Wednesday, June 15, 2011

America's Pastime.

Putting Words To The Asian-American Experience.

The Ask A Korean blog posted this extremely eloquent and powerful essay by a guy named Jay Caspian Kang that posits the sport of baseball as one of the means by which Asians can (at least for a while) experience what it might mean to be an American. 

Here are a couple of excerpts.......
"The irony of our multicultural education is that it provides us with only the vocabulary of the thoroughly entitled and the thoroughly disenfranchised. Asian immigrants stand somewhere in between, but lack the context and the words to express our place..............

..........This season, I will watch the game for the stats, the umpire-specific strike zones, the infield shifts, the pitching changes, and the numbers on the scoreboard. But, when I hear the occasional racist comment in the stands that I might reflexively place upon myself, my intellect will begin to pull apart baseball's patriotic metaphor. But thankfully, the process is cyclic, because whenever an Asian player is met with applause, or when I see a young white or Hispanic or African-American kid in a Choo or Kuroda or Matsui t-shirt, the flood of inclusive, metaphoric language will seal the gaps shut and I will once again be awash in halfway hopeful reverence."

How refreshing that an Asian-American can write about his experience without demonizing or blaming his own culture, community, or parents.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Asian-American Culture......

....How White Is It?

Over the past year or so, Asian-Americans have been the recipients of some atypical mainstream attention due to a couple of articles written by members of the Asian minority that reported on the negative aspects of "Asian" family culture and how it has the potential to affect integration and acceptance of Asians into mainstream life. Of course I'm referring to the Tiger Mom and Tiger Cub articles which were both published in mainstream publications.

As readers will probably already know, both articles were met with a variety of responses - some expressed agreement, many more expressed resounding disagreement. Upon reading many of the negative reactions to these articles, it became apparent to me that many people were not only reacting to the fact that many negative things were said and implied about Asian people, but also to the fact that these things were said in mainstream publications to a mainstream (and let's be honest, we're talking about publications whose audience is likely to the majority white) that already has cultural structures in place whose apparent purpose is to propagate negative attitudes about us. Why waste what few opportunities that we have to present our point of view by simply repeating to the mainstream many of the negative things that they are already saying about us?

One needn't limit oneself to these two articles to notice that much of what Asian-Americans publish or write about themselves and their cultures in white mainstream platforms follows this pattern to some degree or another. Typically, this type of expression of Asian-American culture, carries with it much drama and hyper-criticism of self and one's culture. Unfortunately, it's never really made clear why we should believe that white mainstream actually gives a crap about Asian-American angst, yet somehow this idea of appealing to, or creating for, the (white) mainstream has apparently become a prominent goal of Asian-American cultural practice. Sadly, implicit in this pattern is the understanding that mainstream racisms and prejudices must be diluted or downplayed, leaving one to wonder whether this drive to manipulate Asian-American cultural expression into a mould that is palatable for the white majority relinquishes its autonomy and simply renders it a sub-category of mainstream white culture.

Of course, it can be said that since the mainstream offers the widest possible opportunity for acclaim that it would be natural to want to appeal to this demographic. Yet, this doesn't really provide us with a good reason for the tone and theme of much mainstream-in-mind Asian-American culture to be so self-denigrating or negative - in fact, it almost seems as though this cultural contrition is a requirement for acceptance by the mainstream.

This reverence for mainstream sensitivities seems, in and of itself, to be something of a cultural quagmire, capable of swallowing whole any semblence of cultural autonomy and just like a bog, fools us into believing that it is solid gound that can be safely walked over, only to leave us stuck. This is even more noticeable given the reality of the demographics of 21st Century America.  African-Americans have a population of around 40 million, Hispanics number around 50 million, yet, how many times do we hear aspiring Asian-American culture warriors speaking about trying to reach these potential markets to disseminate their ideas? One can only guess at how much more fresh, genuine, or even edgy, the product of Asian-American culture might be if it didn't struggle so hard to protect the white mainstream from its demons but, instead, expressed common experience with other minorities.

This very idea goes against the notion that works of art or products of culture exist as meaningful entities in their own right - some of the apparent goals of Asian-American culture seems to suggest that the Asian voice only has value if it has successfully appealed to the white mainstream. It would seem more conducive to the production of potent, original, and relevant works of culture if we didn't try so hard to force ourselves into modes of expression that limits creativity in the hope that the white mainstream will like it. Most ironic of all, is that this approach seems uninterested in appealing to Asian-Americans themselves, and if that is the case, then why label such an approach as "Asian-American" at all?