"In the extreme case of Haiti, mixed people were hard up against black emancipation, ready to work with the colonial government to extend the fruits of the French Revolution to their “mezzanine” class. On the other hand, some of them were shoulder-to-shoulder with blacks, on the frontlines of the first-ever successful slave rebellion. Of the latter, there were characters like Candi, the “bloodthirsty mulatto,” who loved nothing more than to “pull out the eyes of the Whites with a corkscrew."Read More
Sure, most people don’t think that by naming 5 ethnicities they have claims to 5 different club memberships. But then again some people are that vain. The warming notion that there is something hip about being a child of the world, by being born into this world love of multi-ethnicities, well, I guess people decide, shucks “it’s kinda cool; I’ll just play along.”Read More
Bo is referred to as 番仔, meaning "foreign kid." "番" is the character that precedes Potato 番薯 and Tomato 番茄, making new nouns out of "Foreign Tuber" and Foreign Eggplant," to describe the curious produce that the Portuguese had originally introduced to China via Macau a few centuries ago. Bo, it turns out, is half-Chinese. A mild spoiler: Bo discovers late in the movie his mother (played by Josie Ho) was raped by a British Seaman (pun not intended). That biological mother tearfully gives him up for adoption. A family of fisherman, who ply the waters of the South China Sea, living and fishing on/off their vessel adopt Bo and do their best to give him whatever attention and care is possible, amidst some rather hardscrabble circumstances.Read More
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!Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
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.Read More
Basically, they (ISF) are offering a curriculum intense enough to develop high-functioning Chinese language skills, but in a Western, non force-fed, curiosity-stimulating format. To paraphrase how ISF insiders described it, their academy is high-octane Chinese with a Western Pedagogy. The Headmaster, Malcolm Pritchard, embodies this himself, blending the Brahmin Anglo boarding school vibe with cracking Jiangnan-accented Chinese.Read More
One of the side effects to bouncing around, as described in yesterday's post, is that tweaking your approach to every particular situation, being ad hoc in every instance, means you often sink to the lowest common denominator. You settle. You are like a fire truck, zipping around reactively putting out fires. You come under enormous pressure to base your decisions on pissing off the fewest number of people. And let us sing it: These are not the foundations to developing leadership. You will game situations, as we mentioned, doubting your own instincts as your rational brain whirrs up, informing you of all the reasons each side has their own legitimate grievances, each worth their own hearing. The amount of situational awareness, patience, and energy you have to gather, and stay on top of is burdensome to say the least.
There are other, maybe even more troublesome aspects of bouncing around.
Samuel L. Jackson's character, Mitch Henessey, in The Long Kiss Goodnight delivers one of his most memorable lines of the movie, on a fake version of Larry King Live: "I'm always frank and earnest with women. Uh, in New York I'm Frank, and Chicago I'm Ernest.
It is funny. It is. Well, Samuel L. is funny, almost no matter what. Anyhow, I do want to tie this into the discussion of mixed race, and again I am speaking about what I know, specifically Chinese and Western.
He is a lovable ol' dirty bastard, who gets away with his schthick because he is on the right side of creepy. But Samuel L. is clearly "bouncing around." He's grabbing the low-hanging fruit. The delivery is funny and all, but intuitively we know something is off. If only the women in Chicago knew that he wasn't Ernest when he's in New York- we know he'd be in deep trouble.
He'd be doo doo in Chicago and pxx pxx in New York instead.
I think that in the case of mixed people, there is something similar that goes on. It is not exactly the same- it doesn't have to do with licentiousness or New York or Chicago- but it is similar and it happens chronically.
That is, you play up the Chinese when it suits you, and play up the Western when that suits. For example:
- You are Chinese amongst a Western group when, for example:
- Chinese food comes up, or Chinese History, or Confucius or Aaron Kwok, or elite Chinese politics, or Beijing, or Chinese manners come up- and you embrace the sudden authority you have, all of a sudden. The only problem is this is a topic that you don't know that much about.
- You are Western amongst a Chinese group when, for example:
- You are observing some arcane funereal rite, or you are visiting someone's distant relatives, or reading the social tea leaves, or required to be quiet or deferential or obsequious.
One of the problems is that you are committing argumentum ab auctoritate: you are arguing from a position of inappropriate authority. On the flipside- the problem is you are taking a powder on the very type of topics you were supposed to be an expert in with your Western friends.
If only the Western friends knew what you were saying to your Chinese friends! And vice versa! Welcome to Chi-York!!!
The danger in all of this is you become a musical conductor who loses sight of the composition. If that happens, all you are left with is a bundle of harmonious notes. You don't want to bounce around, because even though you may think to yourself- well, I'm just doing it for this one instance, for this one day, or for this one task, every time you do it you forget what it is you are bouncing from, and bouncing to.
In the end, you just want to be you- right?
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"
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.