Tuesday, October 16, 2007

I'm Proud to be a Chinese American!

Back in the 1970s there were a series of public service announcements focused on educating people about bigotry and race/ethnicity. If you're a certain age, you know exactly what I'm talking about (or did these only come out in CA???)--the white grandpa and his grandson in a rowboat, the kid talking about his Jewish friend (I think it was a Jewish friend) and how he's not prejudiced against Jewish people and his grandpa calling him out and telling him that if he calls "Billy" his Jewish friend then he IS prejudiced because that's bigotry and that's wrong!

There was also one that featured a young Chinese American girl leading viewers around Chinatown (I think in SF) and talking about the wonderful contributions Chinese have made to American life (Damn it! We built the railroad!) and at the very end she smiles and says "I'm PROUD to be a Chinese American!"

So I've been thinking lately about ethnic nationalism and ethnic pride--and I guess the question is: if I can be proud of being Chinese American because of my fantastic ancient culture and the many contributions Chinese Americans have made to the U.S. (lets consider the bing cherry--named after Ah Bing, the Chinese immigrant who brought this fruit to fruition), should I also feel shame at the negative things Chinese Americans have done (Norman Hsu does not seem a source of pride right now) and should I feel ashamed at the past and current human rights atrocities of the Chinese nation? I mean, their treatment of the Dalai Lama, for one, doesn't seem like something to be proud of. What does ethnic pride look like exactly, in this day and age when ethnic essentialism seems to be something of the past.

And pushing this further, can I be proud to be Asian American? What does it mean to be Asian American? I've always maintained that this is a political category--a racial category that is socially constructed, as all racial categories are. It clearly has meaning and functions as a reality marker for many of us since we have been living with the reality of "race" throughout the last 3 centuries of the founding and solidification of the U.S. as a world empire. And yet, all leading researchers point to the fact that race is an invention--a social fabrication without a basis in genetics--without a basis in blood. And while we can't shrug off the social construction (I can't just tell people race is imaginary and therefore I'm not Asian American) the thing I'm struggling with currently is: beyond politics, beyond being a means for political and social enfranchisement and a place for righting wrongs and fighting against injustice, what does it mean to be Asian American?

Any thoughts?


Paul said...

I remember those PSAs! They must've played them in the early 1980s as well.

Anonymous said...

Apparently, this is a very late response but I just want to say that
I think the thing about the Dalai Lama is propaganda by the Western countries. China freed Tibetans from slavery. The dalai lama and the monks were making loads of money off of Western countries and enslaving its own people. They got to escape to India because India hates China.

Yes, China's done some bad stuff but we also should acknowledge all the crap that the US has done. Frankly, I'm more ashamed to be an American. We not only messed up South America, but we're messing up the world.

Jennifer said...


Thank you for leaving a comment on this blog.

I think we are going to have to agree to disagree about the Dalai Lama. I do believe that he, and other Tibetans, have been persecuted by the Chinese government, and I believe that for every accusation of propoganda leveled against the U.S. and the West about the Dalai Lama you can make the same case for China and the Chinese government.

I also believe that both China and the U.S. have committed atrocities and have violated human rights. Is one country's actions worse than another? I don't believe in ranking oppression--so I don't want to engage in a series of tit for tats about which country, China or the U.S. (or any other nation) is the "worst" in terms of human rights violations.

What I will say is that I do think that when you write things like "India hates China" I wonder how (a) you have come to hold this opinion (b) where you are getting you knowledge (c) whether it's possible for all the citizens of one country to hate all the citizens of another country (d) why this information is useful and perhaps (e) does any of this have to do with the main point of my post, which is on the nature of ethnic nationalism and specifically the nature of ethnic pride in the context of being Chinese American or Asian American.

Unknown said...

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Allen said...

wtftofu sounds like a Communist Chinese official. He has entertaining value.

Anonymous said...

its ok to be japanese american, but not chinese american. most americans are usually ignorant of exactly what kind of human rights violations they are responsible for. america goes around the world, supporting dictators, locking people up, torturing them, and blowing up their homes. there is no way china can even begin to compare. i dont think any country in the world can compare with the large scale destruction that america does. it is no surprise that they also have a $700 billion a year military budget. the best that americans can seem to do is call their opponents communists and terorists. the sad part is, most people dont seem to challenge it. to be honest though, being a communist is definitely better than a raging capitalist that has to go around the world killing, torturing, enslaving, and intimidating all in the name of making a quick buck. the greed of the psycho capitalist is sickening.

Jennifer said...

I appreciate the strength of your convictions, but if you post a comment that is a rant and off-topic to the post in question, I will be forced to hit "ignore" instead of "publish"--please read the guidelines for this blog. While I would agree that the U.S. has some problematic stances with respect to international policy, you haven't exactly couched any of your concerns in a way suggesting you are interested in a dialogue about these issues nor have you addressed, in any concrete or detailed way, the substance of this post. I see that you have your own blog--I would urge you to keep your ranting there rather than in the comment section here.

Unknown said...

This is my experience being "Japanese American," and I use the term loosely as you'll see why. What I mean when I say I'm Japanese is that I have Japanese ethnicity, I'm of Japanese descent. I was born in the US. It would be my great grandparents that were the ones that immigrated. I'm also of mixed race/ethnicity because one parent is Japanese and the other is Caucasian. I have a Japanese name and obviously I don't look fully Japanese because I'm not, nor fully Caucasian either. I feel like I have been judged a lot which I find quite unfair. I'm also very proud of my ethnicity and interested in it naturally as it's a part of me. However, a lot of people like to constantly point out all the time how I DON'T look Japanese. Like this is something I don't already know? That because I don't "look" Japanese I can't be proud of my ethnicity and say that I am such? It's not like I'm claiming things I'm not. I don't claim to have been born in Japan or that I'm "full" Japanese. But I feel like people are telling me I'm not allowed to place myself in a "Japanese category." I think the title of this topic here says it all "Yes, I don't look Asian, but thanks anyways for the racist comment" http://arstechnica.com/civis/viewtopic.php?f=23&t=1121007