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« Flexible Family Values | Main | Baudrillard and Chuang Tzu »

March 08, 2007


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My wife, who is Chinese, asked her grandfather, a
PLA veteran and retired cadre, this question, "Will you be angry if I become an American citizen?"

He answered, "Of course not. In fact, I think it's a good idea."

"But, if I become an American citizen I can no longer be a Chinese citizen," my wife replied.

"That is just a formality," he said, "you will still be Chinese, and there are many benefits to becoming an American citizen."

I was surprised to hear an 82 year old man with his background say this. In my opinion, he has a much better understanding of the world than many far younger but better educated Chinese nationalists.

Great post. Great questions. I was going to link over to a post I did that contained no fewer than three Chinese-Jewish jokes (that has to be a record, right?), but I have decided that would not be appropriate.

Unfortunately, in the US, as is true anywhere, skin color tends to define someone more than heritage because skin color is so obvious. Reminds me of discussions I would have with an African American friend back in college, who would be driven crazy by countless people (both Black and White) who would look askance at his interest in international relations, as though a super intelligent black person interested in politics should confine himself to the domestic arena. It is hard to get past perceptions based on skin color.

In your post, I counted 11 instances of the word "culture" being used, mostly in association with the Chinese. You are not in isolated company in the overuse of the term "Chinese culture", however - possibly the most (in)famous being the red chopsticks sleeves glorifying thousands of years of Chinese cultual. Perhaps the mysteries and exoticism of the Orient, as well as its possible fetishization, tie the Chinese way of life to the more portending-sounding word "culture," more so than any other culture out there. This is all conjecture anyway, and my personal pet peeve with the phrase is that I associate the word "culture" with petri dishes and yogurt (I was bio major in college).

I'm a 2nd Chinese-American, raised by my fobby parents but pretty much very open and very American in my cultural experiences. I have a weird feeling, based on my experiences and observations of my 2nd generation extended family, that "Chinese-ness" is possibly a biological and genetic tendency towards certain behaviors, or maybe some sort of imprint is left at a very early age.

I wish the best of luck to these young girls. We Chinese have an innate drive to fit in and assimilate with the predominant social world we exist in, which sometimes is not easy when our physical features are visibly different. In my personal experiences, I have found Jews, especially of the NYC/NJ variety, to be rather clannish and often openly arrogant to other ethnicities, especially the Chinese. Their "Chinese-ness" will likely be rubbed in their faces and joked about time and time again. How will these girls react in the presence of a prank call to the local chinese take-out?

what does Chinese-American-ness imply for Chinese-ness in China?

It maybe difficult for other Americans and native Chinese to understand this, due to my Chinese appearance, but I've been to China and I consider China to be a very foreign, alien, and strange land. I'm American - no hyphens, thank you.

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