Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Keeping the Asian in Asian American

My wife and I had a pretty hot discussion yesterday about whether we wanted to go to an all Korean church vs. a multiethnic church in the future, especially in regards to our future child. My friends who are having a baby around the same time as us argue that they want to go to a Korean church since it may be the only real exposure their kid has to Koreans/Korean culture(although they do live in Irvine where there are a ton of Koreans). I was thinking, "Will going to a Korean church make my kid appreciate more their heritage and better understand the culture?" My wife was arguing that we don't need to go to a Korean church for our kid to be Korean American, and even went on to say that there may be no cultural differences 10-20 years from now with increasing assimilation into American society and mixing of ethnicities/cultures. Woah, this almost made my head explode being from UCLA as an anthropology major and hardcore KSA(Korean Student Association)member at the time. I think that every distinct culture is amazing and unique in their own way, and all efforts should be made to maintain the diversity and multiculturalism. Haha, fancy words, but not sure if I am even using them right. Am I just being ignorant now?

I guess my Korean pride came from UCLA, even though I am sure it was partially just wanting to hang out and party at Korean clubs at the time. However, I was arguing that I want our kids to maintain their Korean culture in some way. The challenge comes in 2-3 generations from now. Is there anything going to be Asian in Asian American other than our skin color, heritage, and foods? Any suggestions in how to maintain our unique cutlures before truly becoming a melting pot in the U.S., and is it so bad that in the future, our children lose their Asian culture. I guess at that point we are no longer Asian Americans, but all Americans. What do you think?


thisislarry said...

Personally, I'm doing the exact opposite of you. I'm studiously avoiding "all-chinese" environments with my kids, because I just dont like the vibe.

I grew up in a setting where there were so many asians that they segregted into nationalities. It didnt make any sense to me (and in fact if anything I would say that these groups allowed intra-asian stereotypes to fester: some asians thought they were better than other asians. WTF?).

In regards to being asian-american, I like how my town has asian families, white families, and mixed families. That was a goal to me, to live in the midst of diversity, not in the midst of a single ethnic sub-culture.

Anonymous said...

in a way i agree with larry.

there is a tendency for intra-asian stereotypes to 'fester' when you're in that kind of situation, BUT on the other hand i don't like the idea of my hapa kids thinking the only koreans out here are the ones they're related to (san antonio has a small closely knit community) . . . then again, there's a lot of gossiping and a tendency toward "cliques".

if you can find a church that allows for a good mixture of cultures, where your own is appreciated, go with it! (we stopped going to the korean church because it was a. too "catty" b. too political and c. the teachings were a little too intense for my tastes [do 4 and 6 year olds need to know about spiritual death? i mean, c'mon!]

Anonymous said...

I don't have what you are contemplating--the fear of compromising on/ capitulating/diluting, your ethnic roots/Korean-ness, however you want to describe it. So I am jealous that you have it while I do not. I'm a generic white guy generations removed from any ethnic tradition or link to a home country.

But if I DID have an ethnicity to protect/defend/continue, the true test would asking my grandparents (if they were still around) what they thought. Old people have a way of cutting to the chase and paring things down to the basics. And that is the litmus test for my hapa kids.

What do my in-laws think about their upbringing, school choices, language skills, etc. To tell you the truth, my in-laws don't much approve of how things are going right now. But things are changing, and they are supportive of the family and grandkids so the wife and I are working towards certain goals that we think are important for the kids: learning Mandarin, spending as much time as possible with the grandparents, eating the food, learning the culture, spending time with Chinese neighbors to reinforce the lessons learned. That's about all I can do, being a white guy on the outside looking in.

Henri said...

KSA:Korean Smoking Association #1

....and you can hear from far and neeeeeeaaarr the mighty Bruin roar!

Puka said...

I can see Larry and Angie's point, but at the same time I think I lean more towards keeping the Korean influence alive as much as possible. While this whole melting mot idea is fine and dandy, I still see nothing wrong with people having differences, parents working to make sure their kids know their heritage and being proud of it, and people accepting and respecting the differences. DLS's children will be Korean. There's no Asian American culture. But that's my opinion, and I appear to be an asshole when it comes to a lot of things. :p

thisislarry said...

puka's right, that there's no asian american culture.

not that there should be.

If anything, I am californian before I am asian-american, as that's what drives my values more than anything else. my Chinese parents have influenced me, but so have my peers and their varied backgrounds.

I hope for my kids the same: that they identify themselves for where and who they are, not who their parents were, who their grandparents were, where they came from, etc.

Part of who they are will mean that they've learned to make green onion pancakes and eat phoenix claws, and maybe speak a smattering of chinese, and that will be the chinese portion of their californian heritage.

What else is there? learning holidays? knowing traditional dances? Unconditional respect for one's elders?

Sure, they'll know where their ancestors came from, but hey, everybody's ancestors came from somewhere, so what difference is it if they came from China or Norway, they're still where they are.

Hopefully they will learn so many other things from so many other sources, too.

Anonymous said...

(from Canada, french speaking, not in Qu├ębec)
We have struggled with this question but we are not based on color but rather language. (french vs. english)

As you might know, there is no melting pot general canadian culture but rather a encouragment to express ones' culture.

In universty we were challenged to find 10 things canadians had in common. We couldn't do it.

At this point, I would consider myself a french canadian. my neighbour an indian canadian and the list goes on.

We have chosen not to fight the tide and keep and teach our kids our roots. One thing I have to mention is the tolerance and acceptance between the cultures. I have never witnessed a scene like the previous blog mentionned!

French Pea Soup Out

honglien123 said...

My kids are Vietnamese, Japanese, and Korean. They understand Vietnamese yet have Japanese last names and look more Korean than anything else. Where are they going to neatly fit in now? Yet, as far as I can tell, the future holds a lot of multi-ethnic children similar to them. The odds of my great grandchildren speaking Vietnamese and identifying with only one Asian culture are slim indeed. In this sense, I definitely agree with your wife, that in a few generations, Asians will be sufficiently assimilated enough that the fact that they can choose for themselves of the many ethnicities they inherit. Yet, I doubt that it will factor into a large part of who they are, as Larry said, place and upbringing matter quite a bit as well. Just because you surround a child with people of a certain ethnicity, does not necessarily mean they will identify with that ethnicity. I mean, so many things factor into this, language matters, the celebration of cultural holidays and traditions matter and these things rest more in your hands than in the hands of strangers.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Larry too. Even if you were to isolate yourself in Irvine and only associate with Koreans you would still be different from Koreans living in Seoul. You have to accept a wider more flexible definition of Korean culture. My parents made every effort to assimilate and although I don't feel I have much in common with cousins in the Philippines, I have a lot in common with other Filipino-Americans who grew up here. So while going to a Korean church would have unique value as a way to participate in your community, your baby couldn't lose their Korean heritage even if you guys lived in Bakersfield. (hypothetically speaking) ;)

Robyn said...

I'm taking a course in African American Language (AAL) and our prof was telling us how some of her colleagues (middle class Blacks living in primarily white neighborhoods) made it a point to take their kids to church so they would learn to speak AAL that way. I guess this is sort of a different issue, but sort of not.

i think there's an Asian American culture. i'm not sure wht it is. i feel like any examples i give will sound shallow and surface but i think their are affinities right? i mean don't we feel like all of us of Asian descent share soemthing? some kind of connection? otherwise what would be the point of a Rice Daddies? It should be just Korean American Daddies or soemthing.

Anonymous said...

Although I'm not sure I'd say that there is an Asian American "culture" per se, I think that there is obviously some affinity between Asian Americans that goes beyond merely the physical. I mean, THIS BLOG for instance...there are commonalities between Asian cultures and much of the struggles that Asian groups have had in the US have been common. Shared experiences, I think, causes some common ground. I don't know...not sure where I'm going with this. But the other day a Korean American friend said "I couldn't marry a white guy, I'm too Asian!" Now I object to that statement for so many reasons, but it's interesting that she didn't say "I'm too Korean" as in she would be okay marrying someone who is non-Korean but still Asian. Is it just a racial tie? Or is there something culturally distinct? I think maybe both.

Going back to the original post...Charlie and I consciously chose to go to a multiethnic church because we think that, even more important than Caius having a group of close Korean friends, is that Caius grow up having friends and people he respects that are of different racial backgrounds. We personally feel that this is...gosh, just SO important.

But that said, I do want Caius to learn as much Korean as he can, I want him to have some roots in Korean American culture, I want him to spend time in Korea (where his paternal grandparents live). But he'll get that the same way I did - through family ties, through friends in the community that you'll automatically feel drawn to because of shared backgrounds, through a conscious effort to know your family's roots.

And I just really don't like Korean churches. Too much gossip and "my son/daughter just graduated from Yale and is becoming a rocket scientist. Oh, I'm sorry, your son graduated from UC Berkeley. Perhaps your daughter will do better". Just kidding. Sort of. =P

And I really don't think it has anything to do with becoming a "melting pot". I think that our children's Korean culture will be maintained, but obviously, no matter what you do, it will not remain the same. I mean, 1st generation folks are always talking about how the new generation is so Americanized (i.e. WASP America) and such, but they're just comparing it to themselves. We're still radically different from WASP America because, well, we're not WASP America and we never will be.

I mean, at my church, the site pastor is African American, the lead pastor is half white/half Korean, the worship leader is African American, the children's director is white, and the congregation is about half Asian and the other half split pretty equally between black and white. Now not for one second do I think that suddenly I'm going to "melt" into these people and become more black. Or more white. Or more Vietnamese. But I AM (hopefully) going to become more aware and understanding of them as people and how their racial identity has shaped them. Our church's big buzz word is "reconciliation" and one of the big aspects of that is racial reconciliation.

Okay, I think I'm done now. I hope you find a great church btw! I know there are a lot of great ones out there - Korean AND multiethnic. =)

meera bowman-johnson said...

Great blog, Rice Daddies.
As an African American mom who is trying to establish and maintain a cultural identity for my own kids, I appreciate the chance to gaininsight on your different perspectives.

Robyn - I'm not sure what you mean by AAL - is that really a course? A language? I'm African American and I'm not sure what that is. Surely not Ebonics (you can laugh). I think your prof. meant that those particular parents take their kids to AA churches to help them maintain an overall tie to their history – it's one of the last authentically black institutions within the community. There are also other social organizations that upwardly-mobile black people have that help with this as well. Having experienced both as a child, I have to say that cattiness is pervasive there, too (OMG, Nina, I thought it was just my people). All that is a real turn off to more laid back parents like DH and myself.

So we're trying to figure out the same thing that you're discusing here. There are no easy answers.

My experience may be different because it is more difficult for blacks to gain acceptance in society, but I think that as long as there will be people who are racist, fostering healthy self-esteem in regards to a child's difference can only be a good thing.
With children of color, I think this begins with an understanding of their past.

A blog like this is a positive step in the direction of preserving that identity. Whether you feel that it matters or not.

Anonymous said...

The church question is always a big one. I'm Latina and went to a mostly white church growing up, so my Christian experience was mostly white. I'm committed to finding a multiethnic church now because the coming baby is Latino-Chinese. So, my guess is that the little one won't feel like s/he fits in at any single-ethnicity church. But there's also the issue of finding a multiethnic church where there is a good representation of a lot of folks. I'm pretty sure that nina and I go to the same church (we should meet!), and since there aren't that many Latino people there (and actually a lot more Korean than Chinese), I feel like our church choice is just to make sure our kids grow up in a multiethnic church environment (so they know Christianity isn't relegated to one particular people group) even if most of their cultural learning comes at home and at their grandparents' homes.

Anonymous said...

I don't think surrounding your kids with the ancestral culture is an unalloyed blessing; it depends on how healthy the values are. (I'm a middle-aged white lady of assorted Western European heritage - and all my ancestors came from authoritarian cultures. Needless to say, my kids speak no Yiddish or German.)

My skepticism about "holding on" to one's own culture extends beyond that, however.

Growing up in the People's Republic of Berserkeley during the '60's, I identify as Hippie. That, filtered through Jehovah's Witness weirdness, is the culture I raised my kids in.

Every so often we go visit our son in Hippietown North. My husband's daydream is to move up there. It's full of My People who live by My Values.

After about three days we flee back home to exchange pleasantries with our redneck neighbors and attend my mostly-black church. To be surrounded exclusively by my own people feels suffocating, no matter how much I like them as individuals.