Saturday, July 4, 2009

Independence Day -- Free your mind

Today is July 4th--Independence Day. This has never been a big holiday for me or my family. Not for any particular reason--more because it was a holiday that took place during the summer, so often my friends were out of town. Also, celebrating the Fourth of July in the California suburbs really meant having a bbq and some sparklers.

Of course, now that I'm older and understand the fuller history of the U.S. (the one that most of us weren't taught in our high school history and civics courses), the Fourth of July becomes a bit problematic when considering just who gets to celebrate "independence." But here's the thing--nothing is ever static. We can choose to celebrate today not as the ultimate expression of U.S. patriotism but as a day that we choose to free our mind--to understand the real history of the U.S. (in all its complicated, ugly, and yet progressive wonder), to recognize the progress we've made (and the costs of that progress), and to work harder to make this a nation that reflects the values we believe in--values that are for everyone.

So, for a different take on the Fourth of July, let me direct you to this Weekend America piece, "A Native American Take on Independence"--you should definitely click on the audio link and listen to the various First Nations people that they interviewed; there's a particularly funny bit that they excerpt from the film Smoke Signals, a 1998 film based on work by American Indian author Sherman Alexie.

Here's a trailer to the film Smoke Signals:

And for nostalgia's sake (and I'm talking to all you 30-somethings out there) here's how most of us learned to recite the Preamble to the Constitution (thank you School House Rock!). What I find interesting about this piece is the revisioninst history embedded within it--the jury box in the 18th C. has black Americans and women, and these would NOT be people allowed to serve on juries (or vote or be fully enfranchised citizens until the 20th C.), so in a way this little piece was trying re-vision history the way we'd like it to be (plus I don't think anyone ever put a big "O.K." stamp on the constitution...)


Unknown said...

I don't have a comment on independence day but I was hoping you could help me with my daughter. The situation is very complicated but I will try and summarize the best I can. I am Irish American “the socioeconomic challenged other white meat” and my former husband was Cambodian. Together we had two beautiful children. Our eldest daughter looks very Asian and as a result she has lived through her share of unjustness. For instance, twice she was placed in ESOL simply based on the color of her skin, while at the same time told she was not Asian enough to wear a ceremonial dress at her aunts wedding. To make matters even more interesting, several years after our divorce I remarried to a Polish-Irish American and had another two beautiful children. Our home is very open and loving but the past year has brought a divide to my daughter. She is fine and loving inside the home, but outside she has only Asian friends. These ’friends’ of hers also happen to be the bad kids. They smoke, drink, demean their body’s, sneak out whenever they want, and they, including my daughter, refer to our family as the white people. For example, the other day we were all playing tag at the park. In the middle of the game a few of her friends came by and they started talking. Her four year old sister run up to tag her and they all started to laugh at how white a little girl could be. It broke my heart to see both my eldest daughter talking that way and the confused look on my youngest daughters face. We abruptly went home and when I told my daughter that she needed new friends she called me racist. I have always supported both sides of her heritage. I (despite looks of disapproval) have taken her myself to the temple when her aunts couldn’t, I learned the language so that I could pass it on to them, and when the school had “culture day” and she requested to represent Cambodia I sewed her skirt myself and took a thousand proud parent pictures of her walking around in it. Here I go rambling, I apologize, the point is how can I help her understand that she dose not have to ‘choose’ only one heritage and that the things she is doing now are not characteristic of her Asian ancestry but rather a disease plaguing it.

Jennifer said...

The first thing I'll say is that I appreciate you seeking out resources for your family, esp. for your daughter. I had actually just chastised someone else for posting an un-related comment to one of my posts, but I think in your case, you seem to be in real need of guidance/help, which is why I'm assuming you did a google search and found your way to this blog.

The second thing I will say is that I'm really not equipped to give the kind of advice that you are seeking. I'm not a parent. And I'm not a child psychologist. One resource I'd like to direct you to is the blog "Anti-Racist Parent"--on Thursdays there is an open thread and I think you could re-post your question/concerns in that space and hopefully someone will get back to you. That blog also has links to other parenting blogs that you might find helpful.

Third, I do have some questions to ask you that may help you to get at the heart of what troubles your daughter/you. My first question is about her new group of friends. What, exactly, troubles you about them--that her friends are all "Asian" or that they are "bad kids" and, most importantly, are you equating "bad kids" with "Asian"?

In other words, it would be helpful to know whether you are bothered by the fact that she has a group of friends who do not resemble you/your family and who do resemble your ex-husband/her father -- that even if they were straight "A" model minority students who made comments about "white" people, would that still bother you? OR, is the larger issue your anxiety about her getting involved with kids who are engaged in high risk behavior? I know it may not be as simple as seeing these as separate, but it IS important to distinguish between the two, because, in my opinion, the exploration and questioning of your daughter's ethnic identity seems normal.

I began point #2 with saying that I'm not a child psychologist or parenting expert. I do know about race--and have read a lot of things about mixed-race people, including children and most of all, about adults reflecting on their childhood experiences. And I think it's great that you want to be a white ally for your family.

Let me end with saying that I don't think that fetishizing "Asian" culture or "Cambodian" culture is going to help her (saying her behavior isn't "Asian" doens't seem the right tack to take). Choosing one heritage, especially at her age, is a coping strategy for a variety of reasons--esp. in a world that sends images of white being better. You cannot discount this.

If you really want to help your daughter, learn about white privilege and mixed race issues--read Peggy McIntosh's "Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack of White Privilege" (you can find a copy in one of my older blog posts). Read articles about mixed-race identity development--the work of Maria Root is particularly important. You may also want to try Naomi Zack, Wei-ming Dariotis, and Paul Spickard.

It also seems to me that the more you push and tell her you don't like her friends, the more she is going to cling to them. Sure, they don't sound like the best group of kids. But have you tried to get to know them? Are they really bad? All of them? Have you had them over to your home? Have you tried to find out what their stories are? What their backgrounds are? Why your daughter is so enamomred with them--are they the popular kids, the burner kids, the straight A kids who are also "bad"?