Monday, August 24, 2009

I want my America BACK!

When people say that they want "My America" back, I always wonder what they mean? I should start out by saying that this post was inspired by one from Stuff White People Do. It is also where I found this great clip from The Daily Show that provides a humorous yet accurate spin on the rhetoric coming out of these town hall meetings in which people have been decrying that they want THEIR America back (and as Larry Wilmore points out, there is a monochromatic cast to the people who are looking back nostalgically on the past and the way America used to be):

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So I have been thinking about what MY America looks like. Because I don't think it's the same one that the people in the clip above are lamenting is past.

My America probably doesn't exist...yet. So the whole idea of going "back" to my America is just not a possibility. I certainly wouldn't want to go back to the 19th C. where being a Chinese American woman would make me the focus of extreme racial hostility and accused of being a prostitute and thus subject to deportation and, worse, sexual harassment and violence.

[True fact: most people assumed that if you were a Chinese woman in the late 19th C. you were a prostitute--there is some factual basis for this belief since many Chinese women were brought to the U.S. as prostitutes, often tricked into coming to the U.S. or sold by their families into prostitution...does any of this sound familiar? I mean, things are not so different for women in TODAY's society, where women from Moldova are tricked into prostitution or sold by their families to work as prostitutes in the United Arab Emirates. Just makes you think that it's quite tragic that the conditions for women, worldwide, haven't improved in this respect in over a century]

Of course, this idea of a sentimental return is not uncommon. I mean, in the Asian American community (and for that matter, for many children born to immigrant parents) there is this nostalgic idea that you can "go back" to a place where you've never really been before: the place of your parents' home and/or your ethnic ancestry.

I felt that way the first time I went to China while in grad school. And I blogged about going to Jamaica for the first time as an adult already. So in some ways, this idea of going back to a place that you've never experienced--to long for a connection to a past that you are supposed to feel this affinity for, seems to be a rather common if complicated human response.

So in some ways, when I hear these people talking about wanting their America back, I do understand what they mean. Except that, again, my vision of America and my desire for America to be the place that, on paper, it is supposed to be is probably markedly and radically different from the nostalgia for a simpler, easier, less p.c., less diverse and whiter existence. A time when you could just have Christmas pageants and not worry about saying "Happy Holidays" because you will offend Jewish Americans or others who don't celebrate Christmas. A time when women stayed in the home and men worked jobs that were handed down to them from their fathers--whether they wanted to work those jobs or not. And the women who stayed home cooked and cleaned and cared for children--even though they may not have wanted to have children, or have so many children, or maybe they had dreams of having a career as a journalist or lawyer, but in these simpler times, way back when, they had those choices foreclosed and were left with the simple title of wife and mother. The America of the past that people seem to long for was a time when we consumed with reckless abandon, when queer people stayed in the closet, when the word "green" signaled money and not environmental consciousness, and a time when people of color lived with daily oppression and racial hostility.

Of course, my America is also not the same as the America of those who never had to arrive--who were already HERE when various European explorers and settlers decided to come over and colonize the land. American Indians have a radically different take on wanting to go back to THEIR America--and it's really hard to argue against the fact that of all the people who have a moral authority to want to go back to an originary America, THEY do.

Anyway, as I said above, I don't really think my America exists yet...but because I'm a glass half-full kind of gal, I am hopeful that one day in my lifetime I might see glimpses of the real potential and promise of what America can be--one in which the adjectival descriptor of "mixed race" will be a given rather than a wish.

2 comments:

Alvin said...

Hi, I really enjoyed your post today. I'm a graduate FIlm Student at the Academy of Art in San Francisco.

I stumbled upon your blog as part of my pre production research about a documentary I hope to make based around Mixed Race Asian Americans.

I hope to catch some of your past posts. How long has this blog been around?

Jennifer said...

Hi Alvin,

Thanks for finding your way to this blog. I've been blogging since May 2007--if you look to the sidebar on the right you'll see there is a section on mixed race issues, many of which are about mixed race Asian Americans.

I'm sure you are already tapped into the Hapa Issues forum (or what used to be the Hapa Issues Forum) and/or are in touch with Wei Ming Dariotis (she's the doyen of all things mixed-race Asian American and teaches at SF State).

If you would like to email me (my email address is available through my "Complete Profile" page if you would like more references on mixed race Asian American issues from an academic pov.