Friday, June 29, 2012

Thank You Pork Bun

It's true that there is more than this. I am cherry picking my data. I am also from the incredible racket that mah jong tiles make when they are all crashing into each other at once. I am from barbecue pork buns and rice with soy sauce, so much of it that these days I can't stand it anymore. These days I eat rice with butter and salt and pepper. I am from red pocket money instead of gift wrapped boxes, yucky moon cakes in autumn, my Chinese grandmother's birthday party with little old Chinese ladies singing karaoke Chinese opera, the memory still makes me shudder. I am from the stone lions in front of our house that I tried to get my friends to steal, but no one ever did and now it's my father's house that they are in front of, sad bewildered stone lions, too heavy to move so why bother?

There was one Chinese person in my life, one voice compared to the multitude of people who I talked to every day, who I befriended and loved, who I listened to, who I read or saw on TV or who sang me to sleep at night on my tape player, one voice against the juggernaut that is the culture I have lived in for 32 years, and that one voice didn't even try. She never tried to make me Chinese; she assumed it was a failure from the start. She has never said, you are like me. She has never said, this is also part of who you are.

I am familiar with parts of America that other Americans feel lost in, or rather I am so used to that feeling of being lost that I don't notice it anymore. Hey look, a street with no signs I can read. Hey look, smells I can't identify, and sounds I can't decipher. It's old hat to me. And that makes me different from other Americans. It makes me Other. But it doesn't make me Chinese. It makes me an American woman with an estranged Chinese mother. My friend's boyfriend who taught in China for three years is just as used to being around Chinese things, is more used to them, than I am. I am used to Chinatown. I'm not used to China. I've never had to live among Chinese people, never had to follow their customs from day to day. I just go shopping, buy some knick knacks, eat a pound of barbecue pork, and then go home.

I am aware that I am different. But my difference is so much more than this that it all gets mixed up in my head. I am not the All-American-Girl, but it's not just my face. I never had the right clothes or the right hair and I never saw the right movies, and that is something I got from both of my parents. I read books instead of having sleepovers. I was fat and bad at sports and good at school. I kissed Joanna in the hallways. I wore chain mail and corsets to school. I didn't believe in God. I am not-straight, not-white, not-male, and not-Christian in a hetero-normative, anglo-normative, male-normative, Christ-normative country. I am used to not having any role models who look like me. I am used to strangers coming up to me at work and asking if they can take my portrait because they're doing a school project about race. I am used to people having expectations for me, because of the way I look or who my mother is, and I'm used to them being disappointed when I fail to meet those expectations. When people came to my house, they expected exotic. My mother cooked spaghetti.

I'm half-Chinese-American, which is not the same as white-American. None of my friends speak Chinese, but I'm the only one who feels guilty about it. They all like barbecue pork buns, but they don't remember summers spent sitting in my mother's office reading fantasy novels every day for two weeks in the summer, and going downstairs to the Chinese supermarket to buy fried rice and barbecue pork for lunch and fighting over who gets the last piece. It always comes down to barbecue pork.

Short Girl Photography

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