Asian American Frustration

I rounded the corner from the parking lot along the sidewalked path to Amoeba Records on Cahuenga. There they were, the post-college Asians crowded outside as they were lined up to get into the club. Now, I wasn’t wearing the club gear I usually do the two times per year I even visit a nightclub, so I suspect I looked out of place. Out of place enough to deserve some of what I call, Hoochie Glares. It’s the obligatory stare a female of Asian descent graces another female of Asian descent with, a.k.a. “mad-dogging” – especially in predominantly Asian American settings. It’s meant to counteract the outsider assumption that sweet little Asian girls are just that – sweet. Problem is, nobody inside this sort of insular club scene really thinks that.

Ah, the memories.

It reminds me of a time (*ahem* University of Caucasians Living [amongst] Asians) of never really having to deal with the interracial societal issues at large – or even personal interaction – so long as I didn’t “have” to. It reminds me of the type of camaraderie of being amongst other people who happen to share a continental ethnic origin and desire to get drunk at a club the celebs used to go to, 2 years ago, and will in 3 months undergo another renovation, name and ownership change. (And hey – before you think I’ve handed down a verdict, I’ll tell you first off that I’m not one to judge – I used to put those things together!)

While I won’t contest that it’s superficial racial unity at its best, it baffles if even saddens me that we can come together for this sort of “movement” as an attraction for nightclub promotion dollars, yet we are the ones – the minorities – who aren’t even considered a solid political voting block. I know that on the political side, this speaks to the diversity of the Asian American experience. More varied things brought our parents and ancestors to America so I know that’s a benefit as far as avoiding being pigeon-holed. The problem? Our voices have a much harder time of being acknowledged at all. The “strength in numbers” rule doesn’t even apply.

The in-fighting I’ve observed that goes on inside the group (a fight getting instigated because somebody looked at somebody else the wrong way) couples with another frustration I’ve experienced. I program a lot of HBO on my DVR and Chris Rock’s recent special Shoot The Messenger was something I had been looking forward to. I wasn’t disappointed – the social commentary in his material was not only relevant and current, it was also transferable.

“There’s only one thing that makes me more angry than racism and that’s black people who are shocked at racism. Whenever something racist goes down, they always gotta find that ONE black person that can’t believe it. ‘I can’t believe Imus would say that‘ and I’m like, ‘Where the f*** you from?‘ There’s nothing a white person could ever say to me that would ever catch me off guard. Ever! Now I just look for it: ‘Where is it? Is it over here? Over there? Where is it?‘ … Regis Philbin could [be interviewing me and during the commercial break, stab me in the neck] and I’d be like, ‘Ehhh…Should’ve seen that coming!‘”

– Chris Rock, Shoot the Messenger

I can relate to this – given a racial sub-in here or there. I know it may be completely self-indulgent but honestly, few things have been more frustrating to me in my transplanted life. Chris Rock nails it when says he wants to ask, “Where the f*** you from?” because sometimes that’s exactly what I want to ask (even though I may know the answer).

The feeling I think stems from an incredulity of sorts, with potential to devolve into envy. Something like that, anyway. It even becomes a reminder that in this life thus far, some of my brothers and/or sisters have gotten away with leading a more charmed life than I have. That so much work into validating myself despite all the odds might have been for nothing – if maybe my parents hadn’t moved to where they did, to Wisconsin. I wasn’t white enough the first 17 years of my life, and suddenly – after transporting 2000 miles – I was too white-washed. My college classmates had gone to high schools that were 50% Asian while I was one in 5 Asians in my high school, total.

Having lived a racially-discriminatory childhood is a common sob story here in L.A. – such is the case with the number of transplants and the patchwork quilt of different people of all backgrounds throughout the city. But when you come across somebody whose experience has precluded that so that when an instance happens, they’re still in a state of shock assessing the situation – you’re already on a different page than them. You feel as if you’re alone on the front lines and have even more work to do because you’re still convincing your teammate that there was even an attack made – that what was actually said to you was wrong. Now I’m not talking about needing to walk around with a chip on your shoulder – just a readiness to nip ignorant thinking in the bud, is all – and be done with it. It’s having enough of that sort of practice to go around so that it can effectively be done and performed. Practice makes perfect, you see?

I admit that there’s a sort of bitterness that others were allowed to skip racial boot camp while my parents made me go every summer. It’s something I have to get over.

And now they’re stuck on your team without having completed that training. And you’re all at war where nobody got to pick sides – teams were just randomized – and they don’t even realize they’re not pulling their fair end in a battle they don’t even know is being fought, lest another ignorant conscience be released into the urban jungle … freely abdicating the cause for equality, empathy, humility and the war against prejudice and ignorance.

Like Collin Powell said, it’s not enough that we clarify that Obama is not a Muslim. What is wrong with his being Muslim in the first place? As in so many things, the accusations, assumptions and perceptions we own are so often more about ourselves than the actual object of our feeling. All I know is, we can’t change anyone else.

“A reasonable man adapts himself to his environment. An unreasonable man persists in attempting to adapt his environment to suit himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.”

-George Bernard Shaw

There may be still hope.