Lessons on racism, from a pair of chopsticks.
Jinn Liu

Can you please explain to me what I’m missing?

When you come as an immigrant to another country — and I am an immigrant here myself — don’t you have some obligation to try to blend in?

You wrote, “When the cries at Trayvon Martin’s funeral turned into a rallying chant, I heard for the first time that I had been cheering for the wrong team. I had spent my childhood kneeling before a TV screen that never once acknowledged my existence. It chewed on the flavors and textures within our melting pot and spit out a bowl of tasteless oatmeal instead.”

My question for you is why American t.v. or American culture as a whole had any sort of obligation to acknowledge your existence. Your parents, like my parents, willingly chose to leave behind a culture where they looked and sounded and felt a lot more like everyone else and to come to another country that was not their own. When people make such a choice, they have to understand that they’re no longer going to have the right to expect that everyone around them will eat the same way (or the same things) they do, that other people may regard them as a bit odd in their ways, that most people around won’t be able to speak the language they’re most fluent in.

That doesn’t mean that you have to give up every last vestige of the place you came from. You can still cook whatever food you want (if you can find the ingredients you need), speak whatever language you want to speak at home, practice whatever religion you have or don’t have and spend your free time learning more about your culture of origin. But you can’t expect that every restaurant around is going to have the food you grew up with. You can’t expect that if you insist on speaking your language of origin to Americans, they’re going to understand you. You can’t expect that American t.v. is going to be broadcast in your language or with your culture in mind. And you generally can’t expect that American culture is going to bend over backwards to accommodate you or people like you. As an immigrant, the onus is on you (or on your parents, if they’re the ones who came here as immigrants) to learn the language, the customs, the expectations, etc.

Eventually, of course, American culture, which is necessarily a sum of hundreds of millions of parts, morphs as a result of the immigrants who’ve come here over the course of many generations, and that’s great. But the expectation we’re now seeing among some people that American culture has some obligation to accommodate every different racial and ethnic and sexual and cultural group and skin color is backwards and absurd. If a nation is going to be one nation, it needs to be a melting pot, and the result of that melting process is not the “bowl of tasteless oatmeal” you describe, but rather, the dynamic, vibrant nation that has outperformed much of the rest of the world for many decades and was sufficiently attractive in its free and open culture and economy that your parents and my parents made the choice to come here. Let’s not ruin it for future generations by tearing it apart and making it into the Balkanized bastion of warring tribes that it is quickly becoming. Or, to put it another way, anyone in America is free to use chopsticks where they can find them available, but everyone in America has to know how to use a fork.