Friday, July 20, 2012

Tonto matters

Back to the old, tired, horse again.  I followed the blog post about Tonto to some other blogs about cultural appropriation (American appropriation of Native American culture, which is, like, the epitome of problematic, hello, genocide!), and I'm still thinking about how much of my intended tattoo is hipster irony, and how much is more than that.  Because it has to be more than that.  It has to be better than that.

I'm not Chinese.  I've soapboxed this to death already.  But the conclusion, "So I'm American," while true, is still overly simplistic.

Because I react to things differently.  Because I feel guilty.  Because, while I have never glommed onto a Chinese person because we had something in common, I have never felt an affinity for someone because they were Chinese, I do gravitate towards Chinese Americans.  I think, hey you know what I mean.  I can roll my eyes and say Asian parents, and we've all experienced it first hand.  We know what it's like to be a particular kind of not-white, we are model minorities, we played the violin or the piano when we were kids.  We have parents that we don't share a culture with.  We think that ramen is a perfectly normal breakfast food. 

In the same way that I assumed that a copy machine was a perfectly normal thing for people to have in their living room because my mother is an accountant, I assumed that everyone made rice in a rice cooker because my mother is Chinese.  We come to consciousness in a world that has only our family in it, whose boundaries are small, and everything that exists is within crying distance.  Eventually, we learn that other people exist, and have lives, and those lives are different from ours, but we keep the memory of that very small world, and it continues to affect the way we see everything else.  My mother was half, more than half, of that world, and I carry her with me.   

I know that I take pride in difference.  I felt rejected by mainstream culture as a child, so I've spent the rest of my life doing my best to reject the mainstream.  Being Chinese was one more way I could be different, I could be exotic.  I have been an active participant in the Othering of my mother.  I wanted to see Chinese as Other so I could be Other.  If I could have had a mother from a smaller, more obscure, physically exotic country, I would have.  Like the person of privilege that I am, I wore my Other like a costume, took it out when convenient, and put it away when it wasn't.  When I applied for college, I declined to mention race because being Asian doesn't help you get into college.  When I applied for professor jobs, I began sentences with the phrase, as a queer, multi-racial, woman... 

When I want to reference my connection to Chinese culture, I don't know how to separate the "good" reasons from the "bad" ones.  They are both there.  Every time I take out a reason to claim my mother's culture as mine, it comes with a reason I shouldn't.  But it goes the other way.  Every time I say no, that has nothing to do with me, I remember the rice cooker and the lions and the way that I can't hear my mother's accent any more than I can hear an Californian accent, because it is not an accent, it is simply her voice.

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