N’Jaila Rhee, the mastermind behind BlaysianBytch.com (link NSFW); Elton, long time commenter and friend of the blog; refresh_daemon, blogger and occasional contributor; Christina Xu, friend of the blog and occasional contributor; Eric Zhang, occasional contributor; and Holly, contributor at Feministe.
Elton: My mom doesn’t care who my sister or I marry as long as they are good, hardworking, honest people who live what she calls a “quality life.”
My family is part of a wave of Cantonese immigrants to the Southern United States that goes back to the 1930s or earlier. One of our forefathers is turning 100 this year. Another from that generation married a white waitress who worked at the first Chinese restaurant in the area. Their marriage lasted until death. Their mixed-race children are retirement age and a few served in the Army in the Vietnam War.
Despite the predominant media message, neither interracial relationships nor Chinese immigrants to America are anything new.
refresh_daemon: My first generation Korean immigrant parents view of interracial dating has evolved a little since I was young. When I was younger, it was unfathomable to them that I would date someone who wasn’t ethnically Korean and so the particular message that I received growing up was a big “NO.” My father, having since moved back to Korea still holds to this view strongly, although only for me as being the first son has implications that do not extend to my younger siblings; for my younger siblings, I think his line of thinking is similar to my mother’s (although Korean beats all for him). My mother would prefer that I marry, in order: 1) A Korean American woman, 2) an Asian American woman, 3) a Korean woman, 4) a white woman. She’s become much more open since my youth, but she still has clear racial biases. Obviously, marriage preferences determine who it’s acceptable to be in a relationship with. As my father says, “Friends fine, but you can’t marry them.”
Christina: Growing up, my parents certainly hoped that I would date Chinese-Americans but I think they knew it was going to be tough since we moved from China (lots of Chinese people) to Ohio (not quite so many) when I was 7. By the time I hit college, they had all but given up on the idea. For them, it was primarily an issue of linguistic and cultural compatibility; they wanted a son-in-law that they could converse with easily and, eventually, grandkids that spoke Chinese. As a result, other East Asians weren’t necessarily favored over whites. Blacks, Arabs, and–surprisingly–South Asians were strongly frowned upon, in that order. Refresh_daemon’s father’s “friends fine, but you can’t marry them” was very much the philosophy in our house as well.
At some point, I was surprised to hear my mom tell me that she’d actually come to dislike the idea of me dating Asian-American men, citing the probable incompatibility of their more tradition gender views with my loud tomboy nature, progressive politics, and other strange ideas. I think for her, it was part reluctant acceptance and part mercy for any good Chinese boy that might have the misfortune of stumbling upon me.
Eric: If my parents mentioned dating at all when I was growing up, it was to say I wasn’t allowed to date until college (ha!). As is the case with many other aspects of discussions about race, I was taught about interracial relationships on a particularly black-white axis, and rarely considered interracial relationships between Asians and non-Asians. I think I did grow up with an unspoken understanding that I was expected to marry another Chinese, and my parents would pair me and my brother with other Chinese girls – you know, the cute thing where parents decide their children are boyfriend and girlfriend when they’re six years old. When I moved to a new neighborhood that was 96% white, my mother paired us with white girls instead. Then I moved to a neighborhood with a larger Asian concentration and my “girlfriend” was Taiwanese. Of course this was all before I became old enough to understand dating, and this was, again, our parents deciding it would be cute for us to be “boyfriend/girlfriend.” I think, though, that because we spent a lot of time living in neighborhoods with relatively low Asian populations, my mother was more open to the idea of an interracial relationship. After my parents got divorced, for example, my mother dated a half-Colombian, half-Egyptian man, who is still a major part of our lives.
Holly: I’m the product of an interracial relationship between my mother (1st generation Japanese immigrant) and my dad (white guy) so THAT kind of interracial relationship was held up as a good, “diverse” thing in my family, and something which my parents had struggled with oppression and misunderstanding around, including from their families. It wasn’t seen as strange at all when I was growing up that I’d date white people or asian people — and in high school I dated someone who was quarter-indigenous, and that was totally thumbs-up as well. The liberal-multi-culti facade of all interracial relationships being cool was torn up a little bit when my sister started dating black guys, however. There was a lot more disapproval and “what does he want to do with his life,” which I’m sure could be attributed to class differences as well. Come to think of it, they did raise similar objections to a white guy she dated who was a slacker musician without much of a “future.” When I put it all together in my memory, the message we received was holistically about fitting people into a nice, harmonious middle-class liberal picture of diversity where everyone basically ought to want the same thing: college, a career, a nice home, stability, marriage, kids, family closeness, etc. As far as my parents’ relationship went, it was pretty clear to me that my father’s relatives found my mother off-putting and cold in ways that had everything to do with cultural differences, and which she in turn found very alienating. In a lot of ways, that and other differences felt kind of like a classic “here’s why cross-cultural relationships often don’t work” example, playing out into a divorce right in front of me.
Right now I’m in a place where I feel truly open to dating anyone. I want someone that will be loving and a suitable partner for starting a family before I think of their race, but I’m always mindful that one of the requirements to being a good partner is the ability to raise my Blasian kids without them having to take to many trips to the shrink.
In all truthfulness I highly doubt that person is going to be Asian American.
Elton: Despite their ostensible acceptance of anyone I might choose to marry, my parents do prefer that I marry a Chinese American. I believe that your mate choice reflects upon your values. If being Chinese is important to you, then your partner should probably be Chinese. If something else is more important to you, then choose a partner based on that.
refresh_daemon: I do think that there is some arguable reason to choosing to “date in”. In particular, it’s one of the many ways that you can date someone who shares similarities with you. And culture is one of those factors. When you share a culture with someone, then the opportunity for friction and misunderstanding to occur because of cultural differences is reduced. That said, for many second generation Asian Americans, their ties to their parents culture are often much softer than first generation or 1.5 generation Asian Americans and consequently, I find that many second generation AA’s are much more open to pan-Asian cross cultural dating.
Of course, I do think that this is dependent on each individuals own personal ties to their specific ancestral culture and how much of that culture is practiced. I feel that those who are least tied to it are most suited to pan-Asian or interracial relationships, and obviously, those that are more tied to their ancestral culture will find greater challenges in cross-cultural relationships. Of course, cultural understanding won’t necessarily be the largest challenge in any given relationship, but it can be one.
Eric: I think the perception persists that “we’re all the same,” and that to non-Asians the differences between Asian ethnicities are miniscule at best. This is changing of course – I have more and more white people telling me that they can “tell us apart,” which to me is problematic in a different way (to quote Margaret Cho: “I can’t even tell us apart!”). In general, it seems like the Japanese are more in vogue, especially because of the geisha image and the proliferation of Japanese media in the Western world (anime, video games, etc.), and Koreans seem to be rising as well with the hallyu or “Korean Wave.” Of course I also have many white friends who are particularly invested in Chinese culture, Vietnamese, Filipino, etc. I can’t say that there is a general preference, though, but rather that it differs on a largely individual level. However, racial characteristics that supposedly make Asians more or less attractive always seem to be applied on a generalized level, so that the idea that “Asian culture” makes us act one way or another supercedes the idea that “Japanese culture” or “Chinese culture” makes us desirable or undesirable. Both ideas are ridiculous of course, but my point is that these stereotypes are often exaggerated to apply to diverse groups of people in a way that makes nationality or ethnicity less visible.
Holly: Where my parents are concerned, my mother’s the only one that cares. She’s already crossed (and burned) the bridge of “marrying and having kids with a white person” so she doesn’t care about her kids doing that. But she is pretty clear that she considers herself above any ethnic group she considers “dirty,” which basically just corresponds to an immigrant community’s relative position on the economic totem pole. In 2011, is your community mostly run service businesses or restaurants with low margins, in lower-rent neighborhoods? My mother has probably said something uppity and racist about them, and wouldn’t want her kids dating you! In society in general, yeah, I’ve encountered a lot of people who are intrigued or excited by the fact that I’m Japanese, in particular. It’s hard for me to say relative to other groups of Asians, but throughout my life people have honed in on a lot of particular elements of Japanese culture — from sushi and “stiff bowing” in the 80s to “you guys are all hentai tentacle-rape perverts” in the 90s and so forth.
I’ve had so many strong negative reactions to dating Asian men that when I was a freshman in college I actually thought there was something wrong with me. I went to the counseling center to ask about it. I was very embarrassed to find out that the counselor who I thought was white was actually Chinese American. She couldn’t’t help but laugh but she at least made me realize that the problem lied with the people judging my relationships not me for having it. I had never thought anything of my choice of partners until college. My co-workers mocked who I dated, other Asian girls mocked who I dated, even one of my professors had a comment for me.
The odd thing was , I felt that people weren’t so put off that I was dating Asian men, but that I wasn’t dating White men. It was like there was a proper flow of interracial dating and it started and ended with a White man.
I think the biggest misgiving that I had was that I could approach dating someone that looked very much not like me the same way my parents did. Just ignore the elephant in the room, that was relationship poison. The biggest fear , is always not being Asian enough. Actually, I think the fear is being Asian enough for sex, but not for a serious relationship.
Eric: Interracial couples with Asian men are interesting. Popular media has told us for so long that Asian men aren’t sexy, they’re nerdy or weird or criminal. As a queer Asian American man, I become more feminized, and I feel as though stereotypes about Asian women are more relevant to my lived experiences than stereotypes about Asian men. I’ve been asked straight up if I crossdress, with no prior hint that I would engage in drag (for the record, I do occasionally, but a note to all the gays out there: you shouldn’t be asking me this unless you know about my stilettos and makeup collection!). I’ve been called geisha or bishonen, which is Japanese for a beautiful boy, and is a popular trope in girls’ anime series in which a boy is attractive in a very androgynous, feminine way (e.g. he is slender and has long hair). If you look at me, I am not feminine in appearance at all! But because these types of tropes exist about Asian women, I think they are often applied to me by my non-Asian partners.
To that end, I think when I am going into interracial relationships, I am always wary of those who seem to fetishize me as exotic and feminine. I have sometimes had to reconcile my attraction to another man with his tendencies to speak about me in racialized ways that make me uncomfortable. I am often hyperaware of “what my friends would think,” not in the sense that I fear that they would disapprove of my relationship because I know they wouldn’t, but that they would judge me for compromising my anti-racist beliefs by dating a man who calls me geisha, even if there is a conscious irony when he does so.
Holly: Nothing sets off my “gross, get me out of here” alarm more quickly in a dating situation than attitudes about race that I find unsavory. I guess I’d extend that to race politics in general; I simply won’t go on any more dates with someone who believes that racism is a thing of the past, or that white people suffer equally from racism, or tells me that they’re “color blind” and therefore can’t be racist. This definitely affects my prospects in terms of dating; there are certainly plenty of white people out there who are blind to their own privilege. I definitely didn’t even consider dating the guys who told me they were “so into Japanese culture” upon meeting me or who pointedly asked me “hey are you half-Japanese? I knew it, you have that half-Japanese look.” I once had a one-night stand with a girl who texted me later and told me that I was “an anime wet dream.” I nearly barfed up my breakfast, then deleted all her contact information. So yeah, that’s misgivings, and I have more and more of them as I perceive my potential dating partner to be more and more privileged, entitled and/or clueless.
refresh_daemon: Along the lines of Eric’s and Holly’s comments, a (perhaps not so) surprising trend I’ve seen developing alongside the increasing popularity of anime/manga as well as Jpop/Kpop and Asian drama is an increasing degree of fetish-ization of Asian men as well (as Asian women were long subject to fetishization). I’ve personally been messaged that “Korean men are so hot. You look like X.” And you can fill in X with whatever Korean actor or pop star that I in no way resemble. Perhaps there are Asian men out there that would appreciate this objectifying attention from non-Asian (or Asian from another culture) women, but I find it rather disturbing that instead of fostering greater understanding, this increase in popularity of Asian entertainment media is just applying a new set of stereotypes and objectification to Asian men and women. As a result, I’ve become wary of non-Asian women who express an enthusiastic interest in Asian entertainment and even non-Korean Asian women who express an enthusiastic interest specifically in Korean pop music or dramas.
Christina: I’ve had two different white partners tell me that they hesitated (not enough, apparently!) to start dating me because they were afraid that others would accuse of them of having Asian fetish. This seems silly, but the white boy/Asian girl actually is an awful trope in the geek world that the many healthy, sane couples that match the description are overshadowed by the ones who have, shall we say, problematic relationships. It’s an awkward thing to go out in public with your partner and feel the burden of that stereotype–my partner is worried that others will accuse him of having yellow fever (or even worse, someone who does have racist, sexist views towards Asian women will believe that he has similar opinions to them), and I’m worried that people view me as the token uninteresting, submissive Asian girlfriend. It really couldn’t be further from the truth, but it’s something to constantly combat!
N’jaila: Christina, I am Asian and I was afraid I had an Asian fetish because I dated Asian men. I think I just have daddy issues.