Adding a Helping of Heritage on a Full Plate (Part 2 – Being with other Asian Americans)

“Why don’t you hang around those other Filipinos?” asked my Mom to my brother and sister.
“Because they are in gangs and like to smoke in the school bathrooms,” replied my brother.

The mother in this New York Times story wanted to expose her kids to other Asian American kids, but her husband has mixed feelings about that. The husband grew up in a blue collar mostly white town and felt that experience motivated him to excel in track and football to prove he was as good or better than other children. His main concern is that once his son realizes that he is different in some way from most of the other kids (their area is mostly white), the father hopes that his son won’t be ashamed of that. I can’t speak about that from direct experience, having grown up in where I did in California, but I can say that trying to force the issue, like my mother tried, is likely to be unproductive.  I have to say, though, that when I went to college, some of the other West Coast and Hawaiian Asian-Americans and I thought that the East Coast Asian-Americans from mostly white neighborhoods were kind of strange – didn’t know how to “hang” in the same way as back home.

The Chung/Liu Family by Janet Durrans for the New York TimesWith my own kids, living where I do, exposure to other Asian-Americans is not an issue. In some ways, the opposite is a concern. They don’t go to school with Asian gang members, something my siblings and I had to deal with, although Number One Son mentioned to me today that so Asian gangster types were mocking his friend this morning.  What ended up being hard for The Daughter to deal with was interacting with lots of white people in high school. The school is about 40% white and 40% Asian, which was a big change from her other previous schools (where Number One Son and Number Two Son currently go).  I’m glad that she can experience a more diverse school.  She can now say, “some of my best friends are white!”  I have heard some Asian-American parents say that they don’t want their kids going to a 90% Asian-American school, and I can understand where they are coming from.

The Daughter was really shocked when she went to dances at majority white schools. They were really different to her.  As I see it, the culture that most kids in Asian-American neighborhoods (at least here in the Bay Area) assimilate into is urban. More hip-hop than rock and roll. Even the style of dress can be different. I can recall the Daughter saying that this person dressed “Filipino” while that person dressed so “white.” I asked her to describe what makes a person dress “white” or “Filipino,” which she did.  It was like that when I was younger – different ethnic groups would deliberately dress distinctly from one another. If some of this might seem strange to some of you, consider seeing the movie “The Debut”, which is based on life in my neighborhood.  Aspects of associating with other Asian Americans are also dealt with in this movie.

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About Jeff

Jeff lives in Silicon Valley, and attempts to juggle marriage, fatherhood, computer systems research, running, and writing.
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