I’ve been told by a friend that soon I won’t be able to stop blogging, but just now it felt like a big challenge to sit down. What a punk. I’ll repeat her words like a mantra, and maybe my chakras will leap into alignment and salute.
Seven chakras, huh? One for each day of the week?
I had a meeting today, an official meeting that deserved the use of my official business debit card to purchase my meeting fare. It was a good meeting, but I was struck afterward by the memory of oh so many pointless gatherings I’ve attended in the past. Too much creativity by committee.
What’s up with Arizona, yo? Some of my family lives there. My also Asian, also adopted sister. I dare them to profile her. I’d actually pay to see it. But it’s not really going to be the orientals that get it. Which leads me to the good people of Akron, Ohio, who finally decided to drop the nickname of their sports teams: The Orientals. Jesus H.. Progress can be incremental, I get that, but my god.
Actually, I had a short discussion not too long ago, with some yahoo who needed the explanation…why “oriental” is just. not. okay. Look, I grew up in an area that my well-meaning parents (bless their little hearts) thought would be more diverse than the whitewash it turned out to be. As a kid I was called “pancake face,” watched innumerable other kids pull their eyelids back and chant “ching chong,” and experienced what it was like to be spit upon. Lesson: it sucks. Most Asian people I know have experienced some degree of this – it’s often an unspoken bond. And in the decades (YES!) I’ve been alive on this earth, I’ve seen it get – incrementally – better. Los Angeles has the highest concentration of Koreans outside of Korea, but many of them rarely venture out of the handful of square blocks that make up Koreatown. Why would they? They can easily live their whole lives speaking only Korean.
Adoptees often talk about growing up feeling white. There’s a bizarre number of Korean adoptees in Minnesota, for example, and back in the 1950s, when adoption from Korea did gangbusters, a lot of the wee Asians went to white families living in rural areas. So often, there’s little to no context for being Asian. I was lucky – my family celebrated my adoption every year with Homecoming, and I never remember not knowing. I’d make my mom tell me the story of my adoption over and over again. Which she would do, unfailingly, and looking back, it was really my first lesson in how to be a good actor. Be present, exactly in the moment, no matter how many times you tell the story. I loved hearing the facts, the timeline, but really, I think I loved seeing my mom’s face soften and her eyes get bright and her hands twist around themselves. It’s why I’ll read the same book over and over and watch a movie until I can recite it and love to feel my husband’s face with my fingertips. The things we love can feel elusive, which makes them beautiful in a terrifying way. We want to make them a part of ourselves, and sometimes I’ve found myself doing this almost desperately.
So I didn’t grow up feeling white. I grew up feeling profoundly Korean. Which made spiral perms and blond hair and long legs and name brands become icons. If I could just make these things part of me, I could pare down some of that Korean-ness. It was undeniable, but if I could just dress it up a little. Make it part of the club. Force it into some form of regularity. My best friend growing up was half-Japanese. Her mom made a hellish, three-hour commute to Seattle every day, and would still come home and make tempura. I had sashimi for the first time at her table. I made the mistake of smelling it. But there was contact there, proof of asian, proof of the co-existence of culture.
Which is probably why I attempted to learn Japanese in high school. It was a ridiculous class taught by a ridiculous young white woman who looked out at her students with rabbity fear. My friend took the class for an easy A and we spent most of the time watching the teacher get wobbly knees around the class hunk. “Kite…kudasai!” we’d hiss lasciviously at each other, whenever she was near him. “Come…please!” And dissolve into honking, badly concealed laughter.
My foray into the Korean language has been even less graceful. Ask me what it’s like to be a walking anti-climax, and I’ll tell you to come with me to a Korean restaurant where I can glide in, greet the hostess in glib Korean, summon the waitress with a casual linguistic wave, and then have to point at what I want to order. That’s when the waitress looks at me in confusion and I harrumph loudly. That’s it, folks. That’s the show.
So go for it, Arizona. Display your profiling prowess for all the world to see. The brown people are busy trying to pay their bills, get their kids out the door on time for school, change the oil every 3,000 miles. I never thought I’d say this, but try looking to Akron, Ohio for a cultural update. Immigrants are here to stay, and despite what you call us, despite how we got here, we just want to keep moving forward. Incrementally.