Jeff Yang who writes the Asian Pop column for SF Gate posted some questions on his blog. Here is my attempt to answer some of his questions.
QUESTION: WHAT DOES ASIAN MEAN TO YOU?
NAME: Amy Lee
LOCATION: Oakland, CA originally from San Diego, CA
DESCRIBE YOURSELF: 2nd generation Korean American. Daughter of working class immigrants. Educator.
Do you think of yourself as Asian? Why or why not? Do your parents?
Outwardly, I think of myself as Asian American. I think of myself as part of the “Asian American community”. I like the ambiguity of the term. Because Asian American refers to so many people, so many ethnic groups, I think it’s harder to stereotype than “Korean American.” There’s a lot more space to define/ redefine. Inwardly, I think of myself as Korean or Korean American. I don’t feel like I have a Korean American community outside of my family so my identification as Korean American is very specific and very personal.
My parents do not think of themselves as Asian or me as Asian; in their eyes we are definitely Korean. When I came home from school upset because some stupid kids pulled their eyes to the side and chanted “Ching-chong Chinaman!” my dad said, “Tell them you’re Korean, not Chinese!” Not exactly comforting for a 7-year-old.
When was the first time you referred to yourself as "Asian"?
This is a hard question. This must have been when I was older, probably 8th grade.
Stream of consciousness: What ideas immediately come to mind when you think of the word Asian?
Perfectly made-up face with a cigarette dangling out of shiny red lips
Diesel jeans, vintage shirt, kangol hat, puma shoes, hipster who lives in the Haight.
Mental health issues ignored. Body image. Heterogeneous. Homogeneous. Modest. Asian fetish. Someone you can share “whipping” stories with and not be embarrassed or think he/she will pass judgment on your parents.
What does Asian taste like?
At American restaurants “Asian” tastes like ginger, peanuts, scallions, and mandarin oranges. For the record, Korean food never uses peanuts OR oranges.
What does Asian look like? (For my mother)
Your hands are rough from manual labor. They are aged with chemicals that make floors and toilets sparkle. They rub sweat out of the collars of “dry-clean only” shirts. They are scarred from running endless yards of poly-cotton material through commercial sewing machines to turn a 22-cent-profit on a trendy top. You come home tired from your minimum-wage job and make dinner: two types of kimchi, neatly-folded mandoo, three types of nam-mul, gamja ban-chan, fried fish, a spicy chigae -- all homemade/ handmade. Your hands give life.
What is Asian good at and bad at?
Despite coming from a culture where cycles are prominent, we are LINEAR. (Good or bad, your call).
What's the most Asian thing you've ever done?
The most “Asian” thing I’ve ever done is go to UC Berkeley. Or maybe the most Asian thing I’ve done is plan out a day to eat Spam. I loved canned meat!!!
Who's the most Asian person you know? Why?
Umm… Wu-Tang Clan?
If you're Asian, how do you feel when you see someone who's not Asian aspiring to be Asian--flattered, or embarrassed, both, or neither?
One time I was in a random church crying, looking for refuge. I was a low-point in my life. I ended up talking to the pastor who was a white male. The pastor kept making suggestions that were TOTALLY culturally insensitive. After I told him his suggestions weren’t realistic for my family situation, he briefly excused himself. He came back and introduced this white lady to me: “Amy, this is ____. She might be able to help us out. ____ has been working at the Asian Art Museum for 10 years. She knows a lot about Asian culture.” Despite the fact that I was crying so hard that I had hiccups, snot all over my face, and my eyes were swollen, I had to stop and laugh. Usually, I just laugh.
Extra: Last summer we took our students ice skating. They were supposed to brown bag their lunch and eat it at the rink. I ended up sitting next to some students from San Francisco, all Chinese kids. They had tupperware with rice and some unidentifiable home-cooked Chinese food. It was so cool! I was always stressed out when we had to bring a lunch for a field trip instead of being able to buy lunch from school. For the most part I grew up in lily-white areas of San Diego. I definitely did not want to bring my momma’s food for fieldtrips. It was such an ordeal to bring lunch from home because we’d have to think “American”. We’d have to buy a whole package of brown paper lunch bags, a loaf of bread, mayonnaise, ham, lettuce, tomato, chips, juice boxes, sandwich bags, etc etc. It was so expensive. By the time the next fieldtrip rolled around the paper lunch bags would be all dusty, the mayonnaise would look weird, and the sandwich bags would get tossed so we would have to start ALL over. Anyway, I told my students all of this and they looked at me like I was silly. They could not understand why I wouldn’t just bring Korean food to these field trips. Maybe I thought eating like an “American” would make my eyes bigger and my hair lighter and fool the rest of the kids! I think though, if you grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and are a person of color, you know what I’m talking about.