Thursday, May 31, 2012

Defending the South

I'm currently enjoying the wonderfully sunny beauty of San Diego, CA.  I've been in California for the last 2 and  1/2 weeks, first flying into SFO, then spending lots of time with family and friends, attending a conference in San Francisco, and then flying down to San Diego for some QT with my cousin J.

There are many things that I'm struck by whenever I return to California, especially the Bay Area.  First, when my cousin A and his wife S picked me up from the airport and took me to their favorite sushi place in Alameda (the appropriately named Sushi House) the first words out of my mouth when we walked in the restaurant was "Where did all these Asian people come from???"  Yep, the entire restaurant (which easily could seat 200) seemed chock full o'Asians.  Truthfully, there were African American, Latino, and white clientel scattered amongst and with their fellow Asian American patrons, but overwhelmingly what you encountered, from the staff to the patrons, were Asian faces.  Or specifically, Asian American faces, and judging from conversation, not recent immigrants (at least didn't hear many, if any, Asian accents).

So I'm back in the land of Asian Americans.  Which is always nice--to feel like I'm not in the minority.  That I'm not the only person of color or Asian American in the room.  Quite frankly, especially in the Bay Area, especially in San Francisco, Asian faces are everywhere.

And it feels great to be back in California because this is where my family (whom I love) and my close friends from college (whom I also love) are--and the food...don't get me started with the food!  Today I had classic beer battered fish tacos from a place in Point Loma called Cotija Taco Shop that were DIVINE--and they were inexpensive--just a hole-in-the-wall place with GREAT FOOD.

But what I find, what has been unexpected about my return to the land of my youth and young adulthood, is that I find myself feeling defensive and defending...the South.

In particular during the soccer match of my best friend B's oldest daughter (who's 10) I was introduced to a variety of Bay Area soccer parents, who were all super friendly.  My friend B introduced me as her "best friend from North Carolina"--which I used to feel (when she did this after I first moved to NC) to be not quite accurate, but as more time has passed, I realize that for the time being, I am definitely staying put and that it's true that I am "from" North Carolina since my husband, dog, house, and job are all in NC.

So what I got from every person I met was this "Oh, let me give you some advice about things to see/do/eat"--and then I'd explain that I actually grew up in Hayward and went to UCSB (which is where I met B).  And at that point in the conversation (and I had this conversation with over a dozen soccer parents because we got there early and I got introduced to a lot of folks) was something along the lines of:

"Oh, you must be relieved not to be in the South anymore--it's so racist there!"

"Oh, you must be SO GLAD to be back in California!"

"Wow, what made you live in North Carolina???  I could never leave California!"

"You must be so glad to have some good food while you're here"

"I bet you are so happy to be away from the South and back in a more liberal place"
[this, was especially meant in light of the recent Amendment One debacle]

"You could never get me living outside the Bay Area, especially not in the South!"

Now, each and every time I got this reaction, I was very polite, but also firmly said things like,

"Actually, the county I live in voted 69% against Amendment One"

"I live in a very liberal college town and feel really comfortable there--and there's racism everywhere"

"The town I live in has a very good local food movement and was voted in the top 5 best small towns to eat in by Bon Appetite"

"I actually really like where I live, and Southern U. is a great school"

What I found myself doing, in other words, was defending the South.  Perhaps what I was doing was defending my own little corner of the South, but none-the-less, I felt like I had to correct the stereotypes, misperceptions, and arrogance of my questioners.  Especially since my husband is born and bred in this area (I do refer to him as Southern Man for a reason), and he speaks with a Southern accent, as do his family.  As do many of my students, friends, and neighbors. 

The thing is, I was one of those people not too long ago.  I would have said any or all of those things.  And I'm embarrassed and slightly ashamed about what a snob I was--about how condescending I was about anything that was outside of my California bubble.

And I must say that in terms of a more nuanced understanding of race relations, of stereotypes, of white privilege and class privilege and all of those intersections (like regional privilege), confronting my own misperceptions and misconceptions of the South has made me a better anti-racist educator.  It has made me aware of the ways that I have stereotyped and typecast people with a southern accent.  It had made me realize the prejudices that people outside the South has for anyone who drinks sweet tea (and doesn't realize there's any other kind of way to drink iced tea) and that it's still OK to make fun of people from the South.

Don't get me wrong--the South is far, FAR, from perfect.  There are a lot of ass-backwards things going on here (Amendment One???)--but there are ass-backwards things going on in the Northeast, the West, and the Midwest.  Anti-gay legislation and bullying happens everywhere.  Racism happens everywhere.  Yes, there aren't as many Asian Americans here, and that's something that I feel sad about, personally and professionally.  But I also believe in the words of Gandhi:

"Be the change you want to see in the world."

And so, for the time being, I will be revel in my California vacation.  I will soak up the sun (it's 68, sunny, with a slight breeze and a few wispy clouds in the sky).  I will bask in my family and friends.  And I will go home to my little corner of the South, and I will work to change the things I think need changing and to celebrate the fact that I have new family and friends to form my southern community, and that I can do my anti-racist educating in the South with a better understanding of having been born and bred outside this place I now call home.

Thursday, May 10, 2012

It's about human rights -- the right to love whomever you choose

This morning the interview that President Barack Obama gave with Good Morning American anchor, Robin Roberts -- the one in which he came out in support of same-sex marriages -- aired.  If you missed it, you can find it on the link below (which will open in a separate window):

GMA video interview with President Obama

This past Tuesday, May 8, the state that I live in, North Carolina, passed an amendment (Amendment One) that stipulates that marriage be defined as between one man and one woman only--all other unions will not be recognized (and ostensibly protected) under the law.

I should also note that there was a link made between Amendment One (which, as many people have noted harms not just gay and lesbian couples but many different types of unions that aren't traditional marriage, although I think it's important to remember that the bigotry behind this is really anti-queer) and white supremacy.  The wife of the politician who is spearheading this amendment, Jodie Brunstetter, had this to say about the rationale behind her husband's push for the amendment:
"The reason my husband wrote Amendment 1 was because the Caucasian race is diminishing and we need to uh, reproduce."
Nearly four years ago I wrote about the connection between anti-miscegenation laws and anti-same-sex marriage laws (click here).  But it bears repeating.

The idea that we could legislate love--the idea that we could codify bigotry into our legal system, dictating to people the race of the person they were allowed to marry--this idea seems completely antiquated and backwards to most anyone under the age of 22 (and for most folks over the age of 22 I'd wager).  The idea that it was illegal to marry someone of a different race just 40 years ago seems so preposterous--like living in an era before the telephone (let alone internet wifi accessibility).

Some time in the not too distant future, younger generations will look back on the year 2012 and will be AMAZED that it was a big deal that a sitting president went on national t.v. to declare his support for same-sex marriages.  Younger generations will look back on us with shock and horror--they will not understand how North Carolina could have passed an amendment that would prevent a gay or lesbian couple from marrying and raising their children (if they choose to have children).

A mixed race America is an inclusive America.  And the issue of whether gay and lesbian couples can or should marry is one that each couple should have the right to make for themselves.  Because choosing who you want to love and spend the rest of your life with strikes me as one of the basic things we get to do as human beings.  And having that union be recognized legally as marriage strikes me as one of the fundamental freedoms that we should extend to people in a democratic society.

At the end of the day this isn't about queer rights or civil rights.  This is about human rights--the rights of humans to choose who they want to love and the right to have their government and society recognize this as marriage.

[Aside: I've been pretty despondent about Amendment One passing in the state that I now call home.  However, a friend of mine sent me the video below about how this is not the end and about how allies of various social justice communities have come together to fight against Amendment One and that we will keep fighting together.  And I have to say that I am very proud to be living in one of 6 counties in this state that defeated Amendment One--in fact the county I live in had 79% of people voting against  the Amendment--which makes me very proud indeed.  The fight is not over.]

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Authentically Asian American?

Happy May Day! It's awfully embarrassing to realize that it's been A FULL MONTH since I last wrote a post (sigh). Do I have any readers out there anymore??? I have found that multi-tasking is something that I'm unable to do anymore post-chemo. And my energy level isn't what it was pre-cancer diagnosis. Sometimes I think these are excuses I make for myself. And then I think, my body went through a lot of trauma, so why not just cut myself slack?

Anyway, that's the rationale/excuse/reason for my not writing more--I've been tired and been trying to keep my head above water with the other commitments I have going on in my life. And I'm sure all of you can understand that because I'm sure you are also trying to keep your head above water.

I'm actually at Williams College right now--I just gave a talk about what it means to be "authentically" Asian American -- and don't worry, it was not a workshop meant to give students a list of all the things they should be doing to be considered an authentic Asian American. Instead, it was a workshop meant to provoke and dismantle the idea of "authenticity" -- or at the very least to trouble the notion of authenticity.

At one point I had two lists on the chalkboard--one with traits and characteristics of "authentic" Asian Americans and one with traits and characteristics of "inauthentic" Asian Americans. And as I demonstrated at the end of the exercise, we can all fit into both categories. I use chopsticks (check authenticity box) but I am not fluent in an Asian language (check inauthenticity box) and I'm married to a white man (this was a little contentious--some students thought this was something that made you authentic and some students thought it signaled inauthenticity--all the more reason to understand the troubling nature of creating such lists).

We also talked about the difficulty of coalition building among Asian Americans and the lack of a discernible Asian American culture--what, exactly, brings Asian Americans together? We do share the common language of English, but unlike the majority of Latinos in the U.S., we don't share a secondary language/culture (although we should remember that Latinos are not a monolithic, "hispanic" origin group and while many do come from Spanish-language backgrounds, different Spanish speaking countries have different words/slang/expressions--and we shouldn't forget about Brazil or indigenous Latin Americans).

So what exactly brings Asian Americans together as common cause?

Jeremy Lin.

Yep, Jeremy Lin's name came up as someone that various Asian Americans, regardless of ethnic nationality/culture could all get behind. One Korean American student admitted that his father, who is not known to root for Chinese people or celebrate Chinese accomplishments nor is a big basketball fan, began watching Knicks games and rooting for Jeremy Lin. This was echoed by all the students at this workshop.

Which brings me to this very astute and moving piece by a former student of mine, Matthew Salesses:

"DIFFERENT RACISMS: On Jeremy Lin and How the Rules of Racism are Different for Asian Americans"

About 2 months ago, Matt got in touch with me over email and was kind enough to send me the link to the piece he wrote about Jeremy Lin and what Lin means for Matt and other Asian Americans, especially other Asian American men.

As you'll see by Matt's piece, he's an incredible writer and you should definitely check out his website and his writing (click here).

Matt explains, in very personal terms, what it means for him to be Asian American--for him to grapple with that term and to figure out whether he wants to embrace that racial marker--as he writes in his piece,

"I was taking the AA course to find out what I was."

I know that feeling. I remember vividly my first Asian American studies course and that moment of discovery--the moment of feeling like finally I was being reflected in the syllabus. It's a very empowering feeling--and disorienting when you are Asian American because you realize that the rest of your courses and the rest of society doesn't really want to deal with you as an Asian American in the way you want to be dealt with--with full acknowledgement of the way Asian Americans have been racialized and are marginalized into a model minority monolith that remains invisible in plain sight.

I'm humbled by students like the ones I met at Williams and former students like Matt--quite frankly, they're the reason I teach.