difference after LN started making her first early connections between difference and ideas about "normality." Michelle Myers wrote a deep post on Anti-Racist Parent about how and why a multiracial child might not even find community in that most basic of places, the family unit. And on connected notes, here on Rice Daddies, Monster Daddy wrote about how his daughter's formulation of Chinese-ness (and its equation with abnormality) is freaking him the fuck out, while our own Soulsnax, before he even joined us, called out the forces of mental colonization and self-hatred for already messing with his newborn daughter in her first days of life.

Okay, it's way later than I've been staying up lately, so I'm sorta rambling here, but this kinda shit is stuff I've been thinking about and grappling with my entire adult life, as someone who calls himself, variously, a student, a teacher, an activist, a scholar, a parent, and, important here, a multiracial Asian American. Before I totally become incoherent, let me do a couple things. First, here's a link to Prof. Maria Root's "Bill of Rights for Racially Mixed People" [yeah, I know the name changed, but that's what it was called when the joint came out in college, so that's what it still is to me]: I've linked to it elsewhere and often, but this thing crystallized so much for me back in those heady identity-formation-filled college days.

Second, check out this essay by African American Salon.com columnist (and mother of two biracial black/white kids) Debra Dickerson [yes, she of the infamous "Barack's not 'black' black b/c he's not descended from West African enslaved people in North America" argument, which really was more about how some white folks might be giving themselves a guilt-free pass for supporting a "black" candidate without dealing with America's racial history and present than about labeling or de-labeling Brother Obama, but anyway]: "Don't be black on my account: A black mother's gift to her biracial children." It's a fascinating look at how a politically and socially conscious and active mom of color from a community with a different history with miscegenation and the inclusion/exclusion of racially mixed people than AsAms is reckoning with these kind of hard questions in her own life and family.

At any rate, I hope this article, and bits and pieces of the blogposts I've referenced here, might open up dialogue in the comments here about these issues—about creating, finding, and redefining community for us and for our children, about ideas of inclusion and exclusion, about how our own experiences with all this crap in our own lives affects, consciously and unconsciously, how we might deal with this stuff in teaching our children about it, and about themselves, their families, identities and communities, and what it all means.

Okay, that's ramble-y enough. Time for bed. Heh.

21 comments:

Mommy de Gallo said...

Having a hapa child, it is something I think about/don't think about in equal parts. I know it makes no sense, but that's the way I do it.
For example, my daughter is half Japanese (my side), and we did an activity day for her at her pre-school for Hina-maturi last week. I'm looking at the calendar and realizing that next week is St. Patric's Day. Her father is (mostly) Irish, but it's not like I can count on him planning something special to celebrate her Irish roots (other than yelling "BRILLIANT" whenever the Guinness ad comes on TV). I can make corned beef and cabbage (which he hates, and she loves), and make all of her food green. But other than that, what more can I do? It seems to me that it is easier to teach her aspects of her Japanese heritage because I know about it, and well, honestly, what kind of celebrating does my husband's heritage really provide? Other than drinking and eating that is.
So I end up thinking alot about what we can do to honor being Japanese, and do nothing about being Irish. So I just don't think about it. But then I wonder, am I creating an culturally unbalanced child? If I were Caucasian, and my husband Asian, would I be doing the same thing?
Makes me crazy.

Ka_Jun said...

Personally, I'm still grappling with how to approach this subject because upon self reflection I know that there really is no way for me to empathize with what it's like to be mestiso/hapa/biracial/etc. Sure, there are aspects to being APA that might lend themselves to helping a parent understand (i.e. the not belonging to either US or "Asian" cultures), but it's a lot to process.

Does Anybody Look Like Me? by Donna Nakazawa is a good reference, but it seems like all the info I read about centers around the ideal of raising kids that have the tools to discover and address the issues themselves, which it seems is what any conscientious parent would attempt to do, anyway.

I guess the cognitive dissonance arises when my Type-A personality runs up against the inherent fact that while I must patiently wait to see how my son deals with identity issues, I should be encouraging him to have the strength to define himself...all the while having another part of my brain saying "Assimilation is not a desirable outcome, he should be proud of his Pinoy side, God forbid he 'pass' or worse, exhibit self-hate in regards to his Pinoy side." Yeah, I know it's a run-on sentence. For Filipinos, being mestiso may have different ramifications than may be present for other Asian ethnicities, but then again, that brings up the whole "colonial beauty mentality" and is wrapped up in a tangled ball that has to be dealt with eventually as well. I don't know, it's hard to walk that line between trying to encourage appreciation for one's heritage, yet disussing meaty issues like white privilege, racism, blepharoplasty/skin whitening, etc. and whatnot. Apologies for the disjointed post, but I think it's indicative of the difficulty I'm having as a parent to grapple with these issues and how to constructively teach my son about them, as well.

http://www.amazon.com/Anybody-Parents-Raising-Multiracial-Children/dp/0738206059

Lori said...

I'm the flip side of mommy de gallo; Caucasian woman married to an Asian man. But, in our case (as DinaSL knows), I spent a substantial part of my life living in East Asia, my husband has cerebral palsy, and neither of us fits neatly in our racial categories. I don't identify with many Caucasian Americans (although it's probably more accurate to say I sometimes don't identify with Americans in general), while M. is one of the most "American" people I know. Since he's disabled, AND he's Japanese-Korean-American, rather than one or the other, his racial/ethnic identity is a case of both/neither.

As such, we both tend to be of the opinion that the best thing we can do for our hapa daughter is to instill a strong sense of herself in her. Like the both of us, she's not going to "fit in" neatly anywhere, but it doesn't necessarily follow that she's doomed to lead a community-less experience. We're fortunate in knowing several people with hapa kids, and I'm trying to make sure she knows she's not the only one like her. We also expose her to various aspects of her ethnic heritage - Japanese food, Korean festivals, and all the 'normative' Caucasian experiences that make up life in the good old US of A.

Maybe it's different for people who are more firmly grounded in well-defined communities from the start, but neither M. nor I are fully interpellated by our racial groups; as such, I think we're at least able to imagine life from the perspective of our biracial daughter. And we also keep in mind that she'll always be the daughter of a visibly disabled man - if the kids at school aren't asking her where she's "from," they'll be asking her why her Dad walks funny. There's always something...

Renegade said...

I think people should get over racial divides... it is so uncivilized!

Check out Renegade's BS

Henri said...

As an Irish American, I find it sad that so much of Irish culture and awareness has been lost here in the states. To bring up Corned Beef and Cabbage and coloring her food green as examples of Irish heritage is as bad as if I told a Chinese mixed-race child to eat Fortune Cookies and Chop Suey to celebrate their heritage. Saying that an Irish heritage offers little but drinking and eating is like saying that Japanese culture is best celebrated with Karate and Nintendo.

Your child could celebrate the importance of community and a rich cultural wealth of music, literature, and the Irish language. I can't deny that eating and drinking is of course a huge way to identify with your culture. Whatever you eat on St. Patrick's day, tell your child that Ireland is once of the most beautiful places on this fair earth. Eat some colcannon with your Corned Beef. Read her Ulysses to sleep. And for goodness sake please don't color anything green. Just love your family...that's Irish enough.

By the way everyone is invited to my St. Patrick's party. We're eating corned beef and cabbage, drinking green beer and whisky, and then fighting until I'm the last man standing.

lisa said...

It really comes down to the initiative of the parent and if they believe that teaching about their heritage is important. There will always be an unbalance, one parent will have more influence on a child at one time or another. Someone might regret not having learned more about their father's heritage, nevertheless their mother would not have been the best person to demonstrate despite her best intentions.

Mommy de Gallo said...

That is exactly my point Henri. I have no idea what Irish culture offers(obviously, since all I could come up with was eating and drinking...I agree that is a sucky stereotype), and it seems that my husband has no interest in finding out himself, and sharing it with his daughter.
And obviously I'm not going to do a good job. Like Lisa said, despite my best intentions.
Like I said, makes me crazy.

Monster Daddy said...

If I could, I think we parents should distinguish between heritage and culture. Irish, Japanese - all these ethnicities have a heritage our children belong too. We can teach appreciation of it.

Culture IMHO is a living dynamic thing, Irish, Japanese, etc. all have modern cultures that contemporary Irish, Japanese, etc. are part of today. But for our children in America, we having a living American culture and subcultures that we participate in. Mixing these terms has a profound effect because of the perception our children will have.

So what I am trying to say is we shouldn't create angst for ourselves when our children aren't familiar with some ethnic culture that doesn't reside in the US. It's not possible for them to really experience a culture when they don't live there. Heritage can be taught, culture is experienced.

I have noticed a disparity in how culture is taught for white/Asian Hapas. Contemporary mainstream American culture is naturally presented for their white side, but traditional Asian heritage for their Asian side. That isn't apples to apples IMHO. The correct analogy should be contemporary Asian American culture but who even acknowledges that that even exists??? If the Asian parent is from Asia, have they even experienced Asian American culture?

So for the child, they see a living culture for their white side that they can be a part of but a historical heritage for the other. The Asian side won't be exactly appealing to them unless you explain that it is a heritage like your Irish or German, etc. is but they are part of the white and Asian-American cultures.

SoulSnax said...

Good point Monster... so to celebrate contemporary Filipino culture, I will show my daughter how best to ape contemporary American pop culture. yes, I said ape. :)

Anonymous said...

ok can I just add this one thing please .... we are ONE RACE...HUMAN we have many ethnicities but none of them are subhuman!

la dra said...

I agree with MonsterDaddy too. I want to stop feeling guilty about not being able to teach my daughter about Filipino culture. I don't live there and I don't know enough about it to claim it as my own. On the other hand, I am American with Filiino heritage and I can pass on that particular flavor of what it means to be American.

Monster Daddy said...

I am 2nd Gen ABC, I've never even visited Asia. My parents immigrated around the time of the Chinese Civil War.

There's no way either myself or my parents can truly relate to contemporary Chinese culture like a native would.

But I consider myself to be an integral part of Asian American culture (isn't that why Rice Daddies is here?) And that is something our children can be part of and will shape to their own tastes. Culture is a living evolving thing and I hope Hapas and Asians of all ethnicities will participate in.

kim said...

In our case, my daughter and I are both mixed Korean-American (I'm 1/2, she's 3/4 Korean) so I feel like I'll have some idea of what she experiences growing up, i.e., all of the "What are you?" questions, not quite fitting in, etc. As I look back, I definitely notice parts of my life where I wish my folks had included more Korean culture / heritage, so I feel like I'm trying to make up for that somehow with my daughter... that's why I follow sites like Rice Daddies and Kimchi Mamas, or buy children's books with Korean characters / tales. I'm sure she'll grow up with her own take on being hapa and its pros/cons but I'll sleep better at night knowing that I tried to give her the information / support / community that I so craved growing up.

Guillermo Ravagni said...

I congratulate you by your blog.

I am from Avellaneda- Santa Fe - Argentina.

www.diarioperonista.blogspot.com

mangadezi-jr said...

oooh...
i was born in Thailand-- lived there until i was five. Ethnically Lao--mom was from there, father is Mohawk and ? (the family claims Polish); identity was always a big issue for me. I grew up in and around Detroit-- didn't see a lot of Asians, even fewer American Indians, didn't really know where I belonged.
At university, I fell in with the Indian students and pretty much have maintained strong ties with that community--my wife is 100% American Indian, but recently, the kids and I have started going to the Buddhist temple near our home.
Lao and Thai were my both my first languages (which I no longer speak), but being around other Thais/Laos and especially the food from there makes me feel . . . comfortable. I'd eat sticky rice all day/everyday if I could, that's my comfort food; but my children have no real connection with that part of their culture at all.
The Indian community has had to deal with multi-culturalism/multi-racial issues since the Mayflower landed, so they're a lot more accepting . . . I lived on my wife's reservation for a couple years and felt accepted for probably the first time in my life.
Growing up half-something else in rural Thailand was not a good thing back in the early 70's and Detroit was extrememly segregated when I was growing up there.
My kids have it easier in some ways because they're mostly Indian--the math starts getting tricky, though: are they 5/16 or 5/8 Indian? But that part of their culture has always been there and they've been actively attending pow wows and going back "home" to the reservation whenever possible.
I think our kids are growing up in a culture and a society that is much more accepting of multi-racial children . . .
I do feel guilty though that I can't teach them more about what it means to be Asian, but . . .
I don't know--they go to the temple and they love Thai food . . . maybe that's a good first step for all of us? I felt excluded by the Asian community as a child because I was AmerAsian, but it doesn't appear that this is as much of an issue as it once was. . . what do you think?

EmailHosting.com said...

Wow! You have way too many side subjects in that article. It made for interesting reading as I am always trying to learn new things.

Brittinie said...

Hello my name is Brittinie and I am student at the University of Oregon. I found your blog really interesting so I wanted to leave a comment on my thought on bi racial children. I thik the subject has become more and more serious during the past years. It now seems that more people are in bi-racial relationships and that people have to come to terms that it is about connection not color. It was my friend that once told me that bi racial children are confused because they don't know what race to belong to or what to incorporate their life with. Personally, I feel there is no biracial group you can relate to. Every person is different. We all come from different backgrounds and have different personalities. To describe a persons history I think you need to describe both cultures and not just see it as one. I feel that you can be the only one that can define yourself and the search for where biracial children belong is just like walking in circles. I know I'm not as in depth as others, but i hope my words gave some meaning.

Mama Nabi said...

"If the Asian parent is from Asia, have they even experienced Asian American culture?" Although I assume this is a rheutorical question, I thought I'd attempt to expand on that thought since I am indeed from Asia, although I'm more of a third culture child from Korea, raised mostly in Korea, Bangladesh, India and then been here since age 19 (college).
I do know that culture is inherent and, if we were to live in the U.S. or, especially, remain living in Minnesota, heritage would by far be easier to relay to LN than culture. I guess, part of my own angst regarding passing on my culture is the fact that I'd like my daughter to 'get' where her mommy comes from.
As far as Asian-American culture, I think, by virtue of seeking it out, we are experiencing it - yes, it is usually limited to going to Korean restaurant or grocery store, going to Asian-American concerts/shows/plays/art exhibits, rooting for some hot Asian guy on Survivor, pointing out every Asian/Korean we see.
Of course, I would love to expand my social group to include kimchi-making in the fall or bunch of mamas getting together and rolling kimbop for a picnic... one thing about culture being inherent, as long as you're living it, kids just soak it up - I think I tend to crave the culture mainly because I am a first-generation (my Korean passport defines my heritage on paper) and also because we don't live in a state where there's a large Korean-American community.

It isn't about some kind of nationalistic pride or ethnic separatism. For me, it's about that warm (even gooey) feeling you get when people from same/similar culture(s) have an unspoken understanding about certain things and you can communicate without too much missed in translation... I want to have that kind of relationship with LN - and the reason I fret so much about her Korean part is that, without my extra efforts, she would only be exposed to a mainstream American culture that doesn't quite understand mine or half of hers.

Larry Blumen said...

Old white man, here. Thanks - I never really thought about it, before. I'm part Russian, part Church of Christ. I can see it now: the old ways of dividing people up don't work anymore. We're gonna have to start doing it one individual at a time.

Carol said...

I think each parent has to choose what they want to pass on - however "little" or unauthentic as it might be, it is what you can give. I have a Peruvian friend who married into an American family that is Jewish, from the East Coast. They recently baptized their son, having discussed this even before they got married and got pregnant. Her MIL asked her why she is not raising her son Jewish, and very hurt. But what can she do? She and her husband made a decision. And I would think that it's up to the parent who is Jewish to provide that background, with the other's support. The same way I can be appreciative of Peruvian culture, but I can't provide what it means to be Peruvian to my child. Nor can I provide what it means to be Korean necessarily. But I can provide my own KoAm experience, love for the food, customs, and unique perspective.

Thanks for the links - and thanks for the citation, too :-) .

ali said...

I have to admit, as a hapa borne of a father whom I suspect had an incurable Asian fetish (his first wife was Singaporean, my mom is Chinese,) I am guiltily grateful that my 50% Korean, 25% Chinese, 25% Irish son will probably not have to go through the same identity crisis as I did. I grew up in Asia and was always ashamed of the Caucasian part of me. To that effect, I think there is no better place than the US for hapa kids to grow up. Unless you live in bumf*ck nowhere, there is usually enough diversity here to assuage those deepest darkest fears that you are somehow a freak of nature that belongs nowhere.