Tuesday, March 28, 2006

The Asia-Asian : Asian-American Divide

Unknown talked about her surprise in encountering Asian intra-racism in her college. I am even more surprised to know that she is new to this phenomenon. Part of it I guess, stemmed from the fact that she "hardly hang around Asians at school, or any American born Asians".

My initial encounter was in the first year of Grad School. None in undergrad because I mostly hung out with the international students (including some Europeans, but mainly from the Asia-Pacific region), and my college was overwhelmingly white (>90% for my major; not surprising given the racial make-up of the state).

There was this pair of Asian-Americans (AAs), one Chinese and the other Korean amongst the first-years. The other Asians in the entering class were like me, holding non-US passports and with one exception hailing from S. Korea and China. (I am not counting in the Indians here.) So you know the department tends to pack first years with a heavy course workload, and we need to form study groups to tackle the homework assignments as well as the mid-terms/exams. The pair of AAs started to spend lots of time with me and another 'international', who also did her undergrad in the US. They were frank with us about the reason though - "We tend to stick with you rather than the others because you are culturally closer to us and comfortable with English."

I was also close to the PRCs (aha! Despite my love-hate relationship with the Chinese language, grad school is the time I thank my lucky stars for being *quite* bilingual). They don't like to mix with the AAs too, and tend to view most of them with contempt - something along the line of "rootless bananas" or "whitewashed". Many feel that the Asian Americans have this air of "superiority" when dealing with the non-American Asians simply because they speak better English or are integrated into the mainstream *white* culture.

It feels weird at times, to see and listen the views from both sides. Sometimes I wonder where I stand. "Surfactant" comes to mind.

Interested readers can also refer to a previous post about the roadblocks I encountered when it comes to interracial mixing.

Just like football. House Divided

Edit (Mar 29): loiseaurebelle comments in her blog.


L'oiseau rebelle said...

The following views might be skewered by a stomach full of Italian food and I have been speaking and listening to Italian for the past 4 hours.

Frankly, it can be *very* frustrating to make conversation with people who can *barely* speak English. Especially if they're your study group mates. Some people might not want to deal with such a situation. Not that it's a "correct" thing to do, but I can understand where such attitudes might arise from.

I try to make accomodations for people who might not have as much experience with the English language as me - the way my Italian conversation group is understanding towards my command of Italian. I like associating with people who try hard to master English, but I get annoyed by those who clearly have no imperative to improve their English skills. How do you wish to succeed in America? By speaking Esperanto?

Maybe I'm making sweeping generalizations, but I have noticed that Asians (or Asian-Americans) have a greater tendency to exhibit insular behaviors, or swing towards the other extreme, that is, reject Asian culture. Which may explain the phenomena you have described. I think a lot of it stems from our insecurities - on one hand, we view "white" culture as superior, and on the other hand, we scorn the decadence and immorality of "white" culture. (" " doubly emphasized.)

I should probably write my own post instead of spewing more drivel here, and I've a lot more thoughts for another time.

-ben said...

The other face of this is that both 1st generation American-Asians and FOBs are united in their racist attitude toward inter-racial dating.

First generation Asian-Americans also tend to exhibit a particularly intense disdain towards their own culture. Such zealousness is only paralleled by the behavior exhibited by recently-converted Evangelical Christians. Thus, they abandon everything that has to do with their culture and freely embracing the most popular one that comes their way. This is why you see so many Asian-American wannabe gangsters flashing gang signs and being stupid.

They call me "FOB."
I call them "Chiggers."
I think the portmanteau > the acronym.

Peishan said...

I wouldn't quite call it racism. It's just a lot easier to talk to people that you can easily understand, and a lot of people are just too lazy to venture out of their comfort zone and put in a little more effort to socialize with others not of their same background. It's not that they despise/look down on those from a background different from them, it's more that they simply can't be bothered.

that, and the fact that some international students do not put in the effort to speak in english when they're with their fellow countrymen. it's seriously offputting when you're trying to hang out with them but they don't make the effort to include you in the conversation.

L'oiseau rebelle said...

>First generation Asian-Americans also tend to exhibit a particularly intense disdain towards their own culture.

Some of them might have migrated because they didn't like the culture back home.

There are *a lot* of things I'm not particularly favorable of in Chinese and Singaporean culture, most notably the unquestioning deference to authority. It isn't just about the government, but also workplaces, schools, and especially families.

I think there's a difference between outward expressions of culture and the cultural system you base your beliefs and values on. I think a lot of the Asian wannabe-gangster thing is just a superficial act, when it comes to the crunch, most of them will probably fall back on Asian value systems. Heh... I could name a few people...

Interestingly, I don't dress in a very "American" way - no jeans and t-shirt, no big bright slogans showing off the American brands that I can(not) afford, actually my style is a lot more European. I don't speak with a distinct American accent (I've watched videos of presentations I've given), but it's a very long stretch to classify my accent as Singaporean. But somehow in the last year, I've noticed that many people thought I was born in America or migrated at 2 years old. I've gotten variations of "...and you Americans" and "so when did you come to America? Three years ago?!!?!?!?!?" from both locals and foreigners. I'm still figuring out what about me spells American.

-ben said...

A little less relevant, but nonetheless still pertinent:

Part Asian, 100% Hapa is the product of Fulbeck's last three years, spent traveling the country and photographing fellow hapas (a term derived from the Hawaiian phrase "hapa haole," literally meaning "half white") from a wide range of ages and backgrounds. It's the book that Fulbeck says he wishes he had growing up.

"I grew up in unincorporated L.A. county, in a town with roads but no streetlights and no police," he says. "My half-brother was the first Chinese kid to go to my school, and I was the second, so I got the whole 'ching-chong' thing, and I got stuffed into trash cans and rolled down stairwells. But when I got together with extended family on weekends in Chinatown, well, me and my dad, we were the only ones who didn't fit in."


Peishan said...

Wow Ben, that was a really fascinating link you shared with us, thanks. I really enjoyed the article, and I think, some of the concerns/questions raised were valid ones.

I dont think that first gen asian americans disdain their own culture. their parents might have, and that's why they moved. i think the problem with a lot of first gen AAs is that their parents never really tried to incalculate or educate them about their roots. i know, because i have a ton of friends who are AAs, and it's quite sad how little they know about their own language, not even culture.

KnightofPentacles said...

The immediate band-aid solution could be to live somewhere where there is a huge percentage of new immigrants. Who is going to notice how 'different' you are when everybody else sticks out anyway?

I dont think that first gen asian americans disdain their own culture. their parents might have, and that's why they moved.

It is probably more of teenagers trying hard to "fit in" and find their own identity. It is harder for them since they look (ethnically) different from the majority.

If I were to have kids (god forbid!) I would want to raise them with the values systems commonly accepted by the adopted land. Not of the original land that I left from.

Passing down heritage and history to the next generation is important but I feel that equipping them with the tools/skills to survive where they are is more valuable.