by Latoya Peterson
Her email reminded me that I never got around to prepping the Link Love post for the second carnival, so I’ll take my late pass and present it to you anyway.
You see, the Chinese are not a monolithic race/culture. The dominant culture is the Han. But there are also other ethnic groups under this wide umbrella term. Half of my heritage comes from Southern China which is closer to regions like Vietnam and Yunnan. The languages that come out from these regions are rich, textured and unique. Mandarin Chinese is supposed to be the unifying language, the pu-tong-hua (common tongue/language); it is what I grew up with, because there was (and is) a government policy to eradicate all the “dialects”. Therefore, many adults from my generations grew up speaking only English and Mandarin Chinese. Our knowledge of the “dialects”, the languages from the specific provinces in China, is dismal, a smattering of words or two.
My Ah-Ma saw it in her grandchildren. Only a couple of my cousins are able to converse with her in Hokkien. The rest of us flounder and have to look for interpreters (namely my father). Once, after returning from Australia for summer vacation, I visited her and she called me an “ang moh”, a white person. The comment, though spoken in jest, stuck with me for a long time. Was I an “ang moh”, a white person? Or – worse – was I a banana? Yellow outside, white within. I cannot speak Hokkien to save my life, but I try to understand my Ah-Ma. These days, I have taken to speaking to her in Mandarin. Even then, I feel as if I am a failure, a hack pretending to be what she is not.
Karanguni – On Race, Or Privilege, or Just Being Human
I try to explain, stumbling because I hardly share most of the values myself, that women down here don’t usually go for one-night stands, but then again some do, I mean — we, we’re a lot — about family? We– we want stability? Or some of us do???
Contrasting answers, until he leaned in and said, “Stability? But are you happy? It’s like all of you – not just women – are like slaves. And coming from a Western country, I find that honestly, truly sad that you can’t be who you want to be. Because of the patriarchy, it controls — family is like a cage –”
If I tried to explain it it would’ve taken me a few dictionaries, a few travel adventures, and probably most of my sanity. I don’t know how to describe to someone who has no conception, no 17 years of exposure to “Eastern” television and art and music and culture the same way I’ve received, via however horrible proxies, “Western” definitions, what an “Eastern” viewpoint is. There’s an overarching, traditionalist structure there. But it dissipates, and everyone has different ideas of what is right, appropriate, good. But I know this much – it’s a lot more common down here to not talk about rights.
Rights, I guess, equals entitlement, equals a demand for privilege. It’s hard for me to think of a right to be free when I’ve grown up in a family and a society where my family members – and country members – have sacrificed everything they are (in “Western terms”) for their family. Their time, all their income, every inch of their soul and being, in family. Their children are their assets, their stability is their bedrock. Whatever right one has to be something less than practical, to leave the family home, that right gets overwhelmed by other desires. Same as freedom. The desire to see parents happy, or the wish for a smooth life, even in exchange for doing what one loves.
I don’t know. I’ll never know. So much of it is ingrained, unspoken, territorial, subconscious, natural. I look at the world and accept it without trying to pick it apart, because how can I? How could I ever explain to my Spanish friend that I think that sometimes breaking my heart in exchange for not breaking my parents’ is valid? That I would give up what I love for income? That I would avoid an argument against my values in favour of maintaining a relationship? And that those things complete me rather than break me, make me who I am instead of making me downtrodden, dis-entitled, discriminated, underprivileged? That it is, in some ways, something I give away in exchange for something I receive?
I am in college, and I am in an Asian restaurant with a group of mostly white friends. At this restaurant, we have the wooden, disposable chopsticks, with directions printed on the red packets.
One of my white friends says, “I wish I knew how to use chopsticks.”
I hold up my hand to show her how to bring the two ends together, so that she can mimic the motion. It is comfortable and familiar to me, and I feel secure in the knowledge that was hard-earned. She copies me with the awkwardness of someone who has never tried it before.
One of my white friends laughs at me and says, “No, no. That’s not right,” pointing at the directions on the packet. He demonstrates for her himself. His hand is just far enough back, and the bottom stick does not move as he brings the top stick down. The way he holds his chopsticks is technically perfect.
Unlike me. I hold my chopsticks wrong.