It’s May and that means it’s Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month once again!
Since I’ve had an exceptionally eventful past week (one that unfortunately included me throwing up the other night…yikes!), I thought I’d take this time to dig into the archives and instead honor some of the fine Asian-Pacific American writers who have contributed to this blog over the past year.
I’m an Asian American man. I started writing my thoughts to contribute my point of view to the social environment that injures me through stereotypes and racism. It hurts Asian men, our friends and families, and it hurts our partners. The predominant public commentary is critical of me and everyone who looks like me; they belittle me (why, even?). So why wasn’t I hearing from more Asian men?
I think I felt tempted too… it’s social withdrawal. Put it this way, how rational would it be to participate in a social system that starts you at the bottom, keeps you at the bottom, and laughs the whole time doing it? I think Asian men have seen enough to know that they’d be painted into another angry minority caricature (“angry black man,” “bitch feminist,” &c.) I suspect this is a major reason for the lack of Asian male voices. In the end, the racism in the echo chamber of the Internet proliferated, possibly exceeding overt anti-Asian sentiment displayed publicly. It’s too much already.
In the context of the Asian Male White Female (AMWF) relationship, something unique has emerged. As AMWF couples encountered unique difficulties, ones stemming from prejudice, the women started speaking out in large numbers. They told their stories, shared them, and built a community of support and celebration around one thing, and it wasn’t Asian men, it was love. It was being allowed to love in the way they wanted, to love whomever they wanted… however hot and sexy this Asian man might be!
This experience is one of the events that led to my unease when I’m invited to a family event with a… well, more conservative family. They’re tricky places to encounter hostility because around folks I know, family, I’m usually relaxed, not on guard, and trying to have a good time.
It couldn’t have been a more poetic holiday for this memory. It was Independence Day in Ohio, the Fourth of July, and my girlfriend, who was white (Czech, Polish, and German heritage) brought me to her family’s barbeque and picnic in their newly completed solarium. There was potato salad, macaroni salad, and a number of other misleadingly named things that cause heart disease by the mountainous bowlful. The Stars and Stripes were gratuitously displayed. Kids risked fingers with low-grade explosives. It was a good time. The centerpiece to the whole affair was the barbeque which they managed to overload with some forbidden pyramid of smoking meats. I used to work at a grill, and even I thought that was an obscene amount of meat.
Well, I’m a vegetarian (yes, vegetarian grill cook, I know) so when I was offered some, I politely turned down my sector of the pyramid. Whoops. People looked over at us.
I learned that, at least in the 90s, this was an American social faux pas on par with sneezing in someone’s face. There was murmuring. I heard an aunt exclaim, “How?…What?…”
I tried to redirect and talk about how good all the salads were, but this was like trying to wipe the sneeze off of their collective faces with my bare hands. I could feel people’s eyes still on me. It was too late. I had declined the centerpiece of the American Independence celebration.
“I have to go to the bathroom,” I said. I put my red, white, and blue plate down on a small table and strode over to the bathroom, shut the door, and breathed again. I’m a teenage boy so it’s not like I have a whole lot of composure to begin with, but I muster together what I can, and go back outside. People had resumed doing whatever they were doing and I wasn’t noticed. I picked up my plate, ate a few bites of the potato salad, and went back to the tarp covered table for more.
“Are you happy about those secrets?” said a voice from beside me.
“What? I’m sorry?” I said. It was my girlfriend’s grandpa.
“The nuclear secrets. I know you came here to steal from us,” said her grandpa,
“I go to school…” I say, protesting.
“You’re Chinese, I know you are,” he says quietly, triumphantly, like he’s got me checkmated.
“Yes,” I say, now seriously confused, not quite believing what I’m hearing.
And here’s where having a lady with a sharp social sense comes in handy. Because where I might turn to look at a guy friend and receive some eyeshot that says, yeah, pound that racist, I got an arm around mine, a brisk walk out to the street, and a fresh piece of cake for me to eat as she drove us home. What a sweetheart.
We didn’t talk about Grandpa Bigotnasty much after that. She apologized for him; I told her not to, and we just went home. I never saw Grandpa B. again either. My girlfriend was mortified by her family and understood I wouldn’t go anyplace her grandpa would be. I guess you could call this an incident of social rejection. I think I like the term social withdrawal betterbecause it implies that it was more of my choice. It doesn’t really matter in in the end. I’m not there at her family events anymore because we broke up.
If I’m in an interracial relationship now, I sometimes try to talk to my partner about this anxiety over family gatherings. Sometimes I keep it to myself though…and hope that next time around, there won’t be a Grandpa Bigotnasty at the table.
I’m an Asian American man in my 30s living in the U.S., Northern California. I was born and raised in the Midwest and in a predominantly white community that seemed to embrace every stereotype ever heard about Asian folks. I write about my sexual experiences and the politics of sex for straight Asian men. Don’t get a little bit of the truth, get the full package – http://bigasianpackage.wordpress.com.
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