I was reading the Los Angeles Times earlier and came across an article about Gary Locke’s nomination as ambassador to China and the feelings of the Chinese toward a Chinese American like Locke. It struck a nerve with me and got me thinking: Do Asians — in Asia — hate Asian Americans?
The article, “Ambassador nominee raises strong emotions in China,” by Barbara Demick of the Los Angeles Times states:
But a deep antagonism is evident in a profusion of less-than-diplomatic commentary on the Internet, a venue where Chinese feel free to vent.
“A fake foreign devil who cannot even speak Chinese,” wrote one anonymous contributor to an Internet forum on public affairs.
“I don’t like this guy who has forgotten his ancestors,” wrote someone in Dalian on a popular news site, and someone in Sichuan piped in, “If he wanted to be Chinese, he wouldn’t live in America.”
Some Chinese call the 61-year-old Commerce secretary a “traitor” and resort to ethnic slurs to disparage his being born and raised in the United States.
As a Japanese American, I get this. I’ve never felt welcome in Japan. I remember going there as a child and hoping they’d accept me but finding out rather quickly that they did not. The surprise turned out to be the disdain they felt toward me – as though I were somehow less than them. Surprisingly, many of the non-Japanese tourists were actually treated better than me!
Is it a language thing? Is it because Asians think Asian Americans somehow sold out (our people, history, culture)?
In response to the former, even if we are proficient at our ancestor’s language, it could never be on par with those who still live there. Personally, I had a speech impediment as a child and was not allowed to learn Japanese until I learned English! The last time I was in Japan, a person shook her head at me and said that my Japanese was “bad” and “what a shame it was.” She never bothered to ask why I couldn’t speak.
In response to the later question, as much as we want or try, we are American. When going back to Japan, it is very clear that I usually share more in common with Caucasians from America than I do with the Japanese living in Japan – other than of course the way we look. I don’t think it is a matter of selling out or losing my culture but just the reality of living in America all my life.
However, what people from Asia don’t see is that many Asians who live in America have created a unique culture that reflects the reality of who they are: part Asian and part American. An easy example of this is eating rice at Thanksgiving or Spam musubi in the Japanese American community.
Maybe what hurts most about this is that a part of me wants acceptance from the people where my ancestors came from, but this could only come when they accept that we are not and cannot be like them. We are different but similar. This is neither a good thing nor a bad thing. It is just the reality of the way things are.
What do you think?