Single at Sixty

Most of the time, my relationship with my God and His grace are sufficient for me. I know I am loved eternally by Him. He hears my prayers and has opened my ears to hear His voice. Yet because I am human, there are times I feel like an outsider because I am a single woman in a culture that values couples and family. I suppose I have felt like an outsider my whole life.

Upon completing fourth grade, I was advanced two years. The unwanted achievement placed me two years younger than my classmates through the remainder of elementary, junior high and high school. I graduated high school at sixteen. I was also short (4’7”) and timid, which made the experience difficult at best, horrific at worst. Social awkwardness, teasing, bullying, puberty, an abusive father, and coming of age in the 1960s all contributed to my never knowing who I was or was meant to be. They placed me teetering precariously on the edge of friendships, social and emotional maturity, political awareness and sometimes, sanity.

The discovery of the vast hole in my heart at some point in my 30s led to over a decade of exploring ways to fill that hole in the attempt not to feel like an outsider. I experimented with Eastern religions, self-help seminars, drugs, clothes, men (lots of men) and only found temporary relief. The feeling that I belonged somewhere, to somebody, faded as soon as the fog on the mirror cleared.

Years later, when I found the One Man who filled me – who loves me unconditionally, whose vocabulary doesn’t include the words abandon or unworthy or unforgivable – the mirror cleared for good. Most of the time, I feel His arms around me, and I know I am an adopted daughter, friend, bride.

Then there are those other times.

My social circle is centered within my church. I’m part of a weekly women’s Bible study group. Eight of us have been meeting together for nearly three years. These women are married with children. I love that we are an intergenerational group. We are close – we pray for each other. We get together outside of study. As the conversation naturally turns toward marriage or motherhood, I feel on the periphery.

Church functions are organized around families, so I often retreat. When I attend Sunday service, I sit alone, aching for those I know to ask me to sit with them. I suppose if I were bolder or more outgoing, I might ask if I could join them, but Sundays seem sacrosanct. It is the Sabbath; it is time for families.

There is a singles group that caters to those 20-50. The object is to encourage and help them to form families. I am sixty-three. While I occasionally miss the nighttime snuggling of a marital companion, for the most part I enjoy the solitude of my own space. I am comfortable in my own skin and content with my own company.

So I pray to remember that I am not of this world, I am of it only for a time. Someday, I will not be an outsider. I will be face to face with my Redeemer. His very own. An insider for eternity.

Susan Irene Fox at www.susanirenefox.com

The Afterlife We Call Legacy

I wondered why Bill Clinton’s and Michelle Obama’s tribute to Maya Angelou sounded so familiar. The eulogies were beautiful and compelling, but it felt like I was hearing the speakers replay a long conversation I’d just had with them on color, courage, and identity. It hit me. They were talking like contributors to my Race Around the World. I grinned thinking Yeah, Michelle would’ve written for the Race. Anyone have access to her for my next series? I felt awe seeing the ripples of Maya’s influence upon people who would become pillars of the most powerful nation in the world. When Maya was a little girl she was afraid her voice had killed a man after the rapist she’d named was found dead. She quit talking for six years. Maya didn’t know she would find it again, a voice that would bring life and healing to those who listened.

Here’s Bill: I first encountered Maya Angelou as a young man when I read “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” It was written in 1970 about the time I started law school, and shortly after it came out, I read it and I was the one who was struck dumb. She called our attention to things that really matter — dignity, work, love and kindness — things we can all share and don’t cost anything. And they matter more than the differences of wealth and power, of strength and beauty, of intellect. All that is nice if you put it to the right use, but nothing is more powerful than giving honor to the things we share.

I got chills hearing Michelle. I was struck by how she celebrated black women’s beauty like no one had ever dared to before. Our curves, our stride, our strength, our grace. Her words were clever and sassy, they were powerful and sexual and boastful..but she also graced us with an anthem for all women, a call for all of us to embrace our God-given beauty. And oh, how desperately black girls needed that message. As a young woman, I needed that message. As a child, my first doll was Malibu Barbie. That was the standard for perfection. That was what the world told me to aspire to. But then I discovered Maya Angelou, and her words lifted me right out of my own little head. Her message was very simple. She told us that our worth has nothing to do with what the world might say. Instead, she said each of us comes from the Creator, trailing wisps of glory.

Dr. Angelou’s words sustained me on every step of my journey, through lonely moments in ivy-covered classrooms and colorless skyscrapers, through blissful moments mothering two splendid baby girls, through long years on the campaign trail where, at times, my very womanhood was dissected and questioned…Words so powerful that they carried a little black girl from the south side of Chicago all the way to the White House. She touched me, she touched all of you, she touched people all across the globe, including a young white woman from Kansas who named her daughter after Maya and raised her son to be the first black president of the United States.

As a kid, I kept to peers who were bicultural and shied from those more Asian than I out of a sense of superiority. Not thinking that I myself was above those who were more traditionally Asian but because I had bought into the myth that white culture was superior. The blonde on TV was cooler than my parents. I’m obviously over that. I wish I were the measure of my mother.

When Oprah took her turn to speak at the memorial service, I saw more clearly than ever the power and need of role models for all children. Being able to see ourself in the mirror of a hero gives us hope to dream bigger than our circumstances. I marvel at God. I am just in awe that I, a little colored then Negro girl, growing up in Mississippi, having read “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” for the first time, read a story about someone who was like me. I was that girl who loved to read. I was that girl who was raised by my southern grandmother. I was that girl who was raped at nine.

I remember when I opened my school in South Africa and I said to her, oh Maya, this is going to be my greatest legacy. And she said, not so fast. Your legacy is every woman who ever watched your show and decided to go back to school. Your legacy is every man who decided to forgive his father…Your legacy is every person you ever touched. Your legacy is how you lived and what you did and what you said every day. So true, sister Maya. I want to live your legacy…Each of us who knew her, those only touched by her words or those who were able to be blessed to sit at the kitchen table, we are next in line to be a Maya Angelou to someone else. It’s a challenge that I embrace with my whole heart.

I caught philosopher Stephen Cave on radio last month when he maintained that all fears, like those of flying or driving, really come down to the fear of death. He said we can’t imagine not being. In the post What If You Weren’t Afraid?, readers brought up the matter of healthy fears, what some consider necessary survival mechanisms. We’d better be afraid of anything twice our size wielding a weapon – fangs or knife. I’m no evolutionist but oh yes, we do want to live and keep living. I believe our wish to leave a worthy legacy is the desire to live on beyond death. Our afterlife.

Around the World in Eighty Days

What a trip. England, Turkey, India, Africa, China, South Korea, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, Australia.

That’s not counting North America, where we hit Canada and Hawaii, trekked across western United States through the Midwest and Texas to the Eastern seaboard. We glimpsed Native American culture, the WASP world, New Zealand Maoris. We spoke with the daughter of a picture bride, a young Arab in North Africa, an American who chose life in an Indian ashram over the noise and ease of the States. We learned of the genocide of Armenians 100 years ago and the civil wars in Liberia, caught sight of the KKK.

flag-of-turkey_w725_h483I learned as much from the discussions as I did from the posts, more history than I did in a year of high school. I did not know “Tejanos are land-owning Mexicans who were farming and ranching before the Germans, Czechs, Irish, and Scottish settled in Texas. They speak with the same drawl the Caucasians do, but still get treated like border crossing migrants.” Mark, our American Gypsy, taught us so much.

PERCEPTION
Seems race is often the color others paint of us. Paul, not a blogger but a wonderful reader and writer, said to Sreejit, American in India:

flag-of-india_w725_h484I found it delightful that in America you are black and in India you are white. That is amazing and completely counter to conventional wisdom. It reminds me of an interview I watched with Barak Obama and his wife Michele before he was elected to the first term. The interviewer asked Barak what his response was to those who said he wasn’t really black, as one of his parents was white. Michelle jumped in and said he was black and if they needed any proof all they had to do was watch when Barak tried to wave down a taxi on a street curb. If there was a white man farther down the block, the taxi would go right past Barak and pick up the white man. That put an end to race questions. Michele is a lawyer and it shows: she picked an example that clearly showed that discrimination determined race.

White people in America told Sreejit he was white, blacks insisted he was black. And he wasn’t the only blogger on this journey to have been told what he was.

I said to Sreejit: That is something – plain funny and sad – how people kept imposing their own background on you. Projection? I’ve always said we see what we want to see. And you were chameleon enough, with enough black and enough white for others to pull you to themselves in the attempt to categorize you.

We see what we want to. Why? We fear what is OTHER. We fear the unfamiliar. It made them feel more comfortable to be able to identify with Sreejit.flag-of-australia_w725_h363

BELONGING
Julie, whose contribution did not make it into the race, shared some thoughts as an adoptive parent:

My husband and I are Caucasian; we adopted our daughter from China when she was ten months old. We are a mixed-raced family. This fact is both irrelevant on a day-to-day basis, and the thing that defines us. A while back, I read an article about a person who got in trouble for saying that she had forgotten that her adopted Chinese daughter was Chinese. I think what she was trying to say was that she simply thought of (let’s call her) Ann as “Ann.” Her “foreignness” was removed by familiarity, and she had for all intents and purposes blended into mainstream white America. Just an ordinary child, her child. And this is what offended people, the very denying of her ethnicity, the removal of her birthright of Chinese heritage and culture.

And while I don’t feel particularly inclined to join in the condemnation, I must say that I never forget that my daughter is Chinese, for that is part of her very essence. What I often forget is that there is anything out of the ordinary for a young Chinese girl to be parented by middle-age white parents.flag-of-china_w725_h479

Ann’s mother obviously meant she did not see her girl as being other. What does it mean to belong in this situation? To be full-blooded Chinese and part of a white family? What I hear from this mom is a deep acceptance of a child that did away with any self-consciousness about color. The way I might talk with a dear friend and, while appreciating the wisdom she brings to our relationship, forget she is old enough to be my mother. Because it feels natural, like we were meant to be together. Can we just say what we feel about race? Of course we can. And of course we can’t. I am so glad we didn’t have to worry about being politically correct in this series. Navigator echoed sentiments Jenni and Elizabeth had expressed: “Perhaps there is an unconscious luxury of being white.” I found the point-blank confession refreshing.

SELF-DEFINITION
Paul recently said to me, “When you started the Race series, you were obviously exploring asymmetry – how do we each create value in our lives given the different starting places and circumstances? Quite a few of the interviewees identified seeking commonness as the means of success. And yet if you looked deeper, they actually leveraged their unique personal circumstances to be successful.” Any thoughts? Many of our articulate writers felt race didn’t matter. flag-of-united-states-of-america_w725_h381I think it most certainly does but we need to clarify the not mattering. Race does not determine worth and should not affect opportunity. Sadly it does both these things in many places and where this happens, race should not matter. Can we instead take healthy pride in the culture of our lineage, and be neither overweening nor ashamed? My God made strawberries red and lemons yellow. And He delights in their color. Imagine strawberries looking to erase their ruby signature or trying hard not to be so red. Interestingly, every color of the farm fields and gardens offers its own irreplaceable nutrients. Why have I at times felt apologetic about being Korean? Why did I feel looking back at where I came from, talking about my past, would be a waste of your time – until you said otherwise? It was out of your response to my story that I gave myself permission to keep going with The Measure of a Woman. Remarkable that the immigrant tale would make its way up my Top 10, second only to my About which had over a year’s running start.

We had more than discussion and history lessons in our race around the world. There were personal history and conviction and fears. In my virtual travel around the globe, there wasn’t one tour guide of a contributor who has not opened these small Asian eyes. I’ve decided people who don’t travel or at least open themselves to cultures outside their own short themselves.

Sreejit put it well and sufficiently in reply to a comment: “I think the more we see of the world, the less we are stymied by race issues. But since most people don’t leave their own backyard, it is easy for stereotypes and prejudices to persist. Though I think the internet is also helping to break down the walls as well. The world is becoming a little smaller everyday.”flag-of-mauritania_w725_h483

I was nevertheless reminded in conversations with the Race participants who live in a far and different time zone just how grand our world is. Even instant email could not keep our long-distance exchange going at the pace I wanted. When I was up, my fellow writers were in bed. There is a sunrise every hour throughout this world. I am consumed by the affairs of my day but my light is someone’s darkness. We do well to grow a bigger heart.

Fathers From Around the World

When I was not yet three years old, John Richard and Grace Elizabeth Ingram adopted me from an orphanage in southwest London. When I was four, a stroke left Dad paralysed down his left side; he died when I was 18.

I can still hear the cranky squeaks of your wheelchair. And the clicking of the calipers attached to your legs below the knee. There was the incessant wheezing from the asthma that later attended the paralysis. Your body was your burden. Your light relief was watching the BBC news and “being tickled pink,” as you liked to say, by the old classic British comedies. Dad’s Army. The Good Life. Rising Damp. As a child I longed to pick you up and carry you on my back. Far and away from your wheelchair and back to the fleeting memory I had of you as my able-bodied dad. Now as an adult, I believe there are no accidents. You are still my role model and I have found my dream job serving persons with disabilities in Sierra Leone, West Africa. Thank you, Dad!

Michele at Michele D’Acosta, Museum of Documentary and Fiction

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Charming, intelligent, belligerent and very Greek, my father is one of those people you meet and never forget.

When I was little, he would often regale my siblings and me with stories of his childhood in the mountains of Greece. His eyes would light up as he recalled the deep snow that carpeted the land each winter and how every night he used to lie listening to the wolves howling in the freezing cold. I could never quite believe this story. I had visited Greece only in the summer months when the cicadas hum through the trees and the cool Mediterranean offers the only welcome respite from the heat.

But my father assured me it was all true, and he would describe how during these snowfalls Yiayia (my Grandmother) would make Stifatho, steaming hot beef stew. If my father and his brother misbehaved, Papou would threaten to throw the bones from the stew out near the house so that the wolves would come prowling down from the mountain tops. This both terrified and fascinated my father, and he admits he sometimes wanted my Papou to carry out his threat so that he could steal a glimpse of these great creatures.

Whenever it snows now, my father can’t quite contain his excitement and we indulge his boyhood memories by asking him to tell us the story again. Stubborn, impatient and thoroughly Spartan he may be, but show my dad a snowflake and his heart melts.

Ekaterina at Ekaterina Botziou, It’s All Greek to Me!

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Even as a kid I knew my father was more fun and affectionate than most Korean men. He differed in another way. Back then, expecting parents wanted a son. You couldn’t have too many boys, but my father never cared. He was one proud dad when I was born. Gifts poured in from the office. He threw a big party on my birthday the next year and danced with me in his arms.

We immigrated to America a few years later. When I was in fourth grade, Daddy joined the ranks of the best drivers in New York City. He became a taxi driver. A classmate from Pakistan approached me one day. “Your dad drives a cab. Mine does, too,” said Rukshinda in the glad relief of a confidante.

“No. No, he doesn’t,” I lied. She looked confused.

I hadn’t known I was ashamed of what my father did until I had to acknowledge it. I also wasn’t aware that he was held up at knifepoint doing it. One afternoon the passenger asked to go to 106th Street, close to Harlem. Before they got there, Daddy suddenly felt a blade digging into his neck. He rubbed his fingers to say money, then pointed to the pocket of his sweatpants. The guy dug in and bolted from the cab. Daddy had been sitting on the day’s earnings, the bills in his pocket just change.

I wish I could write in the sky that no job was beneath my father to keep his kids clothed, fed, and safe. I would tell the world a thousand times over that my daddy was a cab driver.

Wayfarer on A Holistic Journey

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I kissed your bones before I immersed them in the water with your ashes. As I watched the river carry them to the ocean, my tears ran, bringing back memories.

You would get into our bed Sunday mornings in England and tell us stories of wonder. This wakened our imagination and allowed us to seek magic in the world. You raised us with iron discipline, and I knew that the army did not impose this on you. It came from within, and I rebelled. You wanted me to follow your path into the army, and yet supported me in my own journey. As I grew older, we spoke of your childhood in undivided India, and I learned how your family lost everything when Pakistan was carved out of India. We managed to get a video of our ancestral home. We watched it together, knowing you would never see your childhood home again.

What I learned from you was to conduct myself with grace and dignity. I learned that people respect us for what we are, and not for the position we hold or the riches we gather. As I lit the fire that consumed your flesh, I looked upon the faces of the people who had gathered to pay their last respects, and I saw that this was true.

We often did not speak much, but we did not need to. We communicated. As I looked into your eyes in the hospital, I knew you were going to die, and I knew you knew it as well. I promised that everything would be okay, and I will keep this promise.

Rajiv at RajivChopra

 

 

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall

Race. The colour of my skin, the flare of my nostrils, the texture of my hair, the S of my backside. I am none of these; I am all of these. Race. My mother is caramel, my father pure chocolate, and I am hazelnut. They taught me that education and excellence would open any door. I believed it; still believe it. Race. Raised in Nigeria, I live in The Netherlands. I temper the directness of the Dutch with the verbosity I think Nigerians inherited from the British. Race. When I look in the mirror, I see a girl, a woman, a lover, a wife, a mother, a friend, a sister, a mentor, a coach, a writer, a warrior — all I have been, all I now am, all I will one day be. When I look in the mirror, I see me. What if my father were Australian and my mother Chinese? Would I still be me?

Timi at Livelytwist

clker.com

clker.com

 

I hate being judged. Who doesn’t? But we still do it, all the time. Where I come from, Pakistan, many of us live in constant fear of what people say or think of us with someone always breathing down your neck.  It’s difficult to break away. And the sad part is, I was no different. I labeled people based on how they looked, talked, walked, on their work, race, and beliefs. But now my heart can’t take the burden anymore. I want out of the vicious cycle. Standing in front of this mirror, I rejoice at my diversity as a woman, Muslim, Ghilzai-Punjabi-Pathan, Pakistani, Canadian. I celebrate my many faces. And I keep on against the urge to judge because I’ve been on the other side. The reflection in my mirror is no longer blurry. I can finally see.

Nida On the Road to Inkrichment

 

As a girl, I wished these Korean eyes were bigger. It hit me that I never wished for blue eyes or brown with long Caucasian lashes. Only that mine were rounder. And there’s this nose, the most displeasing part of my face that I grew to forget as my sense of self took shape around deeper things: my gifts, faith, values. These lines, a chronicle of the choices I have made in self-neglect. Always too busy to primp, to nurture Self. And the lines that also tell of things outside my control, Mom’s enviable genes that passed me over. The woman in the mirror is the youngest she will ever be. I see naked imperfection. It is what my boy looks upon everyday. My breath catches. To him, I am the clearest face of God.

Wayfarer on A Holistic Journey

 

What do you see in the mirror?

At The Finish Line: Asian American In Thailand, Part 16

1) How do you define yourself racially or ethnically and why is it important to you? Please tell us about the racial makeup of your family if you were adopted or come from a colorful family.

I consider myself Asian American, or as I like to say, American Asian. The latter description came from digesting people’s perceptions of me. Depending on circumstances, I’m either too Asian or not Asian enough. I just go with Asian American because it’s the title folks are saddled with. It’s the convenient box I check. But I think Asian American means different things to different people. My father and his family made their way to the United States after fleeing China during the Cultural Revolution. My mother met my father during the Vietnam War when he was stationed with the US Air Force in Thailand. Interestingly, I was almost born in Thailand, but my mother boarded the plane nine months pregnant with me so I could be born in the US. Yeah, she’s crazy, but I’m thankful.

Six years later we returned to Thailand on family vacation. My father died in a motorbike accident. Our lives changed in ways I would never have imagined. My mother never remarried but stayed with her Caucasian boyfriend for pretty much my entire childhood. I refer to him as my step-dad, out of convenience. Like my mom, he was from a poor working-class family. When I got older I would jokingly refer to me and my family as “Asian white trash.” Now that I look back, there was something in that. It was never meant as self-deprecation but just my way of recognizing the uniqueness of my family.

My ethnic identity is important to me in as much as it gives me some sort of foothold. I’m part of a tribe, so to speak, but my ethnicity is also not that important in light of the experiences I’ve had. My experiences have left me to wonder what identity really is, and I’ve decided it is a fickle friend.

2) What was your first language? What did you grow up speaking with your parents, especially until your father passed? How much Thai do you understand and speak?Lani

Had my father lived I feel Chinese and Thai would have been taught us, but this is just a guess. My brother and I grew up surrounded by the Thai language but interestingly enough, Mom spoke English with us (even though hers is poor and has not really improved because she had many Thai friends in Hawaii). So I started learning when I arrived in Thailand about five years ago. I have functional Thai, but the goal is to be fluent.

3) Where do you live? If you have ever moved, whether to another city or the other side of the world, please tell us when and where, and the ways the cultural differences between the places shaped or made you think about your identity.

I live in Chiang Rai, Thailand. Before that I was in Ecuador, Alabama, Southern California, Oregon, Hawaii, and Colorado. I was born and raised in Hawaii on the island of Oahu. My family moved to Barstow, California when I was around 12 years old. We were in the armpit of America for only 2-3 years, but they were formative years. It was the first time I was a minority, and I felt every bit different. It has seemed my identity would get redefined with each move. Like a potato, I can be cut up and served as fries, or be put in soup, stew, or curry. In other words, depending on the context (the dish, to stick with the analogy), I will be perceived accordingly. I’m still a potato though, you know?

4) How diverse was the neighborhood and school you grew up in?

Very diverse. It was a motley neighborhood due to the vast Asian population of Hawaii and the US military presence on the islands. But there was and still is racial tension, ironically enough. When I was growing up Caucasians often complained about feeling like outsiders and being called haole (Hawaiian for foreigners), especially when expletives accompanied the word. Can’t say that I blame them. Actually, I like to say that Hawaiian culture is a confrontational culture because there was a lot of fighting in the schools. It didn’t necessarily have to do with race, but all the races were involved. This isn’t to say we didn’t get along, because most of the time we did.

And then we moved to Barstow, California – a big change for me with no Asian kids around.  It was also the first time I was confined to the great indoors due to the harsh desert climate and environment. So I fell in love with books and writing during this period. When we returned to Hawaii I was a very different girl. I had become passionate about reading, writing and theatre. These are not “Hawaiian” qualities, like zeal for the beach or mall which back then were all that mattered.

5) When did you first become conscious of your race or ethnicity?

After my father’s death I woke up from any kind of childhood dreaminess. I often heard how much I looked like my father, which made me feel I looked “very Chinese” and made me aware of my ethnicity. In fact, I actually resented it when anyone said it was my younger brother who looked like him because I had become proud to look so Chinese and take after my father. I was Daddy’s girl.

6) Do you consciously gravitate to certain company? Are you more comfortable, more at home around people of your own ethnicity?

I consciously gravitate towards outsiders or folks perceived as different. When I was 11, we had our first dark-skinned Black student at my elementary school. We had plenty of brown-skinned students, but no one looked like her. Nobody liked her, and for some reason I immediately made friends with her. I remained her friend even when my peers teased her. She eventually made new friends and left me behind.

I kind of marvel at my younger self. I certainly didn’t get that openness from my family. My mom was sometimes racist and judgmental against all races that were not Asian. Yet for some reason, my younger brother and I knew better and would usually respond by laughing. We didn’t take her seriously. Her remarks were so archaic. As far as being around people of my own ethnicity, there is a certain kind of comfort that comes with being with your own kind. I used to hate sticking out in any crowd. Then I came to enjoy it, and now, well, I like blending in. After all, I live in Thailand where I merge into the landscape.

7) Are your most meaningful relationships with people of your own ethnicity?

No, it doesn’t work that way for me. With other Asian Americans I have met abroad there is a certain understanding we share for the similar experiences. Many expats form their own little communities. But most of my relationships are unique unto themselves. I also enjoy meaningful friendships across the ages (20s-70s) and with folks from around the world.

8) How much does racial affinity give you a sense of belonging compared to a shared faith or interest?

I actually feel a sense of belonging in many groups. This makes me easy to relate to or identify with, which is important to me as a teacher and a writer. Although I do think being Asian American helps me belong to the American and Asian communities readily.

9) Do you consciously try to keep yourself or your family active in diverse circles?

It’s something I’m aware of, but these kinds of things ebb and flow. These days I don’t really have to make much of an effort because I’m an expat (and my Thai family is a few hours away). But here’s a quick example of what I mean. For my TEFL (Teaching English as a Foreign Language) training in Bangkok, my class consisted of a Mexican, Belgian, French, Cambodian, Filipino American, British-Thai, Indian, a third-culture kid (American raised in Brazil, China, and the Philippines). My trainers hailed from Australia, South Africa, and Romania. I’m still friends with and in contact with all of them but one.

10) How did you set out to secure a sense of acceptance and belonging in social contexts, especially if you have faced hurtful experiences?

Moving around a lot has given my identity a few solid shakes. When I was living in Colorado, I had a Native American ask me, “What tribe?” I was shocked because I thought I looked so Asian. When I explained my ethnicity, he said, “Oh, I thought you were Najavo.” In Ecuador, I had a Bible thumper thrust the Good Book under my nose. He spoke in Spanish and the book was in Chinese. In Thailand, the people always try to guess my ethnicity. Japanese is a common answer, for the way I dress. Sometimes when I’m walking down the street, people speak to me in Chinese. Yesterday, a new friend asked if I was Korean. And since I teach English, I’ve made a game out of students’ guessing where I am from. So I think I’m just used to people thinking whatever they want to think about me depending on where I am. I can be outgoing or quiet. I think it helps that I like to make people laugh. There have also been times and places where I haven’t had friends and I’m okay with that, too.

11) Do you feel it is not fully possible or even imperative to shed all racial stereotypes and judgments?

I don’t know if it is fully possible, but I hope it is possible to be more compassionate and culturally sensitive.

12) What has struck you the most in working through this exercise? Any closing thoughts on race and identity you would like to share?

These questions were hard to answer because HW obviously put some good old-fashioned thought into them! I guess it’s because we live with our ethnicity and race, that we don’t often try to explain to someone else who we are and the conditions that have shaped us. I also think that some of the questions (or the answers!) might make folks feel uncomfortable. Which is not a bad thing, I liked the challenge. Thank you.

Lani at Life, The Universe, and Lani

 

The Race: Australian in Singapore, Part 15

1) How do you define yourself racially or ethnically and why is it important to you?

I’m Australian. I simultaneously know and can’t really explain what that means. I think it’s something about how we speak or dress, our body language, our sense of humour. It’s funny – I can often pick an Australian (of any ethnicity) from a crowd in a foreign place. Even from a photograph.

Bronwyn2) Where do you live? If you have ever moved, whether to another city or the other side of the world, please tell us when and where, and the ways the cultural differences between the places shaped or made you think about your identity.

I live in Singapore (six years now, on and off), have lived in the UK, briefly in China. In China I was generically foreign. In Singapore and particularly the UK, Australians have a more defined role, not the role we play in Australia. In England, for example, I had to be The Straight-Talking Australian, which involved being much more blunt than I would ever have gotten away with back home. People relaxed when I was blunt, as if the world was turning as it should, whereas back home they probably would have felt like punching me in the face. Sometimes being foreign feels like a superpower – you’re allowed to break local etiquette. Of course, all it really means is you’re expected to stick by a different set of rules.

3) How diverse was the neighborhood and school you grew up in?

Not all that diverse. Predominantly white, middle-class Australian, second or third generation, which was considered to be about as died-in-the-wool as you could get thirty odd years ago. There were a few people of different ethnicities, but it never seemed to be a big deal. The only time I remember it coming up was when a teacher spoke to some kids who were using a racial epithet as a nickname. All the kids, including the guy who’d acquired the nickname, seemed baffled and amused that anyone would find it insulting. He kept the nickname. “But that’s just my name, Miss,” he said. “It’s what everyone calls me.” And they went back to playing ball.

4) When did you first become conscious of your race or ethnicity? Please describe the context or a moment when you noticed you were different in color or language. Can you share a bit about the fear, loneliness, longing for acceptance?

When I was around five I asked mum if my cousin was “from another country”. I’d obviously noticed that our cousins didn’t look exactly like the average kid on our street, and someone must have told me people looked different in other countries. That was confusing since I’d played with my cousins all our lives and I was pretty sure they’d been born at the local hospital. My mother gave me a brief introduction to evolution and genetics coupled with a history of human exploration – pausing along the way to point out that our white skin was originally adapted for northern Europe – and then explained that my cousins had got their different skin colour from their Chinese father. Then I think she told me to put on a hat and reapply my suncream. That was pretty much that. As a sort of bonus, it explained why we always ate Chinese food when we were with them.

When I arrived in the UK as an adult, several people asked me if I was “true” Australian. When I said yes, they said they’d asked a lot of Australians and it turned out their grandparents or great grandparents were actually from somewhere else entirely. The first time I heard this I think I burst out laughing, because (remember) second or third generation was died-in-the-wool as far as I was concerned. When I told one person my full pedigree she proclaimed me British, and I replied to the effect that the British passport office saw things differently. But some Aboriginal Australians see things differently again, so I didn’t feel I could press the issue.

When I have to go there, they have to take me in. That’s the bottom line for me personally.

5) Do you consciously gravitate to certain company? Are you more comfortable, more at home around people of your own ethnicity? Have you observed a social or behavioral tendency in your own people group you would rather not perpetuate?

I’m definitely more at home with some people than others, and yes, they are often Australian. My jokes don’t fall flat (as often) and we understand the same cultural references.

That said, it’s not that I’ll automatically get on better with other Australians (or consciously gravitate towards them), it’s more that the probability I’ll feel comfortable with a randomly-chosen Australian seems to be higher than the probability I’ll feel comfortable with a randomly-chosen non-Australian. There’s a greater chance we’ll have an overlapping world view. I like to keep an open mind, though – the people we run into are not usually randomly-chosen in any case. On top of that, there’s a whole list of things some Australians do that make me cringe, from getting obnoxiously drunk (affably drunk is ok) to a certain kind of bonding ritual based mostly on whining.

6) Are your most meaningful relationships with people of your own ethnicity?

Yes, pretty much. I met my husband in high school – we were all pretty much from the same suburb, and then there’s my family.

7) How much does racial affinity give you a sense of belonging compared to a shared faith or interest? Think about the groups you are part of. Would you rather spend time with those who share your cultural food, tradition, and values or those who share your interest or mission? Where do you feel the greatest ease and connection?

Definitely shared faith or interest is of more importance than race. Class is a big factor, and education. I can relate to veterinary colleagues from other countries better than to people from my own country who live wholly differently. My colleagues and I share more similar day-to-day experiences by virtue of our similar jobs. I’m not sure it’s necessarily better this way, but at least education and class are things that can sometimes be chosen or changed.

8) Do you consciously try to keep yourself or your family active in diverse circles?

Not consciously. Singapore is a melting pot, and we end up crossing paths with a mixed bag of nationalities.

9) Optional. Children seem color-blind. How have you explained color and culture to your children or grandchildren as they got older? Did you ever have to handle a situation where they were a victim of racial slight or slur?

Five-year-olds are not colour-blind. Just in the past month, we’ve started having a lot of discussions about this. My eldest has come out with comments like “white kids should play with white kids and brown kids with brown kids” which is hilarious in a way, because ninety percent of the kids he plays with (including his best friends) are “brown”. I pointed this out to him and he had a quiet revelation. Obviously I didn’t immediately think it was hilarious. I had to collect myself, and I probably would have felt differently about it if he was part of the majority racial group where we live. Of course I’ve wondered where he picked up these attitudes, but he’s also come out with a whole slew of sexist comments as well, so I would say five-year-olds are equal-opportunity bigots. I don’t think it’s a coincidence he’s the exact same age I was when I first started asking about our cousins’ ethnicity. It’s as if he’s just starting to think about and figure out his wider community. He’s picking up on obvious differences, drawing conclusions and testing them against my reactions, and then throwing them out and starting again with new ones next week. It seems like a really important and delicate phase when it comes to his ideas about race, class, sex, etc, and I’ve been reading a lot of articles on the internet about it, which is no doubt a dubious approach. I vaguely recall my mother saying one of my cousins had some trouble in early primary school with racial slurs as well, although it must be said that I (and others) had our own troubles at that age for reasons entirely unrelated to race. Kids can be mean those first few years of school, and they’ll latch on to any excuse, though race is a particularly obvious one.

10) How did you set out to secure a sense of acceptance and belonging in social contexts, especially if you have faced hurtful experiences?

I’m not sure I’ve ever got a handle on that. I will adjust my accent and word choices, but that’s more aimed at being plain understood.

11) Do you feel it is not fully possible or even imperative to shed all racial stereotypes and judgments?

Our brains seem wired to make snap judgements on some basis. If it wasn’t race it would be dress or accent. I’m not sure it’s possible to entirely stop the profiling – it’s probably more realistic to cultivate a habit of friendliness no matter what and to continually check our first impressions.

12) What has struck you the most in working through this exercise? Any closing thoughts on race and identity you would like to share?

As time goes by, I think my identity as an Australian is weakening. I relate less to people back in the “old country” and more to those who share similar life experiences. To the extent that people stereotype me based on my race or ethnicity the conclusion they usually jump to is that I’m in some way privileged. This can be a bit frustrating if they’re trying to overcharge me or if they’re having trouble with what I’ve asked for instead of Stuff White People Like (ordering tea in Singapore can be a two-step process, where I have to first place my order, then affirm that I realise it’s “local” tea). But for the most part I get to make my own choices in peace. It’s easier not to focus on racial issues when this is the box you get put in.

Bronwyn at Journeys of the Fabulist

The Race: Caucasian in Oregon, Part 14

1 Whitney1) How do you define yourself racially or ethnically and why is it important to you?

An analysis of my DNA by Ancestry.com shows that my ancestors came from Western Europe, Ireland, Scandinavia and Spain, which makes me about as Caucasian as one can be.  I find my ethnicity interesting from a historical perspective. On a personal level, I believe who we are as individuals is much more important than our ethnicity.

2) Where do you live? If you have ever moved, whether to another city or the other side of the world, please tell us when and where, and the ways the cultural differences between the places shaped or made you think about your identity.

I live in Southern Oregon – northwestern United States – surrounded by national forests. I was raised in a small, rural town in Northern California. My first move was to University of California, Berkeley in the San Francisco Bay Area in the 60s. From there I moved to Liberia, West Africa where I served as a Peace Corps Volunteer for two years. I returned to the US, taught briefly in an all-black school elementary school in Philadelphia, and then moved to Atlanta where I traveled throughout the Southern United States recruiting for Peace Corps. Finally I returned to California.

Growing up in a small town with conservative parents gave me moderately conservative – though not prejudiced – values. Berkeley radicalized my view of the world and introduced me to cultural diversity. The kid from Diamond Springs found himself sitting on the floor of the administration building, protesting University policies on student activism, singing “We Shall Overcome” with Joan Baez. Liberia further changed my perspective on race and ethnicity. First, race was not a significant issue; it simply faded away for me. Second, working closely with tribal people introduced me to a world outside western culture. I learned how dramatically our view of the world is impacted by the culture we are raised in. Finally, I became acutely aware of the negatives aspects of ethnocentrism. Americo-Liberians, ancestors of freed slaves from America, ruled Liberia and considered tribal people inferior, while the tribal people gave their primary loyalty to their tribe and considered people from other tribes inferior. A combination of Americo-Liberian politics and tribalism would lead to Liberia’s Civil Wars and the deaths of some 200,000 people. I’ve written on the tragedy of Liberia.

3) How diverse was the neighborhood and school you grew up in?

It wasn’t. One elderly black woman and two Mexican-American families lived in Diamond Springs. The Mexican-American kids were among my best friends and I spent a lot of time in their homes. The student makeup of the high school and community college I attended weren’t significantly different.

4) When did you first become conscious of your race or ethnicity? Please describe the context or a moment when you noticed you were different in color or language.

The only real bigotry I personally experienced was when I was recruiting for Peace Corps at black colleges in the South in the 60s. Racial tensions still ran high. Black students disliked me for the color of my skin, not for what I believed in or had done. I regarded the experience as educational. I think it would be valuable for everyone to experience (briefly) what it feels like to be on the receiving end of prejudice.

5) Do you consciously gravitate to certain company? Are you more comfortable, more at home around people of your own ethnicity? Have you observed a social or behavioral tendency in your own people group you would rather not perpetuate?

Over the years I have developed my friendships mainly around my work, regardless of ethnicity. Everyone’s ‘people group’ has a degree of ethnocentrism built in. We could all use vaccination against stereotypical and prejudicial thinking, with booster shots along the way. Tribalism is alive and well.

6) Are your most meaningful relationships with people of your own ethnicity?

A young man who worked for me in Liberia has been one of my closest friends ever since. Sam came from a small village where he was born in a mud hut. I helped pay for his high school expenses in Liberia. Later he would go on to obtain a Bachelor of Science degree from Brandeis University, a Master of Public Health from Loma Linda University, and an MD (Doctor of Medicine) in Liberia. We still talk frequently and he refers to himself as my son. My work as an environmental and public health advocate frequently involved developing close working relationships with people from various ethnic groups. Beyond that, my five closest friends, including my wife, are white.

7) How much does racial affinity give you a sense of belonging compared to a shared faith or interest?  Would you rather spend time with those who share your cultural food, tradition, and values or those who share your interest or mission? Where do you feel the greatest ease and connection?

Shared interests, not racial affinity, drive my friendships. Among my closest friends are people who have fought beside me in environmental and public health battles, and joined me on the long distance backpacking and bicycling adventures I’ve led. I will say that the majority of the people I am close to share my values, including tolerance.

8) Do you consciously try to keep yourself or your family active in diverse circles?

If I had young children, I definitely would. Now I keep myself active in things that interest me. I might add that my blogging happily brings me into contact with a very diverse population from around the world.

9) Optional. Children seem color-blind. How have you explained color and culture to your children or grandchildren as they got older? Did you ever have to handle a situation where they were a victim of racial slight or slur?

When I married Peggy, her children were already in high school with broad cultural experiences under their belt, having lived in Panama, Germany and the Philippines. Both our children and their spouses have been great at introducing their children to cross-cultural opportunities.

10) How did you set out to secure a sense of acceptance and belonging in social contexts, especially if you have faced hurtful experiences?

I confess to being something of a loner, the perfect wallflower. My siblings were older and with a challenging home environment, I spent a lot of time by myself when I was a child. I learned to like it. When other kids were off playing baseball, I was happily off in the woods with my dogs doing an inventory of the local skunk population. I once took off on my bicycle and spent six months by myself doing a 10,000 mile tour of the US and Canada. I would still rather stay home and read a good book than go to a social function. The only time I felt deeply out of place was my freshman year in high school when I spent a year refusing to look at girls, any girl, in the eye. I totally lacked confidence, something that stemmed from the conditions at home. I definitely was not part of the in-crowd. And I wanted to be. It was miserable. It took several years to recover. But I’ve spent most of my life doing things that required social interaction and acceptance: running organizations, organizing campaigns, working as a lobbyist, etc. These responsibilities have opened many doors, but the sense of being an outsider has never totally left me.

11) Do you feel it is not fully possible or even imperative to shed all racial stereotypes and judgments?

The world is something of a mess, right? We need the talents and abilities of everyone working together to make it better. Every time we limit a person’s potential because of race, creed, sex, sexual preference, age, or whatever, we all lose. I think we are taught prejudice and it is deeply embedded in all societies. I also think we naturally fear that which we don’t understand and in many ways we haven’t shed the tribal instincts we inherited. Our minds are hardwired to think in stereotypes. The more our world shrinks and the more our survival depends upon working together, the more important it becomes to shed racial stereotype and judgments.

12) What has struck you the most in working through this exercise? Any closing thoughts on race and identity you would like to share?

We all need to search our souls on occasion to uncover our prejudices and to explore how they impact our judgment. Going out of our way to help people feel they belong is an act of kindness. But it is also pragmatic. Prejudice begets prejudice. While this exercise has focused on the ethnic side of prejudice, not judging or limiting people because of their sex, faith, sexual preference, age or religious beliefs is of equal importance. Making assumptions about someone because of these characteristics can be as harmful to our society as making assumptions about someone because of their ethnicity. For example, I may be ‘retired’ and a grandparent, but neither defines who I am or what I am capable of. Finally, we need to evaluate the institutions we are part of as well as ourselves. For example, does our church teach that women must defer to men, or that gay people are sinners, or that people of other religions or nonreligious people are somehow inferior? Or does it teach that we are all equal in the eyes of God? Exclusivity is an open door to prejudice. Likewise, what do we learn in our places of employment, schools, and the groups we belong to? We have an obligation to promote tolerance in our organizations and groups as much as we need to broaden our own views.

Curt at Wandering Through Time And Place

Mothers From Around The World

Words go unsaid too many times but that doesn’t mean I don’t notice when you step to the shadows so I can have my day in the sun. You’ve saved portions of food so that I’d have enough to eat when I get home from work. You laboured over the stove when you were so ill it made my whines about my colds seem like tantrums. It is such a struggle in our third world culture to be a woman, wife and of all things, a mother. It is a job that gets the most rocks thrown at, the rocks I have thrown at you to feed my teenage angst. All the hurtful things I have said, you have never held them against me. I am where I am because you believed that being a woman is not a disability, that being Indian is not something to be ashamed of. You taught me the power of following your dreams, not with endless lectures, but by being an example. I have explored the world on the wings of your sacrifices and cheerleading.

You know that day they say will be ours, that everyone will have their day? I know that day will come only because you have built it patiently, rock by collected rock (you never seem to be able to get rid of anything I give you). They will one day look at me and say, look at that woman, doesn’t she look like her mother? It will be the proudest day of my life.

Cupitonians at This Labrynth I Roam

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My mother had a fine palate for music even as a girl. She didn’t grow up with much in Seoul but was cultured in the great Classical composers. So 25 years later when the world-famous Chung Trio was expected to play at Carnegie Hall, Mom didn’t think twice. It was a memory she couldn’t help see through for her kids. So what that she was an immigrant, didn’t know English? She reached deep into the pockets of her waitress apron, a matter of course that the most sophisticated halls of New York should open its doors to her family. She managed piano lessons for her girl. It would be inspirational for her daughter to see a Korean family perform on such an illustrious stage. Kyung Wha played violin and her sister cello, their brother on piano. But I was actually more impressed with the grandeur of the theatre than the performance when Mom kept asking how I liked it. She imagined I had more discernment in music than I did as a ten-year-old. Not many years later, Mom found me crying helplessly while listening to one of her favorite pieces, Gounod’s Ave Maria. I couldn’t explain the ache of all the memories, of having watched her work so hard, the feeling of her that welled up and over from the song I always associated with Umma. Twenty-five years later I would play it for my boy. My little musician doesn’t know that someday he will love it even more when it brings back his Umma.

Holistic Wayfarer on A Holistic Journey

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My parents were German emigrants to Australia. I remember lying in the middle of their bed in Sydney, my mother laughing as she tried to teach me to whistle, rain bucketing down outside. I still love hearing rain on a tin roof. After her passing, my father was my next mother. A practical industrial chemist, he made pea and pigs trotter soup in his lab. And brought the huge pot home in the trunk of his car. I still fear the smell of pea and ham soup! When my grandmother came from Germany, the soup got much better. She knitted itchy jumpers with love, and I translated English movie plots into German for her. My Australian stepmother cooks with love: bread, lemon cakes, butterscotch tarts, date cuddle cookies. Cabbage rolls and herring salad for my father – even pea soup. She understands the nostalgic potency of a mother’s cooking. My mother-in-law is quintessential Australia: roses in a crystal vase on a windowsill, chicken veggie soup, the darn lemon tree that’s been dying for ten years she refuses to give up on, the dreadful songs on country radio that were old twenty years ago, the smell of lamb roast wafting through her house. Mothers reach us through the senses into the sense of our soul.

Susan at Putting in a Good Word

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When I was a child Maman sewed most of my clothes. While she hemmed a new summer dress, I had to stand still.

“Parfait,” she declared with a final critical look.

Everything had to look perfect for Maman.

At lunchtime Maman used to dash to the garden, leaving the subtle mix of her eau de toilette and hairspray traceable when I came home from school. She returned with a bunch of fresh parsley she held like a bouquet of flowers. Those agile fingers chopped the herbs and sprinkled them on the tomato salad.

“Taste,” she would urge, pushing a plate in front of me. “Meilleur?”

Everything had to taste better for Maman.

I was so tired of parfait and meilleur that I couldn’t wait for wrong and worse.

It is said a daughter understands her mother when she becomes a mother herself. But it sometimes takes going far away to grasp the significance of rituals and customs mothers pass on. In California, the memory of Maman guided me while I clumsily pinned the hems of my girls’ prom dresses. Now my daughter is planting herbs – cilantro, her parsley.

Bonne Fête Maman!
Happy Mother’s Day!

Evelyne @ Evelyne Holingue

 

 

The Race: Chinese-Canadian, Part 13

1) How do you define yourself racially or ethnically and why is it important to you?

Chinese-Canadian or Canadian-born Chinese. My partner is German-Canadian. We’ve been together over 20 yrs.

2) Where do you live? If you have ever moved, whether to another city or the other side of the world, please tell us when and where, and the ways the cultural differences between the places shaped or made you think about your identity.

I’m in Calgary, a city of over 1.3 million people in Alberta, a province of Canada. This city is a big contrast to Vancouver and Toronto where I also lived for over 30 years. These cities have higher proportions of Asian-Canadians who can be quite vocal. Calgary is still quite conservative in areas of social justice, which includes race relations. This means far more subdued self-expression. I grew up not far from Toronto: Waterloo had a German-Mennonite base which throws Canada’s largest Oktoberfest annual festival. I had German-Canadian classmates who proudly wore their dirndls and lederhosen during Oktoberfest week. I thought every city had traditional Mennonites, and discovered I was wrong when I moved to Toronto. I learned about local Mennonite history when I was 13, long before I learned about Chinese-Canadian history in my final year biketo-work-vancouver-fall2009in high school. Prior to that, the curriculum was still stuck in British colonial history and the French-Canadians. As I grew up, I noticed my loss of Chinese fluency; the kind of food I ate at home, which was not steak and potatoes; and a nonEuropean family history. It was a revelation when I moved to Toronto in my 20s and felt less conspicuous with more Asian faces in the crowd. I participated in Chinese-Canadian community events, amassed a book collection of Asian-Canadian and American authors, and volunteered for five years with Asianadian, a literary magazine that specialized in Asian-Canadian issues and experiences. I met and was inspired by other volunteer writers and organizers from various Toronto ethnocultural groups who had a strong bold voice. I left the magazine to volunteer for a national Chinese-Canadian organization on race relations and immigrant matters. In the 1980’s, the Chinese Canadian National Council was led by a few young, inspiring volunteer board members in law, medicine and social work. They are community leaders today in Toronto and through them, I learned to find my voice to speak up and be less afraid.

3) How diverse was the neighborhood and school you grew up in?

We were the only nonwhite family on the street, downtown. I grew up quite aware that less than 25 students out of 2,000 were of Asian descent in high school – 1/5 of them my siblings. Very few blacks and East Indians also when I was a teen.

4) When did you first become conscious of your race or ethnicity?

First day in kindergarten. I was shocked to discover I didn’t know any English. I had spoken only Toishanese, a dialect not very well known nowadays. During the first few months of school, some white boys threw stones at me, tried to trip me and called me “Jap”. I didn’t know why they were being cruel. For a few weeks, I had nightmares of being chased. The first three years of school, I received in-school English as a Second Language support, which added to the vague feeling of being an outsider. So I was very shy. The lack of confidence to speak and present before groups did not truly dissipate completely until I was well into my career – in my 30’s! I am quite different now than when I was in university. I realize that though I was born in Canada, my early years have helped me to empathize with the struggles of immigrants. Now I’m in reverse. My spoken Chinese has degraded so much that I cannot communicate in a deep, meaningful way with my mother. I did have some very good white friends even though they couldn’t completely understand the cross-cultural challenges since they did not have immigrant parents and bilingual communication problems at home.

5) Do you consciously gravitate to certain company? Are you more comfortable, more at home around people of your own ethnicity? Have you observed a social or behavioral tendency in your own people group you would rather not perpetuate?

For the past three decades, I have gravitated to people who share my interests, activities and values rather than seek relationships primarily along ethnic-racial lines. Earlier in life, I did actively seek out some friendships within the comforts of ethnicity. I wanted to understand my own identity – what things unite us and distinguish us. The Chinese-Canadian communities in all the big cities where I’ve lived are huge and highly diverse. Metro Toronto alone has over 400,000 residents of Chinese descent. Their families no longer come from the same southern province my parents and other Chinese immigrants did from the 1800’s to early 1960’s.

As for preconceptions, you have the typical academic or technically oriented Asian-Canadian. I tell people my math skills are limited, borne out of sheer need for survival in jobs that require interpreting basic management data. What would you expect of an English literature university grad? I avoided math courses in my final year of high school. That’s when my parents realized I was not like my siblings who did have stronger mathematical skills and did their university degrees in the hard sciences. I was the teen who stuffed in as many art courses as possible in school, wrote poetry and loved literature. Most likely my creative tendencies are reflected in my blog. Obviously not all people within an ethnicity will fit the mold.

6) Tell us a little about your family, the generations who first came to America.

My great-grandfathers, coincidentally on both sides, worked in Canada and the U.S. for several years in the early 1900’s. They went back to their families in China when they could. The federal Chinese Immigration Act in North America barred Chinese men from bringing their wives and children to Canada and the U.S.. Both countries feared being run over by the Chinese and worried about job competition for whites. After building the national railroads for both countries, the only type of work the Chinese could get were in laundromats and restaurants. The law affected Chinese family structure and family.

Chinese-American and Chinese-Canadian soldiers and nurses died for Canada and the U.S. during WW II even though they could not vote at the time. Their allegiance and sacrifice turned Parliament in Canada and Congress, and the Chinese were eventually granted the right to vote – just a few years after my father immigrated to Canada. My mother was a picture bride. Met my father for the first time when she got off the plane in Toronto. They were married within a week. I’m the eldest of six. Two of my siblings married Caucasians.

7) Are your most meaningful relationships with people of your own ethnicity?

My most meaningful relationships are not restricted to my own ethnicity but certainly my family was instrumental in shaping my identity in my earlier years.

8) How much does racial affinity give you a sense of belonging compared to a shared faith or interest? Where do you feel the greatest ease and connection?

Racial likeness isn’t enough. I connect better if I shared a passion like cycling or art as well as cultural-life experiences like food, tradition and personal values. About 60% of my home meals are Asian-based though I stopped eating rice over five years ago to stave off Diabetes 2.  My circle of friends is moderately diverse. After spending time last week with a Japanese woman visiting our city, I realized that my closest, long-standing nonwhite friends were all of Chinese descent. So for the past five decades after living in big Canadian cities, I’ve never really known anyone well with family roots in Korea, Vietnam, etc. It’s all been just superficial, pleasant working relationships with others so far. But for me, friendships last because of happenstance, trust, empathy and the right vibe.

9) How did you set out to secure a sense of acceptance and belonging in social contexts, especially if you have faced hurtful experiences?

I found solo activities I enjoy which allow me to explore, destress, grow in skill, so that I wouldn’t depend on acceptance according to someone else’s standards. I first wanted to satisfy what I felt was right for myself. I tend to distance myself or just ignore others, often strangers, who have been hurtful or overly negative. It helps a lot to have a set of great friends who have known me a long time. Life is short and my energy is limited. I have also found solace in writing poetry and doing art on my own – creative channels and antidotes for loneliness.

10) Do you feel it is not fully possible or even imperative to shed all racial stereotypes and judgments?

I can shed my own judgments if I stop and reexamine my own biases and perceptions. I can’t say though that I’m conscientious enough.

11) What has struck you the most in working through this exercise? Any closing thoughts on race and identity you would like to share?

The write-up raised a curious point that I haven’t explored such a pertinent part of my life on my blog. I haven’t completely figured out if I want to spend time and energy on racism, stereotyping, cross-cultural conflicts and pain.  It has been a long journey in learning how to stand by my own identity and voice in the most authentic way. The journey is not over.

Is there mercy when there is hate and war in this world? Sometimes it means immigrating to a completely different country to lose personal biases or historic influences. Or it takes the 2nd, 3rd generation being raised by parents with healthier, more conscious attitudes. Since my parents did not directly experience the atrocities of the Japanese army in China, they don’t have the historic negativism toward the Japanese.

 

Jean at Cycle Write Blog