Friday, February 29, 2008

Feeling Chinese Jamaican

This is going to be my last post in my "Jamaica" series. There's still a lot I am processing, but I may just pull the "classic" academic move and save it for an article. Truthfully, I would like to write about my experiences in a more formal way--as well as write about the Chinese Jamaican diaspora, so whether I return to this topic on this blog, or not, I know it is a subject I'll continue to write about, in some form, later.

But I want to return to the question that my cousin asked of me (twice) and that I have been asking about myself, probably for as long as I can remember:

Am I Jamaican? Do I feel Jamaican?

Or perhaps more specificaly:

Am I Chinese I feel Chinese Jamaican?

Yes, when I was touring around Kingston with my family. For example, in the above photo, we went by the Catholic boy's school St. George (which is now co-ed) that my uncles (all 6 of them) attended. And seeing all these places and having my various relatives share their memories about living in Jamaica, made me feel very connected to this place.

And when we all climbed up Dunn's River Falls together, as touristy as this is, it is also wonderfully fun and is something that locals also do from time to time (in fact, there is a separate "locals" rate, which my Uncle "N" got for us, but the non-accented members of the family (including yours truly) were under strict instructions not to speak until we were past the checkpoint).

Perhaps most of all, it was the meals we shared that made me feel connected to my family and to being Chinese Jamaican. Food, and more specifically, the times that made us gather together as a family around food, is always what I associate with being Chinese Jamaican. The photo above is of a jerk place in Ocho Rios that we were taken to by a local friend (that's the back of my cousin "A's" head in the photo--"A" wanted me to mention him in my blog, and I told him that while I try to keep this pseudonymous and didn't want to include family photos, I figured only those nearest and dearest to "A" would recognize the back of his head, and he'll enjoy his very small moment of fame in this blog).

When "W" asked me in Montego Bay whether my ideas of being Chinese Jamaican had changed after a week in Jamaica--whether I felt any closer to being Chinese Jamaican, I told him that while I really didn't feel connected to the island in and of itself (for that I'd need to either go back in time or spend a lot more time living in Jamaica, preferably Kingston), the moments when I felt most strongly connected, when I feel Chinese Jamaican, are moments spent in the company of my family. And really, I didn't need to go to Jamaica to figure this out. This has always been the case. I felt it when I went to Toronto for my cousin's wedding. Or during my Uncle's memorial service in California. Or even just talking to family members on the phone. I may not completely identify as Chinese Jamaican, but the majority of my family does. And above race and gender and a host of other "identity" factors, there is that--there is my family connection and identification. And we are a very mixed bunch, living in various part of the Americas over the last century. And so, yes, at the end of the day, I feel like a part of my family, which means, I do feel and am Chinese Jamaican.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Multiracial Jamaica?

So one of the things that surprised me about Jamaica, specifically Kingston, where my mother and her siblings were born and raised, is that it wasn't nearly as multiracial as I thought it would be. My idea of Jamaica/Kingston as this multiracial space has a lot to do with my family, but it also has to do with reading on-line copies of The Jamaica-Gleaner (newspaper) and reading a novel, Margaret Cezair-Thompson's The True History of Paradise: a Novel.

[By the way, this is a good time for a book plug for Cezair-Thompson's novel. A friend-colleague of mine gave a fascinating conference presentation and since it was right before my trip, I went out and bought it and read it and found that it was not only engaging, but also provided an interesting narrative about the political change that Jamaica was undergoing between 1960-1975 as it changed from a colonial state to an independent nation. For more on Cezair-Thompson, click here for her personal website]

Anyway, what I found throughout Jamaica was that aside from the tourists, locals appear to be black Jamaicans, with a few shopkeepers and grocery store clerks who are Indian and Chinese. Our driver, Errol, who drove us from Kingston to Ocho Rios and then around Ocho Rios sight-seeing, claims that 95% of the grocery stores owned in Jamaica are by the Chinese. And while I don't know how accurate his statistics are, certainly anecdotally it appears to be true since the few groceries we went into were, indeed, owned and staffed by Chinese Jamaicans and, historically, this would make sense since Chinese in Jamaica comprised a middle-man economy of shopkeepers.

But in and around Kingston and Port Royal, away from tourist centers, Jamaica appeared to be comprised of mainly black-Jamaicans--at least that's what I "saw." Yet, my cousin "W" saw something different--to him, he noticed much more mixture; he commented on people having "Chinese" eyes and seemed to discern between white Jamaicans and white tourists in Ocho Rios more readily than me.

When I mentioned to "W" that I was expecting to see a more multiracial Jamaica, he said that his idea of Jamaica, growing up and upon his return, was that it was a predominantly black nation, but that it was also a multiracial nation--that there had been so much race mixing, because of the legacy of British colonialism, that while currently "black" Jamaicans are more apparent to the naked eye, the truth is that Jamaicans don't just think of themselves this way--that the way that we talk about race in the U.S. is not how people in Jamaica talk about race. Or at least not the way that "W" and his family think about it.

And the truth is, I did experience a multiracial Jamaica. For example, the family friends and my family's family are all very mixed: "W's" aunts and cousins (mixtures of Indian, Chinese, black, and white) and my Uncle "N" who married into our family has family who is still in Kingston and at a dinner at his parents' home there was a mix of what looked like, black, Indian, and Chinese people, all part of his family, all local Jamaicans.

So while I may not have seen evidence of a multiracial Jamaica on the streets, in people's homes I met plenty of people who were multiracial Jamaicans, and perhaps more importantly, my own family seemed to be evidence that the idea of a mixed-race Jamaica is alive and well.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Color of Poverty

One of the things I've been trying to sort out, post-trip, are the dynamics of race vs. class vs. nationality that I experienced while in Jamaica. There were moments I felt very connected to Jamaica--when we literally re-traced the family's life in Kingston (more on this in a future post) but there were also moments, as I described yesterday, where I was acutely aware of being a tourist--or at least being perceived as a tourist (the question of whether I came to Jamaica as a tourist is one that I've wondered about. While it wasn't my intention to be a simple "tourist" the fact remains that my family and I did do typical tourist things--visiting Port Charles, climbing Dunn's River Falls, going to Doctor's Cave. Does our "family" status undercut this?)

I felt my tourist, or "outsider" status (because lets face it--that's what we really mean--tourists don't belong--they aren't locals--they don't call these places home--they leave) most keenly when I became aware of class differences. And you'd have to be really clueless and live in a state of willed denial not to be aware of huge class differences both within Jamaica and between Jamaicans and tourists/non-Jamaicans.

As my cousin "W" said, there is no middle-class in Jamaica: there is the poor and the wealthy. I did challenge him on this, pointing to the visit we had made to his aunt "P" in Portmore, and he did conceed that while "P" was hardly rich, according to Jamaican standards she was part of a lower-middle-class, especially when compared to people living just outside Portmore in shacks along the water--literal shacks made from discarded housing material and trash. But my cousin's point is also well taken--the economic divide in Jamaica is great--there are these huge homes in the hills of Kingston (see below):

[I took this from the minibus my family rented to tour Kingston]

The homes in Ocho Rios are even more spectacular--there was one that was built to resemble a cruiseship!

Then there are these more modest, middle-class homes in Kinston--the one below came from a neighborhood adjacent to the one my family grew up:

In many ways, these homes resemble subdivisions in California or any other middle-income housing tract in the U.S. Although the bars on the windows are a clear indication of the level of crime throughout Kingston. In fact, it was rare not to see any home without bars and gates and walls--only the shanties, many visible from the road, like the one below, which I saw on the way from Ochio Rios to Montego Bay, don't have bars and gates and locks:

And the economic disparity between tourists/outsiders and locals is also glaring--the cabride from our hotel in Montego Bay to the airport was 5 minutes long--we probably could have walked if we didn't have so much luggage. The cost was $700 JMD, which was a total rip-off by most standards, but this is one of the few ways taxi drivers make any money. And I found myself hesitating to give our driver a $50JMD tip--which is about 75cents--and of course I gave it to him and then chided myself. But it is easy to get caught up in feeling like you are being ripped-off as an American tourist. But that's the point--it's my money to give. The local taxi drivers and souvenir shop owners have to try to make as much as they can from the tourists because it's their livelihood. And it's sad when you get into a mentality, as an outsider, when you feel you don't want to give a 75 cent tip because you're being ripped off by the taxi fare.

One last thing: the picture of the shacks that line the road on the way to Montego Bay (and which line the roads all over Jamaica really) look very similar to the shacks that line the highway leading from Hong Kong to Guangzhou and that you find traveling along the Yucatan peninsula and overland from Istanbul to Athens. Poverty looks eerily similar, whether in the Caribbean, Asia, Europe, or I dare say the U.S. I'm not sure what color poverty is, but I know it's not green.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Locals vs. Tourists

I'm not terribly well traveled, but I have to say that the few times I've found myself in what I'll call typical "tourist" spots (and I guess I'm thinking of places like Key West, Cozumel, old Athens around the Acropolis) I find there is this odd tension between wanting a place to be "authentic" and to have people experience the culture as either part of its local charm (the relaxed atmosphere of the keys), or something exotic (the Mexican Caribbean flavor of Cozumel) or part of an ancient past (old Athens) with trying to SELL you this image--the vendors that swarm around you and hawk wares at you in these places.

I found this to also be true in Jamaica, at least in the more "touristy" spots that we visited in Ocho Rios and Montego Bay. The places we went to in Kingston and Port Royal weren't places many tourists would go to (or any really because so many people are told how violent Kingston is, we didn't see a whole lot of tourists, or at least not American toursits, hanging out in Kingston--we did find some German and Australian and black American tourists, but aside from a few businesspeople, no white American tourists). But Ocho Rios is THE major cruise ship destination in Jamaica, and Montego Bay is THE airport that tourists fly into, either to stay or to head to Ocho Rios or Negril (there are 2 major airports in Jamaica, Kingston and Montego Bay and basically you fly into Kingston for business or because you have family--if you are a tourist, you stay on the north shore and fly into Montego Bay, which is literally on the opposite end of the island (North West vs. South East) from Kingston).

And the problem for me was feeling like I was a tourist but also not a tourist. Actually, I didn't have a problem with being a "tourist" in certain places, because I don't have family here and didn't grow up here and because as a relatively privileged American, I do have an income that allows me to travel and stay at nice hotels and not worry about eating out (and unfortunately for the Jamaican dollar, the exchange rate was 70JMD to 1 US). But the rest of my family wanted to be treated as locals--especially for my cousins who were born and to some degree raised in Jamaica (the oldest among them left when he was 7) they were pretty offended, at times, to be mistaken for tourists and insisted on being given "local" rates--or poked fun of those "other" tourists who didn't know that there were 2 rates or who didn't know where to get the authentic Jamaican food (this we did in one case by going into the town of Port Royal versus eating at the hotel restaurant).

But despite my cousins telling me not to, I continually overtipped wherever we went, left money in the hotel for the cleaning staff, and didn't try to bargain too much for the few souvenirs I picked up. Is it my overengaged sense of class privilege? Is it because I KNOW that I can't pass as a local (my family were continually joking that I should keep my mouth shut in certain places because while most of my cousins have Jamaican accents and can speak patois, I can't, so I'd be a dead giveaway)?

[I got this photo from the internet--it shows some typical tourist shops in Montego Bay]

The truth is, I'm not a local. There was so much of Jamaica that seemed very touristy to me--packaged for people who wanted a comfortable "Island" experience--but there was also a sadness, for me, to go to a crafts area and be bombarded with people who were shouting, "Miss, Miss, come look at my stall" and to see stall after stall of these trinkets and wooden souvenirs and the colors of the Jamaican flag splashed everywhere and to have these people vying for your attention to sell you something to take back to put on your coffee table. Part of me wants to say that this isn't the "real" Jamaica. But you know, it is. People selling trinkets IS part of the real Jamaica. People urging you to come into their shop--to try to sell you something--the need to sell you something--that is part of the way that Jamaica operates as a country utterly dependent on tourist dollars.

As much as I wanted this trip to be about a type of "homecoming," I am a tourist. As much as I have family who grew up here, I'm not accepted as a Jamaican--not at least without a lot of explaining, and it was one of the things that did make me feel my difference from the people who grew up and lived in Jamaica--at the end of the trip, I left with my blue passport.

Monday, February 25, 2008

"Hello Mrs. Chin!"

Years back, when I lived in Western Massachusetts, there was a Jamaican restaurant I went to all the time--really a take-out joint with 4 formica tables. My parents came to visit once, and I took them there and when we got to the counter the owner, a woman I'd seen countless times, looked up at my mother and said "Hello Mrs. Chin!"

This is not my family's surname--but it is what all Chinese in Jamaica are called--Mrs. Chin, Mr. Chin, Chinee people, Chinee--variations thereof.

This my mother explained after we left the shop. She was actually tickled pink to be called Mrs. Chin--to be reminded of a practice that she had grown used to as a young girl. None of my relatives ever thought this was offensive--it was simply what they were called. Of course, I think that there are a few qualifications. I think that it was black Jamaicans who generally referred to Chinese Jamaicans as "Mrs. Chin" and not white Jamaicans (although I could be wrong about this).

And throughout my stay in Jamaica, I did encounter this practice along with my cousins and other family members. At one restaurant, a waiter gestured to our table and asked another server if he would bring menus to the "China people." At Dunn's river falls, a local guide smiled warmly at me and said, "How are you doing Mrs. Chin?" -- which took me a minute to realize that he was talking to me, but I smiled back and told him I was fine. And in meeting one of my cousin's second cousin's, a young boy of 7 who did not favor the Chinese side of the family, he looked dubiously at all of us and asked his grandmother if my cousin could really be related to him because he looked like a "Chinee" person.

And oddly enough, none of this bothered me. I freely admit that if I had been in the U.S. and this had happened to me--if an African American man had called me Mrs. Chin or talked about a group of us as "China people" it would have rankled me to no end. But in Jamaica? Having heard that this was the experience of my family, seeing that this continued, and understanding a bit about the complicated racial hierarchies and dynamics of the nation, it just didn't bother me.

Is it a lack of malice--because I never sensed any in the comments? Was it my own "go with the flow" mentality--when in Rome, after all? Or is it the pick your battles issue--I mean, how would I begin to explain that this practice, begun probably a century ago, was stereotypical or potentially demeaning and confusing to not only Chinese but Asian visitors/residents (because lets face it, not only Chinese end up in Jamaica).

I'm not exactly sure what to make of this issue--the kinds of analyses I would apply here in the U.S. don't seem to adhere in the same way in Jamaica. I had several conversations with my cousin "W" on these issues, any many others, during our time there. "W" was born in Kingston, lived there until he was 3 and has made several trips back. Unlike my mother's side of the family (his father is my mother's brother), "W" still has his maternal side in Jamaica--his cousin "T" picked us up from the airport and we visited with his aunt "P" in a Kingston suburb, Portmore. "W"s family is very mixed--in addition to the "Chinese" flavor of my uncle, his mother's side brings together white, Indian, and black cultures, reflected to a large degree to the varying complexions and phenotypes of his many cousins.

Anyway, I'm going to end now. There's a lot more to be said and to mull over on this and many other topics. If you hadn't already guessed, this week I'm dedicating my blog posts to musings on my trip to Jamaica, on my thoughts of being Chinese Jamaican, and perhaps most importantly, on re-thinking the meaning of mixed race America if we open up the space of "America" beyond the borders of the U.S. to places north (like Canada, which is where most of my extended Chinese Jamaican family lives) and south to the Caribbean.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

"Once you go to Jamaica, you know Jamaica"

Hello "Mixed Race America" readers--I have returned from my trip to Jamaica, and I'm not sure where to begin. I feel like I could write a week's worth of posts based on the things I saw and the experiences I had, and which I'm still digesting and mulling over.

Interestingly enough, the day after I returned, I saw a commercial sponsored by the Jamaican tourism board that showed images of happy American tourists (or perhaps I should say "white" tourists who may be from Canada, the U.S., Europe, Australia, or New Zealand) amidst verdant landscapes and beautiful waterscapes, much like this image below (which I found on the Jamaica tourism website):

[The thing about this image is, yes it is a classically "tourist" image of Jamaica, but there truly ARE scenes like this--lush scenes of jaw-dropping beauty, it will make your heart ache]

The commercial showed various tourists enjoying vacation-related things that one will find in Jamaica: reggae, steel drum, fishing, dancing, frolicking in the water and on sandy beaches, all with a cover of Bob Marley's "One Love" playing in the background and a tagline that reads: "Once you go to Jamaica, you know Jamaica."

And this is the question I have been asking myself, even without seeing this commercial: now that I've been to Jamaica, do I feel more Jamaican? This is the question my cousin posed to me on both the first and last day of my trip there: do I feel Jamaican? Have I found the missing piece of the puzzle I've been searching for? Do I now, know, what it means to be Chinese Jamaican?

I can't give a simple answer to any of these questions--and I will be writing more about this in future posts. But for now I will say this: I have gone to Jamaica and I do feel, now, in a way much different than before, that I do know Jamaica in a way that I never did before.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Leaving for my mother's land

Tomorrow I leave for Kingston, and I am anxious. First of all, I hate to fly (the noise, the cramped quarters, the disequilibrium). But really, I am not sure what I will find. For so long, Jamaica has loomed in my imagination, but in a way different from what people probably imagine.

My guess is that many people have one of these two images in mind when they think of Jamaica (or perhaps they have both).



But my own idea of Jamaica based on the stories of my mother and other relatives, is more prosaic than this, and is rooted in the past--a Jamaica of the 1950s and 1960s rather than the present day Jamaica (most everyone left in the mid-1970s in my family).

Which means, I suspect that the Jamaica of my family is more in line with this image:

This is a picture of north Kingston. It probably looks like a lot of places in the world. And I think that's the point. My family lived a fairly middle-class existence. They weren't rich but they could afford to send all the kids to Catholic school. They had a home that had chickens and goats and other animals and they killed these animals for food. And my grandfather was a baker who woke up at 4am (and my mother had to be up at 5am to open the gate for my grandfather) everyday.

Although both my parents are immigrants and part of a larger Chinese diaspora, my mother's immigration from Jamaica rather than China places her, culturally and until her naturalization, nationally, in a different position than my father. I grew up for a long while believing I was Chinese Jamaican. I stopped using that as a "label" to describe myself while in college because I started to think differently about race and ethnicity and culture.

But now that I've become someone immersed in these issues, I'm not sure how I feel about being Chinese Jamaican American. I suppose my reluctance in claiming this identity is partly the fatigue of having to explain this background--and especially in grad school, I didn't want to exoticize myself or my family--and that's what tends to happen when I mention that my mother was born and raised in Kingston. People get really interested because it seems like such an anomaly to have Chinese in Jamaica. Whereas for me, this is just my family, and I don't always want to turn my family into a "story" just as, I'm sure, they don't want me to turn them into a blog post or anecdote about how multicultural or multiracial we are.

And yet, as an academic, as someone interested in the construction of identities, I can't help but wonder what I will discover, not about Jamaica but about myself and my relationship to Jamaica and to my mother's past and to my family. I never wanted to go to Jamaica until I could go with family members who would be able to show me the Jamaica of their past. I didn't want to get stuck at a resort on the North shore--I wanted to see the country and experience it, as much as I could, the way my mother would have experienced it.

But at the same time, I know this is an impossibility. The passage of time, the changes in the nation, and my own distance from this culture--my own ignorance over Jamaican culture and customs, makes shadowing my mother's younger self impossible.

Still...I am curious and eager if anxious to discover what kind of relationship and memories, of my own, I will develop of Jamaica. I guess I'll just end by saying stay tuned, because I will end up writing about this when I return in a week.

Some links to look at

I'll be in blog-silence for a week since I'm leaving for Jamaica tomorrow (read the above post--I'm doing a two-fer today) and I thought I'd leave you with a few links to look at--things I would have, essentially, blogged about/commented about if I were around.

And since I won't be around, this also means that if you do leave a comment between the 15th and 21st of February, it will sit, unmoderated, for a week, but I do promise to publish it and respond when I return!

OK, here they are (click on the name of the blogsite/website to get to the link):

*For all you political junkies, a great post by What Tami Said about the respective post-Potomac speeches by Barack Obama and John McCain (with video links to their speeches). Great analysis by Tami about the messages embedded in their words.

*Part I of a Rachel's Tavern post on "Myths About Intra-racial dating"--I like the way she turns the perspective on its head--it's something I always try to do myself when thinking about a problem or controversial issue.

*A call on C.N. Le's site for white fathers of mixed-race children to participate in a podcast on "Mixed Chicks Chat"--it's the first time I've heard of this site, so I can't vouch for it, but it looks interesting, and they did an event at the Japanese American National Museum, which is a site I really like.

*Speaking of the Japanese American National Museum, I'm sure that they are preparing for events and exhibitions to commemorate Executive Order 9066, which FDR signed on February 19, 1942, the order that allowed the military to enforce the removal and incarceration of Japanese Americans to internment camps on the West Coast. There is SO MUCH to say about this topic...I can't even find the right adjectives to express my sorrow, dismay, anger, disgust, horror, and shame that this happened and that TOO FEW of us know the details about the internment. For instance, there is no mention of race in the language of Executive Order 9066--it was up to the military to interpret WHO they deemed to be a military threat, but the order effectually suspended the constitutional rights of every person, citizen and non, living on the West Coast of the U.S. after February 19, 1942. The fact that the military chose only to target people of Japanese ancestry for mass forced removal/incarceration is, of course, what led to HR442 in 1987--a federal recognition and apology for the illegal internment and reparations (in terms of money but more importantly education) for the suspension of constitutional rights of Japanese Americans and the awful precedent that this has set.

Anyway, for more on the Japanese American Internment, go to the DENSHO site--they actually prefer the phrase "Japanese American Incarceration" and I respect them for that, but I have my own reasons for preferring "internment," imperfect as it is.

*In celebration of Black History Month, I thought I'd include this link to a history of African Americans in golf on the site Golf For Everyone. Especially note the "Caucasian Clause" which was in effect from 1946-1961. This timeline puts into perspective just why a figure like Tiger Woods is so important to the world of golf and the world of sports.

*Finally, a hilarious look on Racialicious on what NOT to do to celebrate Black History Month. I think too many of us know what it's like to be Caroline in this short video piece. Kudos to the filmmakers for this great send-up that uses humor to make an important social commentary and to also tackle white privilege.

See you next Friday!

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Filmmaker Plug: Aaron Greer

In a post I wrote months back, "Segregated Sunday" I received a tip from Lesboprof (thanks Lesboprof!) to check out a film "Not Color Blind, Just Near-Sighted."

After doing a google search, I was able to find the filmmaker (an Assistant Professor at The University of Alabama in the Department of Telecommunication and Film).

So let me introduce you to Professor Aaron Greer, filmmaker and academic (click here for his official university webpage).

I was able to get a copy of Professor Greer's film--the one that Lesboprof mentioned--and I have to say, it is fantastic! It's a 5-minute short, but it really gets at the heart of the difficulties of monoracial categories and the ways in which multiracial people are faced with these types of quandries in their everyday lives--in Greer's case--with just trying to get a driver's license in the state of Alabama when he identifies as a bi-racial person.

Apparently, your options in Alabama at the DMV are "w," "b," "h," or "x" (in case anyone doesn't know, "x" is for "foreigner" and if you have been figuring out the racial codes, yes, there is no "a" for "Asian" or even an "o" for the dreaded "Oriental," which means if you are an Asian American in Alabama you are marked by an "x" -- talk about reinforcing the whole "Asian as foreigner stereotype!" And there is no designation for American Indians either. If there is anyone out there reading this who lives in Alabama or who used to reside there, I'd really love to find out if this is still the case--I tried looking on-line for the racial codes used there, but couldn't find anything, and the thought of trying to call a DMV office in Alabama is not something I feel up to doing.

I digress.

Getting back to Professor Greer, besides this film short, I think his other films are worth noting, especially a recent feature length he just directed and produced, Gettin' Grown (click here for a website where you can learn more about the film).

If you are an academic out there, especially if you are in a department of film and/or communication, try to see if your college will buy a copy of one of his films so you can use them in your classroom. I think he's a powerful filmmaker and hope to see more of his work in the future.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Let Tiger be Tiger

So I did warn you that since I'm writing a chapter about Tiger Woods I would more than likely be posting about him, especially since Tiger is often seen as the symbol for "THE MIXED RACE AMERICAN" as in, he has claimed his (in)famous "Cablinasian" identity on the Oprah Winfrey Show back in 1997 and he has made continuous claims to being bi-racial and multiethnic, as well as employing a "humanist" universalism in asserting his national identity as a trump card (as in, I'm an American, unhyphenated damn it).

(before I go on to talk more about race and mixed-race issues, for the non-golfers out there, take a look at how much he has torqued his body--how he has wrapped his driver around himself--that's a sign of great form and power--this image is, in part, what makes Tiger a great golfer because I would KILL to have a golf swing like he does--and he makes it look almost effortless!)

Where was I????

Oh yes, Tiger and Race.

There is a deep part of me that feels we should just let Tiger be Tiger. That he is not responsible for taking a stand on every major issue in the world, and especially should not be held to a higher standard than his professional peers in terms of commenting on whether Augusta should allow female members or the responsibility for recruiting black and "minority" golfers to the game. If Rory Sabitini, Ernie Els, Phil Michelson, Sergio Garcia, KJ Choi, and Vijay Singh (and others) were also queried in the same way--about what they are doing to make golf more accessible to a more diverse range of golfers--their own sense of responsibility in boycotting golf tournaments (actually, to be fair, a lot of golfers got asked the Augusta question about women golfers, but Tiger as a lightening rod, got taken to task more stridently than everyone else when the whole thing was happening), and their own efforts at improving the lot of "minority" people, then I think we'd be onto something.

But I don't believe that they are. I think Tiger, right or wrong, gets additional scrutiny because he is perceived to be black and definitely seen as a "minority" golfer.

It reminds me of the Presidential primaries. There is so much attention to questions of sexism and racism, of gender and race, with respect to Obama and Clinton. But is anyone asking John McCain these types of questions? Is anyone wondering how a McCain White House would be a progressive step forward for women or African Americans or people of color? Are we just assuming that Republicans don't care about racism and sexism? The partisan part of me wants to say "YES" but I don't think that's true--I think that the situation is more complex--it just puzzles me that self-identified Republicans have not stepped up more to claim sexism and racism as social ills that they want to tackle. Or perhaps they feel they already have.

I know I started with Tiger but I think I'm going to end with something that has really disturbed me lately, and that's the co-option of language that Conservatives have been doing over the last 20 years. Take, for example, this article by Jay Nordinger of the National Review, published in 2001 (click on title for link). In it he talks about the "racialists" who want Tiger to be the spokesman of all things racial. Nordinger calls himself an "anti-racialist" as if to suggest that talking about race is uncouth, is, in fact, racist. I HATE THAT (IL)LOGIC!!! IT DRIVES ME NUTS!!! It is the way that conservatives have dodged questions of racism and racial equality. Any attention to racial inequity, prejudice, discrimination, means that the person pointing out the racism is, him/herself, RACIST because, according to the conservative definition, any scrutiny or analysis of a situation from a race-based point-of-view is racist. AGHHH!!!!!!

I don't agree with much of Nordinger's opinions, although I do believe, as I noted above, that to a large degree we should "Let Tiger Be Tiger"--that as much as I want him to take on social justice issues--to decry racism and sexism--to take stands because he may, as a mixed-race African-Asian American, know the sting of racism all too well--that this is an unfair expectation to make on him. Although for an alternative perspective, you should read Scoop Jackson's take on the responsibility and the power that Tiger Woods symbolizes in American culture (click here).

There is a part of me that sympathizes with Jackson's argument. A part of me that keeps *hoping* that Tiger Woods will take that stand and make that great gesture--to be someone who practices anti-racism and raises our social consciousness.

But I don't know if it will ever happen, and until the time when I expect this of Mickelson or even, of past greats like Nicklaus and Player, or turning to the LPGA, Wie, Ochoa, Lee, Pak and others, I think I should just let Tiger be Tiger.

But I'm not going to stop my own analysis and questioning and interpretations. Because as someone who does want to practice anti-racism, it's my job to try to understand just how mixed-up we are about mixed-race issues in America.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Sad way to celebrate new year

Last night I went to Angry Asian Man and found this very disturbing post "Come get 'slant eyed' at The Goat" (click on title for link and image of flyer).

I tried to import the image into my own post, but I couldn't find a way to do it, and when I tried to "google" for more information or images related to this flyer, nothing came up.

Which means, there has been no public outcry in Raleigh, NC or thereabouts.

If you haven't yet clicked on the link, the flyer, printed on yellow paper, is an advertisement to celebrate Chinese New Year at a bar called "The Goat" which, after a google search for this establishment, prides itself on being a local dive bar with a diverse clientle.

The flyer says this:

"Come Get Slant Eyed @ The Goat. For Chinese New Year's Feb. 6th, 4705. Come party in your best Chinese outfit. $50 Gift Certificate for Best Outfit! Party favors and lots of giveaways!

Also on the flyer is a parenthetical note next to the name of the bar "(no offense") and at the very bottom of the flyer is an image of a Chinese dragon.

Ironically, the fact that the bar owners wrote "no offense" on the flyers signals that this wasn't just a case of simple ignorance, as in "Woops, we had NO IDEA that someone would be offended by asking people to come dressed as Chinese people with their slanted eyes--our bad!" They clearly had a sense that this flyer WAS offensive, would be interpreted as offensive, and to head off criticism they decided to tell people that they are not trying to be offensive--in other words, if we, the viewers of the flyer, are, indeed, offended, well we're just oversensitive because the intent was not meant to offend.

At which I call bullshit. It's like people saying "Just kidding" for some kind of passive-aggressive remark. And this is just patently offensive. It's racist. It's wrong. And it makes me sad. And angry.

I mean REALLY??? In this day and age??? That someone, somewhere would make these comments, would liken getting drunk to having racial features, and to phrase it in such a racist way--tying it into a cultural celebration that billions of people around the world celebrate--a holiday that is the equivalent in China of Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July. Chinese New Year lasts 15 days--it's celebrated for over a week. All that news coverage of people being stranded in blizzards trying to reach their homes during the holiday? These workers in Southern China, predominantly outside of Hong Kong get one vacation a year, and that's so they can travel to their natal homes and visit their families and pay respect to their ancestors and celebrate the lunar new year. It is the largest mass migration in one period on earth that occurs on a yearly basis. These people risked freezing to death to try to visit their families because the holiday is that important. Let me repeat: Chinese New Year is the equivalent of Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July--maybe with Mother and Father's day wrapped in for good measure. This isn't some quaint exotic cultural ritual--this isn't something to exploit for selling more drinks in the most obnoxious way possible.

And don't get me started on "Chinese outfit"--have these people ever seen pictures of Shanghai and Beijing? THESE ARE MAJOR METROPOLITAN CITIES IN WHICH PEOPLE DRESS JUST LIKE PEOPLE IN PARIS, ROME, LONDON, NEW YORK, AND YES RALEIGH, NC!!! What the hell??? Do they think that Chinese people are all rural dwellers wearing black and blue peasant outfits, or even worse, are they expecting "exotic" women with cheong soms or EVEN WORSE geisha outfits? I mean, probably you could show up in a sari and they wouldn't have known the difference. Or those damn rice paddy hats. And I don't even want to imagine the kind of taped eyes that proliferated in the bar that night. I weep to think of the patrons who participated in this promotional stunt. I weep for the hapless Asian American customer who just wanted to grab a drink after work and instead was inflicted to this racist side show.

But perhaps no one came dressed up. Perhaps the good citizens of Raleigh and the surrounding area thought the whole thing was patently offensive and NO ONE came to The Goat that night. One can only hope.

I've written letters to area newspapers and newsoutlets. The cynic in me doesn't think anything will happen. But in case anyone out there in cyberspace wants to add your two-cents, this is the link to the "Letter to the Editor" page of the Raleigh News & Observer (click here).

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Video Plug: "Yes We Can"

A tip of the hat to Angry Asian Man and What Tami Said. As an Obama supporter I, of course, really liked this video--but I do think there is something really hopeful about the number of people getting involved, for the first time, in endorsing a candidate that they really believe in--in taking the time to write a song, make a video, and distribute it on the web.

For more on why recorded this song, click here.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Racism & Sports--not an American phenomenon

I've been starting to do research on sports and race for a chapter I'm writing on Tiger Woods (so expect to see more posts about Tiger), and I tripped across this article in The New York Times by Richard Chang called "Racism Hits Formula One in Spain" (click on title for link).

There is a black Formula One racer, Lewis Hamilton, who experienced racist taunts and Spanish fans in black face when he went behind the wheel at a recent race.

Which just goes to show, racism and sports is not simply an American phenomenon (because of course, racism is not limited to the borders of the U.S.)

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Gung Hay Fat Choy!

Gung Hay Fat Choy--Happy New Year!

It's the lunar year 4706 (I got it wrong in the post I wrote a week ago), the year of the earth rat. We begin a brand new lunar cycle this year--for more on the lunar new year and traditions associated with it, click on this link:

And my last appreciation as we begin this new year is for my health. It is probably one of the biggest and yet the truest cliches: if you don't have your health, you don't have anything. I'm recuperating from a bout of stomach flu, and yesterday as the room was spinning around me, and I was in a fetal position on my bed, I realized how lucky I am. I know, a bizarre thing to think about when you are feeling like you've just done 10 rounds back to back in the tilt-o-whirl, but really, I knew that in about an hour, my partner was coming home to take care of me. And I had liquids and was staying hydrated, and I had access to clean water, and I didn't have to worry about taking time off from work the next day to rest. And if I didn't get better, I could afford to go to the doctor's the next day (by the way, for the record I am feeling much better). And this is what every single person on the planet should have access to--water, medicine, shelter, and the ability to stay healthy and to find help when you find yourself not healthy. So I appreciate my health, and when I'm not healthy, the things in my life that afford me the access to get healthy.

So here's to an auspicious new year--full of good health for us all--and for us all to try to work towards a place where everyone of us can live healthy lives.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

I appreciate affirmative action

I am a beneficiary of affirmative action. But perhaps not for the reasons people will immediately jump to. Sure I have personally gained from affirmative action programs as a woman of color, but what I mean is that as a citizen of this nation, as a resident of the United States, I have benefited from a government policy--from a re-orientation of values and priorities--that recognizes the unfair institutional discrimination (what we can loosely label racism and sexism) that had disenfranchised people in American society based on their sex and their race--in the early 1970s when the policy was instituted, it means men of color and women of all races.

For a fairly lucid description of affirmative action, as well as the controversies surrounding it, click on this link to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. And for a more in-depth collection of essays and articles about affirmative action, click on this link to "The Affirmative Action and Diversity Project" from UCSB.

There is a lot of confusion about what affirmative action is and who it benefits. And the truth is, it's not perfect--there have been problems in its execution and interpretation. People generally think of affirmative action as a program for "minorities" Yet one of the main beneficiaries of affirmative action policies have been white women. Others point out that Asian Americans have profited over affirmative action programs that were really designed to help enfranchise African American, Latino, and American Indian groups--ones who had faced more systematic racism than Asians in America. Although I would parry by showing that Asian Americans also face racial discrimination, although perhaps it does not look the same as the types of discrimination faced by others, and that their "success" should be qualified since I don't see many Asian Americans in positions of power--in other words, I'm stil banging my head on that glass ceiling. Still others (and this is, I think, what people think about when they think about detractors of affirmative action) believe that it is a system that unfairly promotes unqualified "minorities" over more qualified "whites." And one of the more contested areas is around college admissions.

The above cartoon really sums up Chapter 7 of critical race scholar Robert Chang--I've already promoted his work, and that of Scott Page in the post "Reverse Racism!" so I won't repeat myself here.

I'll just end with an observation: if, as many people believe, that affirmative action isn't needed because we are on an equal playing field--that women and people of color are not facing institutional discrimination or social disenfranchisement, why are we still having a national conversation about whether a white woman or a black man can be "presidential" material? Or perhaps even more prosaic, looking around at the heads of colleges and universities, looking at Congressional representatives and senators, looking at the CEOs of Fortune 500 companies and heads of Hollywood movie studios--do we really think that men of color and women of all races are being equitably represented in positions of power?

I said I would stay positive, and since this is the eve of the Chinese New Year, what I will end with is saying that I do, truly, appreciate affirmative action. My life is better because I have been able to live in a society that values diversity, and I am privileged to work in environments that value diversity and that work to end social disparities in gender and race (and class and sexual orientation for that matter). I appreciate affirmative action not because of what I have personally gained from it but because it has made my life richer by allowing me to hope for a more equitable world.

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

I appreciate political change

Today is Super Tuesday, a major date for voters to winnow out the field of 2008 Presidential contenders in both parties. (today is also Mardi Gras and International Pancake Day).

And my appreciation of the day leading up to Chinese New Year is that I appreciate that this election season, among the Democratic contenders, we have the choice between electing a white woman and an African American man.

I appreciate the political change that this signals. It is easy to get swept away by rhetoric and easier to feel cynical about U.S. politics. But no matter what party you are voting for or which Democratic candidate you are supporting in today's primary (if you live in a Super Tuesday state) the fact that there is a choice beyond selecting a white man to be our nation's leader is historic, momentous, and quite frankly long overdue.

I support Barack Obama--so much so, and from such an early date, that I actually went door to door in 90 degree weather (with a heat index of about 100 because this is the South) in June to hand out leaflets and talk about why I believed in his candidacy. It seemed, at the time, a bit premature, a bit naive, and a bit silly. I wondered why I was doing this--handing out literature to people who clearly thought I was crazy (although they were all polite and some even offered cold glasses of water, which I really appreciated). I mention this story because for the first time I felt excited about a candidate and wanted to DO something.

And after Super Tuesday is over and after the Democratic National Convention this summer, I will again go door to door and make phone calls and do whatever I can to support whoever the Democratic candidate is. Because even if it's not Obama, it will be Clinton--and while she may not be my first choice, I also think she will make an outstanding commander in chief, and she's also part of this historic moment.

We need political change right now. And we need to believe that we can DO SOMETHING to bring about that change. I have to believe that I can work for the country I want rather than sit back and bemoan the nation I am left with. It does take work--it's not going to happen with empty rhetoric. But it can happen. After all, just look at the photo on this post--did anyone ever imagine the day when we'd have this choice?

Monday, February 4, 2008

I appreciate dissent

I'm reading an article, a work of literary criticism, where the author, a professor of Asian American literature, synthesizes two different sides of an argument and adds a third point-of-view, and then displays the ways in which she dissents from all three positions to create her own thesis/interpretation.

This is the bread and butter of academics--being able to synthesize other arguments and then show how you are doing something different--to dissent.

This is also the bedrock of democracy.

I found this image by doing a google search under "dissent"--others I considered were quotes and paraphrases from Thomas Jefferson saying that "Dissent is the highest form of patriotism."

A while back, on this blog, I struggled with this issue when I rejected my first comment--because I believe that anyone coming to this blog should absolutely feel free to dissent from my opinions and should express that dissent. Because this is a series of "appreciations" I suppose I shouldn't ruminate on this too much, but I think the catch is how to express dissent--how to express our disagreements with one another while still being respectful and still being able to hear one another's point-of-view.

I don't have the answer to this, but I do truly appreciate dissent. I think it gets confused for a lot of things--insubordination, insurrection, debate. There are elements of dissent in all these things, but at heart I believe dissent is offering another perspective. Dissent tells us that not everyone agrees, that there isn't only a single point-of-view. Dissent makes room for difference and does not preclude consensus, because you can agree to disagree. Allowing dissent allows for free discourse, open communication, multiple voices. Who wouldn't appreciate that?

Sunday, February 3, 2008

I appreciate lazy days

When I decided to start this blog, I knew I wanted to be focused as to the types of posts I wrote--to always keep in mind that this was a blog and not a journal.

But since I decided to do this countdown to Chinese New Year by recording a daily observation about what I appreciated in life--as a way to stay positive. And today, the one thing I am truly appreciative of at the moment is being lazy.

I appreciate the times in my life when I just take a bit of a time out. I have been reading The New York Times Sunday edition on line, eating a Cheese danish from my favorite local bakery, and sipping Earl Grey tea. I will more than likely take my dog for a long walk later this afternoon and then spend the rest of the day reading this novel I'm really enjoying (True History of Paradise--I'll be writing more about this work later after I finish it because I'm reading it in preparation for my trip to Jamaica since it set in Jamaica and I prefer reading stories about places rather than travel guides or history books).

I guess I just appreciate the times when I slow down and savor life...when my brain gets put on hold for a moment and I decide to just be in the world.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

I appreciate golf

I think I've said before how much I love golf, and that I am sometimes sheepish about my fondness for this game because for so long I thought of it as a racist, sexist, homophobic, elitist, and un-environmentally friendly institution.

But then two things happened.

1) Tiger Woods made a huge splash in the world of golf

(look at all those people with umbrellas lined up just to see this man whack a golf ball).

Tiger literally changed the face of golf. I'm not saying that golf became this all-inclusive game, but his presence, a splash of color in a largely white sea of golfers (although let us not forget Vijay Singh and KJ Choi and a few others) has definitely increased the attention that people of color have both paid to the sport and that others within golf pay to issues of race.

2) I started to actually play the game. I moved South where golf is both abundant and cheap due to the more temperate weather. And there's nothing like that feeling on the tee box when you wind up and hit the driver and your club face makes contact with that little white ball in the sweet spot and you hear it go "THWACK!" and you see it sail straight and true and you just watch it and feel....great! Or when you are on the green and you line up your putt and the ball rolls in from 10's a magical feeling. And for me, because I don't keep score, it's just something I get to be zen about--I play not to improve myself or to be competitive with anyone else. I play because it feels good, to me, to hit the ball, and if it goes too far to the left or right, I pick it up and throw it on the fairway and keep playing.

Some of my best golf days are just me, my clubs, and walking the fairways all by myself.

Friday, February 1, 2008

Countdown to Chinese New Year

Today is February 1 and on February 7, 2008 it will be the beginning of the Lunar New Year 4705--the year of the rat. Growing up, Chinese New Year was the big holiday in my family--we celebrated (and still do) this day as a special holiday as well as my father's birthday (he celebrates according to the lunar calendar, so his birthday is always the day after the new year, which means it varies year to year when I send his gift).

There are various things you are supposed to do to prepare for the new year, most of them having to do with ways to ensure that the upcoming year will be prosperous. You aren't supposed to wash your hair on the first day of the new year or to use scissors (you don't want to wash away the luck from your hair or cut your luck short). You are also supposed to pay all debts (a near impossibility for those of us living in the U.S. in a credit society with home mortgages, car loans, and credit cards), and in general you are supposed to be positive and to see the upcoming year as auspicious.

So in honor of the upcoming lunar new year, I'm going to do a countdown of things I'm thankful for, as a way to pay the debt of gratitude to so many in my life, or just simply as a way to be positive. I think that so often there are so many things to be critical of, especially in a blog dedicated to issues of race in America. But for the next seven days, I'm dedicating this blog to positive things I see on our horizon, various plugs for books, films, or people, and generally observations of positive things in our world. I'm not trying to be a Pollyana or to ignore the MANY problems we face in the world, but since I've already said I'm a glass-half full kind of gal, I think being positive for a few days isn't a bad thing.

And my positive appreciation for today's post is that I get to celebrate Chinese New Year. I mean, this may seem like a silly thing to appreciate or show gratitude for, but I've often felt a lack of ritual in my life, especially since I'm agnostic. But every time Chinese New Year rolls around, I go into a certain ritual of cleaning my house, sticking to the superstitions I mentioned above, trying to pay as many of my debts as possible, keeping to the positive spirit of the new year, and, of course, eating yummy food (and there are so many great food rituals associated with the new year). The richness of my memories of Chinese New Year as a child and the richness of continuing this cultural celebration as an adult just makes me feel happy.