Monday, March 23, 2009

Marry Me Because I'm "Asian"

Thanks to Racialicious and to Angry Asian Man for a heads up on this article about how children of immigrants are "looking closer for love," according to the Washington Post who says that there is a surprising trend occurring for the second generations (children who are born in the United States and their parents are immigrants) and 1.5 generation (immigrants who enter the country at a very young age) who are choosing to marry someone from their own racial background.

The research findings are confounding social scientists who predicted that the most open-minded, Obama-witnessing generation would be increasing the number of interracial marriages. What they're finding (gasp) is the opposite - that as the number of Asians increase in the classrooms, workplace, campus, and bar lounges, the more second gens are looking for someone who understands the split identity crisis, "As children, they felt divided loyalties, growing up with one foot in their parents' home country, the other in the United States. Now, as adults, they wonder: Would I be happy with someone as American as I am, or a recent immigrant?"

At first glance, the numbers make sense and the case for same-race marriage solidifies with research: as the immigrant pool increases, so should the pride and yearning for one's cultural background be reinforced as they decide to match their race with their future spouse.

Was this research done in 1995 when nearly all Asians were swept under the same rug? Has everyone forgotten the wonderful lessons of reality television? Does no one remember the 2006 Survivor "social experiment" where teams were grouped according to race? Grouping Latinos together was fine, grouping African Americans together seemed logical, throwing the Caucasians together never rocked any boats, but throwing all the Asians together was like throwing cats in a bag.

The point wasn't that Asians don't get along. The point was showing how ignorant ABC producers were in thinking that people with Asian backgrounds were relatively the same. I guess it's a hard concept to grasp. Chinese, Koreans, Vietnamese, Japanese, Indian, and Filipinos (just to name a handful of Asian races) are all tremendously diverse cultures whose heritages spells out extremely different experiences, even if they are "American."

When any one project, research article, or person groups Asian cultures together, it erases the rich lines of difference between them. Growing up, the erasure came from merging all Asians under one roof ("Whenver I see an Asian, I just assume they're Chinese," to "Should I take off my shoes when I come to your house?" to "I bet you'll be a doctor, right?"). But the erasure also came by class. As long as I was a well-educated middle class Asian womyn, I was similar enough to my White friends that they, "...never see race, just the person underneath." My mother's accent was "cute," and my Brown skin was "a tan."

One mentality erased me by piling on stereotypes all over my actual life so it was kept hidden. The other valued sameness and ignored the rest. Both practices made me invisible. Both practices infuriated me.

I know nothing of holistic medicine or herbal teas. Geishas are as foreign to me as speaking German. "Asian sounding" last names became identifiable only as I built relationships with people from Japan and Korea and China, not because I was born with black hair. I ate rice with a spoon and fork, not chopsticks, and wondered why "gook" and "chink" were thrown at my wide-set brown eyes, Filipino features written across the ocean of my face. I slowly understood growing up that racist comments weren't hoping for accuracy, they were meant to categorize and control.

Returning to my parents' homeland reinforced the unique existence of second gens. There is a component of belonging in the Philippines. Physically, I blended in easily and the roots of my culture are born there, but the moment I opened my mouth or talked politics, the differences shine brightly. The westernized tongue was thick in the Philippines and I stood out in my opinions of social action, negotiating personal space, and measuring "progress." Here in the United States, I physically stand out in most areas of the country (excluding NYC or CA), but my values are a mixture of eastern and western.

To be a second generation citizen in this country is not to straddle two worlds, it means to have a multi-divided intellect that can perceive and think on several different levels of intuition, cognition, and emotive signals. Surviving in schools and in social settings always depended on my ability to quickly perceive and act; to measure and weigh each step before deciding how to proceed accordingly. It was exhausting living that way, but that was the way.

The article does not break down how the research is analyzed, but just say for the sake of argument that the researchers take on the 2006 Survivor mentality that groups all Asian cultures together. Likely, then, it would consider, say, a Chinese-Japanese marriage as same "asian" race, and Filipino-Caucasian as interracial. For that, I only have three words: how utterly lazy.

The author also throws this classic line near the end as well: "Their forebears often met spouses through family introductions or arranged marriages."

Pardon me, who are "their forebears?"

Because I've never heard of any arranged marriages in my family line. The majority of the second gens in my family (20-30 of us) are pretty much in interracial long term relationships (including my gay and lesbian cousins who are not married), and our parents' marriages were hardly arranged. That might be true in another Asian culture, but not as much in Filipino culture. Here is my poetic dedication to stereotypes:

We don't speak English at all
We all eat dogs, cats, and rats
and can't drive to save our lives
We all run laundry mats.

Our women are fetishes
Our men are sexless and short
We're always number one
in any academic cohort.

We're super smart in science and math
and I'm quiet, shy, demure
and if I've got a colonized mind
a White man will be my cure!

Cuz I'm an Asian Asian Asian

There are no magic potions that trick your skin into feeling like you belong and I never looked to my primary relationship to fix that. I certainly wanted someone to understand, first hand, how it felt to walk into a room and be stared at or mocked, criticized, or discriminated. But that wasn't my litmus test. It wasn't one particular "thing" that I looked for, it was a combination of insight, gentleness, strength, and integrity that attracted me into intimacy.

There are times when I wish Adonis understood my lived experience beyond that of a cerebral reasoning. The smell of Different is incense that never leaves your clothes. Throughout my entire childhood, I felt others mentally burn a word on my forehead and while sometimes I forgot about it, something would and (still does) always happen that reminds me there's nowhere to hide from the world so long they can see the Brown of your skin or the shape of your eyes. I wish he could deeply absorb what that meant to me, to always be seen as a scary paradoxical mystery.

Our cultural differences have sparked some of the most intense fights and loving conversations and I'd be lying if I said it never bothered me that I feel quite alone in my racial identity. But that's the story of immigration and children of immigration in this country. Isolation is the birthmark of our parents, disguised isolation is the trademark of second gens.

I was open to loving anyone, but I never considered the notion that someone from a similar ethnic background would take that particular loneliness away. It's profundity is a part of my fabric and it's evolved with me as I learned how to be in significant relationships. Undeniably, yes, I wanted someone who could understand the longing that came with being racially different, but that wasn't the only kind of longing I was limited to. As a person who knows longing so well, I looked for someone who understood it on multiple levels - a longing for intellectual stimulation, a longing for God, a longing for sports and board games.

Each person - regardless of Asian race - will define "home" very differently. For many Filipinos, religion is of utmost priority. Walking into Adonis' home and hearing them make plans for mass, or tease each other about being late for church, or gripe about the length of Easter Sunday - THAT felt like home to me. The way their four siblings interacted reminded me of being in my four sibling family. The way family was centralized (oh, so very Filipino) and the loud talking, laughing, and efforts to connect as much as possible while everyone was home, that felt very familiar. And while the Sunday brunches' menu did not include pork adobo, rice, or longaniza, I felt a sense of home in his family. That "sense" of home never translated into Home, but I don't look for Home anywhere else than in my own reflections and memories.

The intensity and intricacy of our lived experiences is unpatterned. For me, it was not enough to look for someone who had a connection with culture, I was looking for someone who had a connection to their family, to their spiritual side. Among countless filters, temperament tests, and personality traits, I looked for someone who connected this world with the next, who loved to tackle mystery and faith, and trusted that the road would not be easy, but most certainly worth it. And corny jokes. Must love and tell corny jokes.

I guess that's the Filipino in me.

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