2.27.2010

Taiwaneseness


I've previously alluded to my "spittin'" teen days when, under the moniker of "MC True," I wrote and rapped songs about, well, whatever I was into, which at the time ran the gamut from girls to God. Here's a little ditty from June 1992 that didn't make my 8-song album but instead was prepared for a Taiwanese leadership camp for junior high and high schools that I was serving as a counselor at (set to the beat from DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince's glorious anthem, "Summertime":

Here it is, in the place to be
Jammin' with my friends at the T-A-Y-L-C
School's out, it's time for fun
But the learning has just begun
We're all Taiwanese, so let's get it clear
Who we are, and why we're here
We live in society that's black and white
All along we're going, "That ain't right"
And so we try to be different, but this is fact
If you don't know who you are, you don't know how to act
So know who you are, and find your identity
Now dance with me, cuz it's the summertime . . .


Gosh, that was when I was half as old as I am now. But, though I've changed a lot since then, I can still relate to what I was spitting some 17 1/2 years ago. Being Asian in America, or at least in the parts that aren't predominantly Asian (like Silicon Valley) or Latino (like San Antonio), means being a minority in a milieu in which race and ethnicity is usually seen in terms of black and white. Strangely enough, given the definition of diversity, too often too many people in too many places can't seem to think of issues of race and ethnicity in more than two dimensions.

In response, I had seen young Asian kids go in one of five directions. They could associate with mostly white kids, to the point of considering themselves white, or at least being embarrassed about their Asianness. They could associate with other minority kids, maybe wanting to be cool or rebellious like they were, but again not wanting to be identified as Asian. They could associate solely with other Asian kids, sheltering themselves from having to deal with their Asianness by surrounding themselves with other kids just like them, so they wouldn't have to explain anything or be anyone different. They could go the die-hard "Asian pride" route, filtering all things through a solely Asia-centric perspective tinted with either an air of superiority over others, a chip on their shoulder, and/or a disdain for other Asians who weren't as into what they were into. Or they could go to extremes in their dress and behavior, creating for themselves a distinct look and image that either transcended associating with any racial or ethnic group, or else took the whole "exotic Asian" fetish to the extreme and ran with it.

The point of my rhymes above was to help these Taiwanese camp kids to take some pride in their Taiwaneseness, even if the world around them didn't have a category for them or alternatively wanting to jam them into some preconceived stereotype of what they should act like based on what they looked like. These were kids who, like me, were surrounded by not many other Taiwanese people in some settings (school, playground), with not much positive reinforcement there as to what it meant to be Taiwanese and to have a distinct point of origin from a cultural heritage standpoint; and who were surrounded by other Taiwanese people in other settings (home, family friends), with not much instruction or orientation there as to what it meant to express that Taiwaneseness outside in the world around them.

It matters where we're from. And it matters that we know what that is, and that we think about what that means about who we are, how our origins define us, and to what extent that seasons our interactions with those different from us; so that we can act accordingly, with intelligence and tolerance and pride. I've been a camp attendee for six years and a counselor for one year, and up until last year my father up was heavily involved in running this camp. Here's hoping that those of us who have gone through the experience can draw from that as part of our anchoring in our Taiwaneseness, as we circulate through our worlds from a particular place of identity and pride and perspective.

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