Tuesday, November 20, 2007

I'm Asian, You're Asian -- Let's Be Best Friends

Imagine this scenario: You are Asian American and in a social situation/gathering in which Asian Americans are definitely in the minority. At this social gathering you spot someone with an Asian face. Do you immediately go over to him/her? Do you make eye contact? Do you give the head nod? Do you ignore him/her and just mingle with other people?

I had this question put to me a few years ago by an Asian American friend who didn't understand why I was so fixated on issues of race. She, in this scenario, would not feel any special reason to go over to the fellow Asian person. I, on the other hand, would have definitely made an effort to find my fellow ethnic/racial counterpart, if not immediately than at some point during the gathering.

Now, having said that, I fully realize that just because we share a racial (and possibly ethnic) identity doesn't mean we'll be best friends. That we'll even like one another or have things in common to talk about or share common experiences.

So why make an effort to talk to the Asian American person? Because it's lonely to be the only one. Because we may, in fact, have common experiences as Asian Americans. Because as irrational as it may seem to be drawn towards someone based on race, it is a category one uses to make distinctions in a crowd--to organize the world.


s-fizzle said...

When I was in Massachussetts, I lived in a town where it was 90% white, 10% other races. There was only one other girl in my class who wasn't white, she was chinese. We sought each other out and became friends. The thing was I really didn't like her and she didn't really like me, but we remained friends because we identified with each other. It's funny how the first thing that attracts one person to another is race. Especially for minorities.

Jennifer said...

A similar thing happened to me in grad school--there was this other Asian American woman, who also happened to be from California, and I think we both thought we should be friends, but we really didn't click and made some attempts to connect but it just wasn't there (and we were the only Asian American women (or people for that matter) in my grad program (or the department at large)).

And yet, I must admit that someone else, another Chinese American woman I knew from my undergrad days at UCSB but was never friends with--we re-connected in grad school when we ran into one another at the library and ended up really hitting it off--and one of the points of connection for each of us was our shared backgrounds--both being Chinese American from California and attending the same undergrad institution. Although perhaps the reasons we clicked (and why we're still friends to this day) is that beyond these "identity" factors there is our shared love of cooking/food, a similar sense of humor, and a goofy enthusiasm for things like "The Sound of Music" and fall days. But it's also nice to know that there are cultural references that we share and a certain shorthand (understanding Chinese new year rituals, taking your shoes off before entering the house--and that special brand of Chinese maternal guilt) that I also really appreciate.