I've only begun to take ownership of my Asian identity in a non-cultural sense in the past few years. The modifier of "non-cultural" is important. My identification with my Chinese heritage in a cultural sense I have never questioned. More than that, it's something that I'm proud of and something that I've always wanted to work on. Iremember back to the time that I lived in CT. It was actually the only time in my life that I think I've strongly identified with an Asian community. We ran a Chinese school with language and cultural activities (dance, painting, etc). We had monthly parties where all the parents and kids would come together. Food. Food. Food. I remember these times very fondly and I wonder if I'll ever find that again. It occurs to me that I might never find it again unless I actively seek it out.
And I've carried those experiences with me. When I cook, I still usually cook Chinese food. Almost all of my favorite restaurants are Chinese. I take comfort in the traditions and social rules that I have learned within the context of Chinese culture. I hope one day to pass that on to my children.
But the political component of being Chinese, Asian, of color. This is very different. Until a few years ago, I think I denied its existence. In recent years i've attempted to understand and take ownership of that part of my identity, but it's still confusing to me.
---> I am a person of color. [Fact]
---> I can point to specific instances in my life where I have experienced racism or prejudice. [Fact]
---> My parents came to the United States as graduate students. [Fact]
---> I come from a background of upper middle class. [Pretty sure that's a fact. It's hard for me to understand what that actually means]
---> I am a member of the "model minority." [Fact]
It's hard for me to understand what all this means. It's a lonely intersection of the dualities of white/colored and rich/poor. The race struggle and the class struggle. And I fall on both sides of the fence. I'm growing more and more aware of the fact that I am a person of color. Part of me doesn't really know why. It's like in the past couple years, I've suddenly felt this urgency to recognize that I'm not white...
* * *
An experience I'll never forget... when I was little, my mom borrowed Spike Lee's Malcom X. We watched it as a family. I remember feeling offended - offended by the concept that whites had no place in the black movement. Offended because I identified as white.
* * *
... hand in hand with this sense of urgency: the need to take ownership of being of color. But I'm not sure what that means. I don't dare pretend that my experience is at all comparable to being black in the United States. I can't imagine that my experience is anywhere near growing up in a ghetto [race aside].
I feel conflicted. I don't have it all figured out. However, let me be clear. I'm not white-washed. I'm not a banana. I'm not a Twinkie. This has been true all my life with respect to culture. And all my life I have chosen to keep that a part of me. And I do believe much of that is choice. But the political aspect of my color is one that I cannot choose. Just like one cannot deny white privlege, I can't give this back. But I can chose to acknowledge it.
I resent ever identifying as white. It was never a decision that I made. It just happened. To me, it represents a form a structural racism in action. An unconscious association between white and unoppressed and more dangerously, white and successful... white and the system.
I think I just suddenly realized where the sense of urgency came from. I don't think that the current economic/political system is mine. I take no pride in it. I want no part in perpetuating it.
I am person of color. I am a radical.