April 1, 2007
Written by C.N.
The following is a guest post from the Cynical Anti-Orientalist, who has graciously allowed me to reprint some of their posts from time to time:
This is a story of my life as a queer, feminist Asian American woman and my parents:
Let me just share a little bit about my family before I get into my secret undercover attempt to decolonize my parents. My parents immigrated to the U.S. in 1990. I was four years old. They came to the States because of emergency family issues and they didn’t intend to stay. Their plan was to take care of the issue and then go back to China. I was not brought on the trip. Interestingly, they did decide to stay for family reasons and could not afford to bring their only daughter (me) with them.
Like many Chinese immigrants in the U.S., any degrees earned in China do not count as academic achievements. My father, who was once the head of the Labor Department of ShenYang was forced to work at McDonald’s. My mother, who formerly worked at a publishing company in ShenYang, worked three jobs at a time, all in the service-sector. They have owned a Chinese restaurant where white kids would come in, order fried rice, and spill it all over the floor and graffitied my parent’s shop window.
Eventually, they saved enough money (six years later) to come to China and get me. I was ten when I moved to the States. My mother found a job as a line cook at UMass Amherst and my father worked (and still works) as a machine-operator at Yankee Candle. My mother, being the strong and assertive woman she is, has been promoted countless times. Now, after working in the same institution for eleven years, she is finally a manager. (I am careful in my description of my parents’ jobs because I do not want to make judgments of their choices, most of which are for the benefit of me).
Throughout my childhood, because we were low-income, my family was always being used in the racist scheme of divide & conquer. Because they worked with other low-income people of color, they always stereotyped and racialized them as being lazy and dumb. I am sure that their white co-workers told them that Chinese immigrants like my parents are really the smart and hard-working ones, as to other immigrants of color. My parents were the “model minority” and they bought into it like many others.
My mother would always justify her racism by stating that even though she was once poor, she was able to overcome her class status while other people (mainly Black, Latinos and Southeast Asians according to her) couldn’t overcome their poverty because they were “lazy” and “unmotivated.” For those of you who do not believe/have not heard of model minority imperialism, my parents are a classic example (this is not to put blame on my parents but to point out how people of color, throughout history have been pitted against each other again and again to maintain white supremacist policies and benefits). Growing up in that household, I could constantly hear racist statements regularly and whenever I listened to rap & r&b on the radio, my parents would scold me for listening to “Black” music.
Luckily, although my school was predominantly white and color-blind, the friends I made when I first came to the States were students of color. I wasn’t particularly accepted in the Chinese community because most of the kids were from Taiwan and many of them didn’t like me because I was a mainland northerner. So my friends were predominantly Black and Latino along with immigrant kids from my ESL classes.
In middle school, I became conscious of race and racism and joined the “anti-racist” fight (at that time it was color-blindness) with my classmates. Throughout high school, it was still the same kind of color-blindness. It was in college in my Asian American Studies and African American Studies classes that I learned color-blindness is not an answer to racism. But throughout those years, my parents encouraged me not to date at all, and most importantly, not to date anyone Black or Latino.
Up until recently, my mother (I don’t talk to my father that much, he’s not the talkative type) still believed that the poor/homeless/unemployed are just lazy. Let me just say first that talking to my parents beyond superficiality is a bit overwhelming because I didn’t have the awesomest (is that a word, ’cause I just made it one) time with parents who constantly pushed me to be the model minority throughout my childhood years.
I was rebellious and dyed my hair a bunch of different colors until my mother threatened to shave my head. I was also very very bad at math… The differences and the generation gap pulled me and my parents apart and I’m still trying to mend those missing pieces together. It has been an incredibly hard time because it has been both frustrating, emotional and rewarding that sometimes I am just really overwhelmed.
This is not some pet project that will be done once it’s done. Trying to communicate and build a positive relationship with APIA parents for a lot of us can be challenging especially because many APIA daughters & sons try to separate themselves from their parent’s generation and their “traditional” and “Asianness.”
With that said, I have been making the effort to talking to my mother (my dad is next and he has no idea what’s coming). I finally (!) got up the nerve to talk to mother about issues that have an effect on our lives. Throughout the process, I have cried many times because we have made amazing progress (to me anyway since my mom might think I’m just complaining a lot). We have spoke about issues on race, class, gender, queerness, model minority and generally just about our experiences as an immigrant family in the United States. Tough topics I know. Especially with strict Chinese parents.
I remember when I first came out to my mother at seventeen as a bisexual woman. Her reaction then is a lot less tolerant than her reactions now. Although she still believes that identifying as queer will damage my reputation (which it does in some circumstances), she shows me her support. Whenever I say something “questionable,” she always concludes by “whatever you decide to do, I will support you.” Although that might not sound like complete acknowledgment, this is really a big step for my mother and me.
I have also tried to demystify the whole “Chinese immigrants are hard-workers who are better than everyone else.” Not that Chinese immigrants aren’t hard-working, but other immigrants and low-income people are as well. In the beginning of my attempt to talk to my mother, I have been incredibly confrontational. But now, I am using a dialogue approach where I nod my head when she talks and then suggest other points of views. This in my experience has been the most effective.
Most of the time, I try to ask my mother to put herself in other people’s shoes. When she does, her perspective changes little by little, backed up by statistics, facts and theories I introduce. Whenever I get frustrated, I remind myself that my parents are not the ones to blame. What IS to blame is the years and years of colonization on their minds by Fox, NBC, racism, discrimination, harassments, corporate ladders, model minority myths, money, wealth, horizontal oppression…etc.
I am still having talks with my mother. And through talking with her, I find a lot of things that I have never been able to piece together in my family. It will be hard in the future though because I am graduating and moving out of the area. But there are still many things that are unsaid and heard.
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Suggested reference: Le, C.N. . "Decolonizing the Parents" Asian-Nation: The Landscape of Asian America. <http://www.asian-nation.org/headlines/2007/04/decolonizing-the-parents/> ().
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