Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Every Time I Think I'm Done, I'm Not.

If I am rejecting the culture, language, landscape, that is mine, then it must be something that is mine without my knowledge or permission. It is mine in my blood and bones, my skin and teeth and nails, even if it is locked out of my heart. It is not something I can decide for myself. Because otherwise, if it were something I could choose, then it wouldn't be mine until I chose it. Right? Which means that culture is something that is transmitted, unintentionally, via nature or nurture, or some combination of the two. It is something that I am, rather than something that I do. And, given that I was raised in America, following American customs and traditions, then it must be nature that made me what I am. As if culture could be found in a test tube, in my mother's DNA.

I have never understood the way that people conflate genetic and emotional relationships. The way that, upon learning that they are adopted, children come to the conclusion that their parents are not their parents. The way that people with O' in their name put Celtic designs on things, despite not being able to name a single person who has ever lived in Ireland. The way that children who are adopted by parents of other ethnicities are supposed to be taught "their heritage," because to do otherwise is to deny them something they deserve to have.

I realize that I am not in the majority here. It's not my only unpopular idea. People care about bloodlines. Our cultures, all of them, were formed around the importance of geneology. We have a biological imperative to reproduce, and to do our best to insure the health of our biological offspring. I understand this. But I don't get it. I never have.

It seems so obvious to me that what makes a parent is the act of parenting, rather than the act of biological creation. And it seems obvious to me that what is my mother's is not inherently mine. That what it means to be Chinese is so much more than what can be passed along like hair color or height. To claim Chinese-ness, I have to reduce it down to something shallow, almost frivilous. Something I can have without needing to know or care very much. Something small enough to fit in my pocket, so I can pull it out at parties, like a magic trick or a joke, hey look! Chinese.

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