Call me “Helpless”, but after watching the live-stage performance of the musical “Hamilton”, I simply had to write about Phillipa Soo, who originated the role of Eliza Hamilton and also happens to have a Chinese American father and a European American mother.
If you’re looking for a fresh take on the star-crossed lovers theme, consider the indie film Running for Grace (also known as Jo, the Medicine Runner). Set in 1920s Hawaii in segregated Kona coffee fields, in a world where Japanese immigrants toil for white plantation owners, love blooms one afternoon when the mixed-race (Japanese and white) orphan boy named Jo, a medicine runner in the fields, gazes upon Grace, the young daughter of the plantation owner, through gossamer curtains. But, in that era, he’s not what her privileged (and racist) white family hoped for – and eventually the revelation of their taboo romance sparks plenty of drama, including some thrilling scenes of Jo dashing through forests and fields over his affection for Grace.
Ryan Potter, who many of you may recognize from the Oscar-winning animated film Big Hero 6 as well as the Nickeleon TV series Supah Ninjas, stars as Jo, while Olivia Ritchie plays Grace. While the plot of Running for Grace follows a relatively predictable path, the two make for a winsome couple, one that will keep you rooting for them as they go the distance to stay together.
Have you ever attended a wedding that changed the way you thought about yourself — and who you want to date? That’s what happened to Joanna Scarpuzzi, who writes, “Even though I thought I had grown up under much Chinese culture and influence, nothing had prepared me for the experience that this wedding was.”
Do you have a story about a life-changing wedding — or another guest post you’d like to see featured here? Visit the submit a post page to learn more about how to have your writing published on this blog.
Growing up in a mixed family (my dad is White-American, and my mom is Asian-American), I was excited to see who my siblings and I would date and eventually marry. All of us kids were homeschooled until were in 9th grade so our circle of friends was pretty small. I remember my sisters and I having crushes on White boys and Asian boys alike. My brother, also, dated a Chinese girl, a mixed girl, and a White girl, in that order.
It wasn’t until we were college age that our preferences became more evident. My sisters felt that Asian culture was too traditional and exclusive dated White boys. I, on the other hand, moved to China in 2010 to teach at an international school in an attempt to learn more about my Asian roots. During my six years abroad, if someone were to ask me if I could see myself married to a Chinese man, I would have told them, without a doubt, yes! I loved everything about Chinese culture: the food, the language, the community aspects, the filial piety.
Then, I attended a traditional Chinese countryside wedding. A group of us foreigners spent a weekend at a hotel awaiting the wedding festivities for our friend and coworker. The whole time we were there, we were not allowed to do anything remotely relating to helping with preparations. We were treated like honored guests.
The morning of the wedding, we joined the friends and family in the courtyard of the house. Cousins climbed up on the roof to bang pots and pans and set off firecrackers to welcome the wedding party.
After a short traditional ceremony in the courtyard, the bride and groom were ushered into their wedding chambers where they sat on a red-blanketed bed with posters of naked babies on the wall behind them. On that bed, they played some teasing games while the groom’s friends and relatives tossed nuts and dried fruit at them.
It was during this time that I realized how very different I really was. Even though I thought I had grown up under much Chinese culture and influence, nothing had prepared me for the experience that this wedding was. It was so different from my expectations for weddings, and made me realize I would not want a wedding like this, which made me wonder if it was really just the wedding or if it was something more.
It was this experience that caused me to ponder on the fact that perhaps I wasn’t being honest with myself when I told people I could see myself ending up with a Chinese man. Maybe I’m more independent than I thought or maybe my version of being raised the Asian way was a mixture of East and West. Maybe I wasn’t willing to give up being “comfortable” in America to truly connect with my roots. Whatever the reason, someday I hope to find a man who embraces my world, a perfect blend of Chinese and American culture.
After living in China for the past six years, Joanna Scarpuzzi is now back in the US and writes about teaching and her experiences with culture, specifically Asian culture.
I’m excited to run this post by Mary, who runs the wonderful blog The Ruby Ronin. Her mother was a refugee of the Vietnam War and her father a white American veteran; she writes about her experience growing up biracial in a small town in America — and how she came to appreciate her mother after growing up (and especially after her trip to Vietnam). Thanks for sharing Mary!
I didn’t realize that I was “different” until I hit the second grade. That’s when the kids started calling me “Chinese.”
“Am I Chinese, mom?” I asked my mother one day after school.
She exploded in laughter and replied, “Why do you think you’re Chinese?”
“Because everyone at school calls me Chinese.”
Her smiling expression soon turned to concern, “No, Mary, you’re not Chinese.” She replied sternly, “You’re Vietnamese.”
I cocked my head in confusion.
“What’s a Vietnanese?”
My mother was a refugee from the Vietnam War, my American father a veteran of that war. After the war my mother and father relocated to rural, coal mining America where I was the only “Asian” (half, really) in my elementary school. For most of my childhood and adolescent life, I was labeled as “Chinese” and my social identity revolved around my Asian ethnicity.
“Why does your mom talk funny?” my friends once asked me in third grade after meeting my mother for the first time.
It wasn’t until that moment I realized that, indeed, my mother was different. She was unable to pronounce certain words correctly and her grammar was off. Every now and then I heard her ramble off on the phone in a language I didn’t know, and which I could only assume was this newly discovered “Vietnanese.”
My mom used to drive us two hours north for the sole purpose of going to one of the rare Asian markets in our state and stocking up on Vietnamese food for the long winter. I remember those market visits vividly, because every time I set foot into that store all of my senses went into overload. The sound of live fish flapping in the seafood isle, the overpowering stench of freshly cut durian, the colors of all the exotic fruits in the produce section (dragon fruit!)—it was like being in another world.
Although I knew that somehow this culture was associated with me, it all felt so strangely foreign.
I used to cuddle up with my mom and watch Vietnamese movies together as a child. I couldn’t understand a word, although I desperately wanted to. I asked my mother to teach me Vietnamese multiple times, but she always refused. She laughed and said that teaching me Vietnamese was too much work, but I think deep down she wanted to give me a life that had nothing to do with the harsh, war-torn country she had just left. While she was still very Vietnamese at heart, she wanted her daughter to be nothing but American.
My mother and I could never communicate. I always wondered if it was culture, or language, or a little bit of both. When I told her I didn’t want fruit or another helping of food, she still cut up fresh apples or scooped an extra bowl of rice for me. When I tried to talk to her about my inner feelings and insecurities, she turned a deaf ear and seemed more concerned about the warmth of my coat or the food in my stomach. At times I felt like she didn’t care about who I was as a person, but it wasn’t until I moved to Asia later in life that I realized all of her so-called “minor” concerns was her way of showing love.
Growing up biracial, especially in a small town like we did, was extremely difficult. There were times I wanted nothing more than to be fully Asian so that I could finally blend in with my Asian relatives, and there were other times I longed to be completely American so that I could fit in with the kids at school.
It wasn’t until I moved to Asia later in life that I realized it wasn’t me that struggled the most—it was my mother and the hardships she endured living in America. Like many of us that move abroad, my mother coped with challenges such as living in a new language and trying to fit into a foreign society—but unlike most modern travelers today, she didn’t have the option that many of us have: to go home. Her country was torn by war and her Vietnamese passport revoked—even to this day, she has never returned to Vietnam.
My mother was completely isolated as the only Vietnamese person in our town, her only connection to home being interspersed phone calls with distant family and the Vietnamese movies I used to watch with her as a child.
I screamed at my mother a lot, because I didn’t understand. I wondered why she had to be so strange, why she couldn’t understand me, why our family had to be so different — yet she never yelled back. She only smiled.
Years later, I traveled to Vietnam alone to learn about a very important part of me—the history of my mother. I went to her old neighborhood in Saigon and to the markets she used to frequent as a child. Although my mother raised me to be the best American girl I could be, deep down I was still Vietnamese.
On the bus ride from Saigon to Hanoi, a song played on the radio. I recognized it as the famous melody from the movies my mother and I used to watch together, and I was helpless in holding back the tears.
Thank you, mom, for making me who I am today. I’m proud to be biracial, and I’m proud to say that yes—I am Vietnamese.
Mary writes about life in China and Japan, dating in Asia, world travel and everyday inspirations at The Ruby Ronin.
Ms. A writes, “My mother is Korean and my father is a mix of many things himself, mostly white. I suppose that would make me Korean-American. Or Amerasian. Or a hapa. Why so many labels?” Her essay captures the frustration of dealing with labels, and what it feels like when you don’t quite “fit in.”
For some reason, that question has always bothered me. Sarcastically, I’d once responded “I’m human. What are YOU?” Of course I knew they meant to ask my background or ethnicity. Being bi-racial, mixed, or “hapa”, this was a common question. I suppose what bothered me was that the question had a deeper meaning to me. What ‘am I?
My mother is Korean and my father is a mix of many things himself, mostly white. I suppose that would make me Korean-American. Or Amerasian. Or a hapa. Why so many labels?
Growing up, I never had an issue about being mixed. But somewhere down the line I ended up having an identity crisis. To non-Asians I suddenly became “the Asian one”. When I was with full-Asians, I was “the American one”. I grew a dislike to referring to myself as “half” Korean and “half” American. It felt like being partially part of something, yet never being fully part of it. Just half.
Perhaps this had to do with the community and if you live in a community that is familiar with diversity.
Of course, the feeling of not belonging in either “worlds” also had a lot to do with my upbringing. Sometimes I would have an American mindset of things, other times I would view things the Korean way. We spoke English, ate Korean, confusingly having conservative Korean values yet simultaneously liberal in other aspects. In Korea there is a Chinese-Korean dish call jjambbong that was a spicy noodle soup that didn’t have just one type of seafood and vegetables but a large variety mixed together. That’s what I was. Or maybe like a New Orleans gumbo.
As I got older, I realized that culture is a part of you, but not your entirety. It’s a blessing to have more than one culture a part of you. And yet because of that reason, it’s why you don’t have to choose to be solely part of one completely. It’s only natural values may clash and you may physically/visually not belong to a single race. Embrace who you are as an individual first. It’s okay to be different. It’s okay to not always fit in. Its. Okay.
Ultimately what defines you is who you are as an individual. People should remember you for who you are in the inside and the qualities you display as a human.
Ms. A is a woman who believes your imperfections are your perfections and that self-discovery is a never ending path.
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