Archive for the month “December, 2013”

Mixed Race / Transnational Fairy Tales

Hi everyone!

Thank you so much for the wonderful semester. I’ve enjoyed this class so much, and I will certainly miss it and all of you in it. I hope I’ll get to see you around campus sometimes! And I would definitely be down for a class reunion next semester or for dinner dates or whatever. We should hang out. Yes.

I’ve decided to make a tumblr blog to post the mixed race / transnational fairy tale retellings I wrote for my final project, so please feel free to take a look at it (and show it to your friends, follow my tumblr, etc., haha). I will also try to take pictures of the physical book and illustrations I made for it and post those as well. I may try to do more of these in the future, just for fun, or at least post some ideas for more of them or something like that.

The URL is mixedwithmagic.tumblr.com . Enjoy!

Thanks again,

Erika

P.S. I can’t seem to get a link to work so please just copy and paste the URL!

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Another video to look at for fun

http://www.good.is/posts/this-video-will-give-you-a-clue-on-what-not-to-say-to-mixed-race-folk?utm_source=policymic.com&utm_medium=referral&utm_campaign=policymic

Food Fusion

It was sooooooooo super duper great that we had a potluck because everyone brought in food that represented them or that they ate as a kid or that they just love. Amelia’s pandan spread and durian was especially unique, but probably one of my favorite items there. I loved getting to know her through her stories about her childhood. It is so awesome that going to the grocery store made to nostalgic. I was lucky enough to go to the grocery store with her and the excitement she had on her face and in her voice when she walked up and down the aisles. Sachi, Amelia, and I went shopping together and I loved that experience. Going there made me miss home because it smells like the place I go to reguarly (maybe it is because most Asian supermarkets smell similar….like fish!). I ended up buying 5 cans (which were very, very difficult to carry back to my dorm). I wanted to make a mixed fruit dessert. In Thai we call it “ruom meet” which means “mixed.” I thought this dessert was very appropriate for the class because it is a mixed race experience class! Unfortunately, we did not end up eating the dessert. But that is totally fine because we had so much food!! Fortunately, we had a diverse selection of snacks, drinks, and main entrees. This is the type of potluck I love because it is not just the typical chips, soda, and burger type of potluck. 

I loved the discussions we had around the table and the new musical entertainment that we were introduced to. It is memories like these that make me remember a particular class for a very long time. I also liked sitting around an intimate table. I think it provides for a better discussion – more relaxed feeling. I think the class actively participates and it is just an all around very good homey feel to the class. It feels like a safe space where our ideas are respected and heard. It is a place where our experiences and personal stories come alive. 

I also thoroughly enjoyed the activity we did at the end of class. It was not only a nice review of everything we covered in 15 weeks, but it was also a great reflection on topics we have thought about throughout the course. I enjoyed reading everything every single person wrote because it was if they put a little piece of themselves on the board to share with the class. The chain of replies was hilarious! It is so great to be in a classroom where everyone has so much in common yet brings something different to the class. 

This reflection is dedicated to the last day of class (which I guess is finals day). It has been an incredible 15 weeks. I’m so glad to have been in a class with such smart, caring, and driven classmates. I’ve learned so much from Professor O’Brien. I hope to take more of her classes. This class is unique because we can share our personal experiences. Not only that, but everyone is there with open ears. We are undoubtedly lucky to be in a safe space like the Claremont Colleges. And for that, I am thankful.

For funzies

http://www.buzzfeed.com/hnigatu/racial-microagressions-you-hear-on-a-daily-basis

http://www.buzzfeed.com/regajha/truths-about-growing-up-in-multiple-cities

Midnight Snacking On Globalization

a jar of pandan jam and a box of Danisa butter cookies

Pandan Jam and Danisa Butter Cookies.

As the years have passed I’ve accumulated quite a range of favorite snacks. The foods of my families and backgrounds don’t match standard college campus food, and when I’m homesick for my childhood of non-cafeteria edibles I look at pictures of pretty pandan desserts on the internet. Making my way to a Vietnamese market this week to gather materials for my potluck contribution was overwhelmingly wonderful. The smells, sights, and sounds reminded me of the countless grocery shopping trips I’ve taken with my mother – not something I expected to ever be nostalgic for. Even more exciting this week was finding an aisle in the market with a section of Indonesian goods.

My relationship with my Indonesian roots are a little funky – I never know if I should describe myself as Chinese or Indonesian since my mother comes from several generations of Chinese living in Indonesia. We call our grandparents “Kung Kung” and “Po Po,” as many of my Chinese American friends also do, but Bahasa is what I’ve grown up hearing spoken in my mother’s family. I’m comfortable with this mash-up at home, but at the same time I’m not sure how to navigate it in American society as someone who passes as white and has lived only in Thailand and the States.

All that said, I was thrilled to find an Indonesian section in an Asian supermarket and have the opportunity to look at so many familiar goodies. For a hybrid potluck contribution I decided to pull inspiration from my childhood foods and mixes, hence the following purchases:

As a little kid I adored pandan jam and have a distinct memory of throwing up after consuming too much once in Bangkok. That particular incident caused my parents to limit my pandan jam intake in the future, so I don’t actually remember the last time I had some. Enter adulthood and finding the Indonesian section in a supermarket! I’ve been yearning for pandan jam all semester so I could not resist bringing it to share with the class. I wanted to experiment with spreading the jam of a people on the cookies of their colonizers, and providentially found boxes of Danisa Traditional Butter Cookies being sold at the end of the aisle. I think this brand is based in Indonesia, so I’m mixing it with another Indonesian product, but archetypally European presentation is a stark reminder of the huge and lingering impact of the Dutch-East India Company’s presence in Indonesia. (Pandan jam, meanwhile, represents the Indo culture that prevails, though I’m not actually sure of the origin of pandan jam. Isn’t “jam” an English word?)

Accompanying the cookies of colonization and the jam of assimilation are several other fun things. First is Nutella, a favorite amongst both sides of my family but one I associate primarily with my dad, whose Canadian mother loves chocolate products. (I unfortunately didn’t get around to making Nanaimo bars or any other Canadian goods, but Nutella probably has more capital in my associations with my Canadian side of the family.) To contrast with my hazelnut European-descent roots I found a package of Regal Marie biscuits – an Indo-produced brand of Marie biscuits, which is a version of the rich tea biscuit that is most popular outside of the UK, its land of origin. These are always in my Po Po’s kitchen, so I figured they could combine the favored snacks of my two grandmothers. (Plus, my Canadian grandmother has British and British Columbian roots, so the legacy of the British Empire is a good unifying theme for this collection of food.) Next up is a jar of durian jam, which I confess I have not actually eaten before. Durian is one of my favorite fruits, and I was sorely tempted to get a package of frozen durian to bring into the classroom. Internalized concern about the olfactory senses of the American public is not something I’ve gotten over, though, and I figured jam might be a more manageable option, and would flow well with my themes so far. My final pieces are a bag of Mungbean cookies, an Indonesian snack, and a bag of pretzels bought on campus, since pretzels to me are pretty quintessential American staples. I think I see bags of Mungbean cookies in pretty much any Indonesian food store I’ve shopped at, while pretzels I see everywhere in American joints.

Here’s to food!

a plastic package e of mungbean cookies and a plastic package of pretzels are seen up close side by side.

Pretzels and mungbean cookies.

When Half is Whole

When Half is Whole was an interesting read for me because I really resonated with many of the points made by Murphy-Shigematsu. Along with his mixed background between America and Japan, the overarching theme of the stories introduced in the book of being between torn between two or more cultures was something I could completely relate to. However, an important concept that I felt I was able to further reflect upon when thinking about mixed race and cross cultural experiences is the idea of ‘judging.’ The individuals introduced in the book are from various walks of life, but from their transnational, cross-cultural and multicultural experiences, they experience marginalization often in the face of the dominant culture, struggling to be accepted as an insider. Like Byron or Murphy-Shigematsu himself, being phenotypically mixed, getting ‘judged’ as foreigners have been a large part in the conflict of asserting their own identity especially in Japan, a country considered traditionally homogenous.

To an extent, I think those who have multicultural experiences are in the minority in most contexts, and because of this I think there is a particular sensitivity to being ‘judged’ as something you are not, or not having your identity understood in its entirety. I myself find that because of the experiences I’ve had being told I am one thing or another or people not believing me being authentically Japanese or American, I am particularly aware of not making assumptions about a person’s background based on how they appear or their name. Sometimes I get overly exasperated when people ask me why I speak English so well in America. Over and over in Japan I am irked when my name is written ニイナor ニーナ, using katakana characters that indicate the foreignness of my name, when my name is にいな, a distinctly Japanese name written in hiragana. As I encounter these situations I get frustrated because they are based on certain assumptions that the askers have already formulated in their mind like, “Japanese people don’t usually speak English well” and “she doesn’t seem Japanese, so her name must be a foreign one too,” that restrict the perception of who should be allowed acceptance into a particular ethnic group. However, reading about the experiences of mixed race individuals in When Half is Whole made me realize that sometimes it is difficult for people not to make assumptions when put into perspective.

Watching the film Neither Here nor There also made me reflect that it is very instinctual that people try to ‘place’ others to be part of a group. Growing up around people who are multiethnic, multicultural and mixed race has conditioned me to be aware of these sensitivities when faced with cultural identity. But if you have never had those sorts of influences in your life and you met a girl who spoke English with a complete American accent who lived in Japan her entire life, how would you know why she spoke English well? These questions that come off as insensitive to us may sometimes be valid when you consider another person’s background. I realize that it is hard not to ‘judge’ someone when you meet them, because in all truthfulness, we are always trying to gauge what we have in common with the person to see if there is something familiar, something we can relate with. Ethnic or cultural groups are sustained under the context of exclusivity, making mixed race individuals and TCKs who unite under common marginality no different. Transnational adoptees may not be ‘mixed heritage’ enough to be part of the mixed race community, and TCKs without extensive travel experience may not be ‘multicultural’ enough.  Though Byron Fija has established his identity as an Amerika-kei Okinawan, I can also see how it is difficult for many Japanese people to distinguish the difference between him being an foreign enthusiast of traditional Japanese culture or an ‘authentically’ Okinawan sanshin player. Although we are always told that we are the primarily authority in defining our own identity, it is difficult when the majority group limits inclusion to certain cultural identities. If I had seen Byron on television without any context, based on how he looks I admit I would probably assume he is another one of the Japanese cultural enthusiasts who are successful talent show stars in Japan. I am also acutely aware of how despite the fact that I identify as American, even close friends who have grown up with the same cultural experiences as me, have American and Japanese nationality but in addition are mixed race, will never completely see me as American despite almost identical cultural influences because I do not have the salient ‘mixed’ physical features that symbolize a mix of two cultural identities. So it is all comes down to perspective; and I realize that as much as I am very aware of accepting the ways people identify with their mixed cultural identity, I too am sometimes an active perpetuator in this ‘judging’ of people.

 

Dan-When Half is Whole

Murphy-Shigematsu’s “When Half is Whole” is a fitting last reading in the context of this class. This book both touched on a lot of topics that we discussed in this class and tied them all together.

 

The part of the book that was most impactful on me was the part that discussed labeling, in a cultural and racial context. I identify strongly with my TCK culture and to a lesser degree, my mixed heritage, but I believe that the stories in the book are applicable to both. I appreciated Murphy-Shigematsu’s personal opinions, as it shows that he is also trying to express his identity by relating himself with the storytellers. “Japanese saw me as American. Americans saw me as Japanese. But I could not see what they were seeing. And I could not feel their fear or hatred of each other” (219)

 

The most interesting part of this book is that Murphy-Shigematsu does not conclude with some discovery of his identity; he chooses to belong to neither culture, nor develop a definition of his identity. He uses this book to introduce the struggles of multiracial people, and shows that those who are still lost are not alone.  “The United States is my home and Japan is my home, but I also feel that homelessness is my home— I am at home with a lack of home or belonging” (219). 

When Half is Whole

I actually knew about Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu before we read this book- I used a lot of his sources to write my term paper. As such, I really appreciated When Half is WholeMurphy-Shigematsu’s experiences parallel my own in many ways; both of us are half Japanese and half white, and as such faced the specific questions of identity that come with being hapa in a mainly homogeneous Japanese culture. 

But this week, I wanted to focus on more broad internet resources for the mixed race community. I stumbled across two sources I’d like to share. The first, from Buzzfeed, focused on the things you should never say to mixed race people. While I was pleasantly surprised to find such a resource, there are many more things I never want people to say to me. The biggest is “You don’t count.” The issue of whether I truly belong to my different ethnicities, whether my mixed background means I no longer “count” as Japanese or white, has always been the biggest issue I face as I ponder my identity.

http://www.buzzfeed.com/video/micaela/16-things-you-should-never-say-to-mixed-race-people

Performing Race Through Names

I identified with so many of the experiences described in Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu’s When Half Is Whole, but one idea in particular that I wish to address is the importance of names. I actually first heard of Stephen Murphy-Shigematsu and the book When Half Is Whole by reading an article about it online (I don’t remember where specifically), and I remember that it mentioned that Stephen had changed his own surname to include the surname of the Japanese side of his heritage. This stuck out to me because it was something I had thought a lot about. I was given my father’s Swedish surname as my own, with my mother’s Japanese surname as my middle name. However, I’ve always thought of my middle name as another surname, because it was the surname I used at my Japanese Saturday school and is the name listed on my Japanese passport. For the last few years, I’ve been toying with the idea of changing my legal surname to be a hyphenation of my two surnames, like Stephen’s. A lot of thoughts come to mind when I consider this–I wonder how it will affect how I will be judged by others in the future, especially grad school admissions officers and potential employers. I wonder if using my very Swedish-sounding name is a way of passing for White, and if I change my name to appear less so, is it a “statement of defiance against America’s whack color game”? Or am I trying to “escape my whiteness”? (Murphy-Shigematsu 123). I wonder if it is more progressive of me to change my name and no longer pass as White through my name, or to keep my totally White-sounding name and challenge how people think about names and race and what people with certain names should look like or be like. I wonder if keeping my “white” surname will give me access to spaces or opportunities I might not be able to access with a name that marks me as a person of color, and possibly allow me to use this accessibility to make a difference for the better? I realize that even for a person of color I am afforded a lot of privilege in that even if I do change my surname to better represent the entirety of my heritage it may not disadvantage me as much because of society’s expectations due to the Model Minority Myth. And since I am a science student, I wonder if I change my name and if in the future I become a researcher and I am able to get papers published, will another aspiring science student who is Mixed Race or a person of color come across my paper, see my name, and think “Hey, here’s a published scientist who might not be just White! Maybe that can be me someday”? I also wonder if, while I’m at it, I might change my surname to my grandmothers’ surnames (or “maiden names”) as opposed to my grandfathers’s surnames as a rejection of patriarchy–although even my grandmothers’s surnames are their fathers’ surnames.

I am still considering this and thinking about this, but I don’t know what I want to do. I suspect that this will be something I will continue to think about unless I decide at any point to go for it and take action. No matter what I ultimately end up doing, I know that my name will continue to be an important part of my identity and strongly affect how I identify.

What makes us “w(hole)”?

I thought reading Murphy-Shigematsu’s “When Half is Whole” was a great way to kind of “wrap up” the materials we have covered over the course of this semester. The book touched on a lot of the topics we have studied and discussed previously in class, and it really helped me to put things into perspective.

Something that spoke to me in the book was the notion of naming and labeling, and how that ties into one’s in(ability) to express one’s mixed-race identity, particularly in consideration of other factors like access to education and environmental influences. As we have discussed in class, naming/labeling has come to shape how mixed race individuals claim their identities, particularly when addressing issues of authenticity. What I’m reminded of is the term “hapa”, and how it has has been incorporated into much of today’s discourse surrounding mixed-race identity. It was interesting to read Wei Ming Dariotis’ take on using “hapa”, and to consider why she decided not to use the term anymore in her academic writing; I guess it’s because I never really learned much about the term “hapa” in the context of its origins and how it has come to signify something completely different, or is misappropriated, in the “mainland”.

This leads me to my next point. Much of the discourse surrounding mixed race identities focus on establishing fixed boundaries to categorize mixed race individuals, or rather, figuring out how mixed race individuals fit in the schema of reality of mainstream culture and society. As such, I think it’s important that Murphy-Shigematsu brought up the idea of being able to identify yourself according to what suits your needs, instead of how other people want to identify you as. It’s interesting to consider that even within an immediate family, all members of the family can identify differently. In the case of Norah, she spoke about how being American is her legal identity, Japanese her cultural identity, and Korean her ethnic identity. I think this idea of defining yourself differently in terms of culture and ethnicity just goes to show how fluid definitions of identity are, as there are no boundaries that determine the extent to which one can identify oneself. Consequently, reading this made me think about different ways that I too, could choose to identify, and I think this is important because I never really found a way of identification that I was comfortable with and thought fully encapsulated who I am.

I think this also connects to the idea of healing, because being able to acknowledge and accept your place as possibly being “without at home” can become a mode of empowerment for some individuals, and could potentially help to connect them to others who struggle to claim their own identities. I thought it was interesting that Murphy-Shigematsu also discussed the importance of overcoming the past as a way of healing, and how if you can’t acknowledge or accept what has happened in the past, you won’t succeed in finding out who you are. In this case, Murphy-Shigematsu seems to argue that it is only through acceptance of one’s identity as possibly being displaced that one can truly claim an identity that goes against what the larger structure of society imposes upon an individual.

All the individual narratives included in the book portray how history has come to affect present day perceptions of the mixed-race experience, but the book also presents these narratives as vehicles for driving further discourse on mixed race identities and breaking down the “us” vs. “them” paradigm. To this end, I like how the book portrayed the power of words in redefining, or rather, recreating a narrative for the mixed race experience, and I think it’s great that we have the opportunity to read about such issues to discuss and explore them in our class. As Murphy-Shigematsu suggested, it is through building and establishing community that we can begin to understand the mixed-race experience, and I think that’s exactly what are currently doing, if not striving to do, every week in our class.

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