Chinese Eurasians Versus Western Eurasians

 As I have had a couple days to reflect since launching my book Beyond Eurasian and Hapa: Bridging a Chinese-Western Identity, I'm stuck ruminating on East vs. West.

But not the East-West axis you're thinking about. Not the East-West or Chinese-Western that I write about.

I've been reflecting on the fact that I may have written my book from more of non-Western perspective than I realized. In other words, I wrote and continue to write from a position not aloof to "systemic racism," but certainly not fixated on "white power structures" in the West, whereby the very prerequisite to my own personal development/empowerment/sense of worth/ability to seek meaning is to upend said power structures. No.

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Basic Research: A Lens to Think of Hapa and Eurasian

But if you listen to a lot of researchers, they'll tell you great things are often stumbled onto. The internet grew out of NASA's communication needs. It was a solution to a problem, that was initially cobbled together, and iteratively just happened. But it wouldn't have grown if not for the basic research it grew out of.

So... I think this quandary directly applies to the topic of being mixed.

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Why Bothness?

Why bothness?

Bothness is acknowledging you are unorthodox. It is having the humility to concede you are not pure, acknowledging that you are not 100%. But bothness is also knowing, feeling, and sharing as much as possible--in two domains. 

Bothness isn’t just stopping at 50%. “Less than 100%” can mean 50%, surely, but it can also mean 99.999%. Those five nines mean a lot. Bothness is stretchy, real stretchy.

There are two basic rules of bothness: 1) bothness means two things, not three, not four—not everything; 2) bothness means two things that meet as two equals.

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Assimilation vs. Multiculturalism: Indos Return to Holland

One of Tjalie Robinson’s most oft-quoted statements goes as follows: "I did not care that people wanted to call me ‘neither fish nor fowl,’ and wanted to label me, an Indo, either Indonesian or Dutch. For them I just had to choose between the two, right? Nevertheless, I stubbornly named the turtle as ‘neither fish nor fowl,’ and praised this animal as a unique, land-and-sea-lover who lives to very old ages, whose meat has an excellent taste, and who cuts through oceans from continent to continent. I said, ‘Just as I do not find the turtle inferior, although he is neither fish nor fowl, I do not think the Indo inferior. And that is the end of it!

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The Indo Boxer

Robinson possessed a rich, varied varied biography that showcased him as warrior-poet of sorts, an accomplished boxer and a man of letters who authored books and wrote highly literate articles widely read in the Netherlands[ii]. He was also interned under the Japanese occupation of the Dutch East Indies during WWII. The sheer force of his life experience was probably enough to give Robinson an audience- but he cared deeply about all things "Indo," affording him a special authority. 

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A Festival Way More Interesting Than Amsterdam's Best

Formerly known as Pasar Malam Besar, the Tong Tong Festival is the annual celebration of European-Indonesian heritage. At the time I went I was a graduate student at Tufts at the time, in Medford, Massachusetts. It was the Summer between my first and second year. I remembered learning about this event while in college. I always wanted to go. And that Summer I had a chance to visit.

Maybe there’d be some good food too.

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The Decline of "Hapa"

Most importantly, "Hapa" is in decline because Gen Z is rising, fast. And they have a different take.

"Hapa" is the ultimate "Millenial" term. It is cheerful. It is "multicultural." It is "here and now."

Generation Z is entrepreneurial, and they want to be experts. They have lived the Great recession; they understand that to get a job they have to think about the future- they need to anticipate where the jobs are going to be, what the challenges and opportunities of the global economy mean to them. They are the types that know that conversational ability in five languages is less valuable than dual fluency. They know that to survive they have to be resourceful- they have to have solid skills and knowledge, that is going to facilitate critical cross-functional work. In all of this, they want to be impactful. And any way you slice that- it means global.

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"Bouncing Around" as Theme for Mixed People

Mixed people have to deal with “bouncing around.” There are different terms that folks use, but “bouncing around” to me includes both (1) others pushing you around such that they would restrict your identity, and (2) you yourself making near-sighted choices about your identity, for example, embracing “exotic” when it is cool, while being outraged by “exotic” when it doesn’t suit you.

This old yarn exemplifies the first half of “bouncing around:”

The white man said, "Colored people are not allowed here."
The black man turned around and stood up.
He then said: "Listen sir....
when I was born I was BLACK,"
"When I grew up I was BLACK, "
"When I'm sick I'm BLACK, "
"When I go in the sun I'm BLACK, "
"When I'm cold I'm BLACK, "
"When I die I'll be BLACK."

"But you sir."

"When you're born you're pink, "
"When you grow up you're white, "
"When you're sick, you're green, "
"When you go in the sun you turn red, "
"When you're cold you turn blue, "
"And when you die you turn purple."
"And you have the nerve to call me colored?"

The black man then sat back down and the white man walked away....

The Black man is Black, and proud, and steady, and resolutely Black. There is something so poignant about this joke- such an indictment, told, of course, in jest. The White man has all these things he is allowed to be, all of these changing identities- this sum of power- the power to re-mold one’s identity, change it by fiat, and expect others to adjust their schema immediately.

Ludacris alludes to this idea in his song "Hopeless"

Ludacris "Hopeless"

We realize that the Black man in the joke has to both adjust externally, and be restricted internally- hyprocrisy; utterly a bum deal it is, meaning little means to negotiate one’s identity.

Has Chinese and Western, it is never as stark as described in the joke- neither in Greater China, nor in the West, but that is not to say that bouncing around is not an issue.

The second half of “bouncing around,” I’d describe as follows.

While working in Mainland China- there was perpetually an issue of “what approach should I take to this hour’s problem?” I had to compute on an ongoing basis, “well, this would be more of a Chinese approach, yet this is a Western supplier, so is he going to assume his classic, go-to approach, or is he going to adjust for the circumstances, namely- is he posturing for how I’m likely to act?” Everything becomes an exercise in game theory. Could I not go to a golf game or other social function or would the implicit task related to “task A” actually be bloody important? I mean, how should I craft business correspondence: “do I make it direct or more obtuse and/or flowery? Do I come out of the gate with the main point in the first line, as every American English teacher will tell you for your tenth grade thesis, or do I bob and weave and leave it out till the end?” How do I handle negotiations, or negotiate the expectations of business favors from suppliers or vendors? There is rarely any absolute truth in the business world, no matter the country, no matter the culture. But what happens when your sensitivity is used against you? These are the types of cultural claims a mixed person has to deal with. They are relentless. They come at you in such a way that if you pay them the wrong type of heed, you’ll have narrower and narrower bandwidth to ponder the bigger picture.

And that is the issue with “bouncing around.” Sometimes you want to just fall into someone else’s stereotypes. You can’t be bothered. You take the easy road. I know, I know. It’s tiring otherwise, and people can be rude, and obnoxious, and seem racist even, at times.

But. Avoiding “bouncing around” is the only way to really negotiate your identity.