Hi, Im Zan, and I`ll start the Conversation.
Hi, I’m Zan, and I’m Asian. Or Asian-Australian. Or Australian, if you want me to speak of how I am culturally (don’t shoot me please), or Asian- Australian- New Yorker- god knows what else, and I’m here to speak of something that has been weighing on my mind of late.
I remember the first time someone called me a racial slur, and I stared them in the face. It was at school, and I’d been asked if I ate dog. Now, at that point I was in my early teens and hadn’t yet been diagnosed with asperger’s, so my brain went into a sort of overdrive when I was told that. Of course, Id only replied a day later, after I’d gotten some good advice of how to handle being asked that. “I eat boys for breakfast, not dog.” That was what I said.
I gave as good as I got and I went through the trial by fire; I was respected now, and no one would touch me. Of course there were the silly, smaller bigots, but never now that I recall, absolute racism.
The word racism has been flitting about in my mind of late, especially in lieu of everything that has happened in the world. The questions of alliance, what is race, what is ethnicity, what are you, who are you- it all comes back in another startling cycle that we all once thought stopped the moment democracy reached peak fever a few years ago, when everything seemed possible, and the world wasn’t so closed. But that fever has become rampant now, and like most twenty somethings I do pause to wonder of what is to happen post period.
Now, if anyone asked me, I am Australian in culture, and I would consider it Home. But most whom I tell this to would usually respond with the mildly confused look of “..but you’ve a passport to Singapore. Why don’t you feel aligned with that culture?” Or, if I’m asked if I ever felt racially attacked in Australia, and if my short time in Asia or visits made me feel more at home, and I answer instead with “To be honest, there’s far more bitter racism that I’ve experienced in Asia”, I’m greeted with genuine surprise.
I usually pause to speak of it, my perspective, and as of recent and due to the cultural restraints around me, it’s become somewhat of a script that I read from in my head, so that I will be safe without angering anyone : “ I am culturally Australian because I grew up there, and spent a lot of time there, studied there, and my friends and family are there.” And this is acceptable, anything more spake of and I might just be shot down in flames. I do not touch the topic of the differences in racism whether there or here, though I stand on bigotry in Asia being far worse as it’s harder to spot. Id been shot down once for an opinion on the cultural restrictions of being in Asia, and of how I saw racism here, and I’d learned from that and decided to only speak of it when I was overseas again.
Is this sad? I think not. Why would I, as an Asian, have the need or feel the need to prove my sense of being Asian in nature or culture, to show that I’m balanced and “..not too western”, just like how years ago I had been told when I was a kindergartener in Singapore to not ‘speak like a white being, because I was showing off.’ My speaking well a language that is native to me isn’t negative overseas- in America, or Australia- but in Asia I am seen as a pretender, someone who doesn’t know where they come from, or respect it. Even in the circles of immigrant Asians, it’s hard to accept with open arms the western culture you’ve been born into, as constantly to some extent you feel a need to prove your ‘asianness’ to your parents, your peers, yourself. And sometimes that can be a great burden, even if you’re a third generation Australian Asian, or Asian American.
But on the topic of the obsession with respect seems to be highly sought after in Asian culture- you do not question it, and neither do you ask of it- and usually it is given without being worked for. And if you don’t give it, let alone adhere to the social rules and norms- more often than not you are stigmatized for being “not Asian”. I am Asian, I know that for a fact as my genetics dictates it to some extent- five generations back I would not know- but at heart I am more than just the culture I wasn’t born into, but of which I deeply respect.
Does that, in turn, make me the bad Asian? The one who can’t do math, the one who can’t speak mandarin or any dialect, calls all their aunts and uncles by their first names, and does-hold the gasp- Is far better at literature, music, art and everything that is an antithesis to being Asian. The one who doesn’t find the need to prove their genetics? I honestly don’t know, and perhaps I will never know. But I don’t think that that would give me any shame, as I am tired of shame. I know it’s a statement that won’t earn me fame, but shame, if you think of it, is what prevents us from knowing ourselves.
Shame is what prevents us from living life, experiencing it. Shame is what makes us unable to understand others, whether culture, people, or societies. And shame sometimes can lead to rifts, misunderstandings, and hate.
And would we need shame now in this day and age where our titles, our names for each other- “democrat”, “liberal”, “post lib”, “right winger”, and the more insulting- only serve to deepen the discontent and our inability to speak to one another without screaming of who is right and who is wrong. But the sad thing is that there is not much right and wrong to talk of in human nature- it’s just one grey area that we try to tame. We can do so, it’s just better to try without thinking we are holier than thou.
To quote and summarize Brene brown’s talks on shame, we are more often than not afraid to be vulnerable, intimate and open with others as we don’t want to be torn down. Shame comes when we feel that we are unworthy of love, shame comes when we are silent and suffer. But most importantly you cannot empathize when you have shame. When you are ashamed you become defensive, and similarly in Asian cultures shame and secrecy in society is a way to protect ourselves from being hurt. Not respected. Empathy, to cry, to weep and share ourselves is never done.
When we empathize we have to be vulnerable, but because we pride on unquestioned respect we are afraid to share. We shame others because we shame ourselves. And on the global scale right now, we do similar. Despite the fact that we are so hyper connected we are still hypercritical, and we as a globe of human beings, lack empathy despite the fact that we could send a heart in a heartbeat. Why such a rift? Why must there be such shame when that openness could offer us so much building of bridges instead of tearing them down?
At the end of it, I am a walking contradiction; I was born in Asia, grew up in Australia, traveled lots in Europe and Japan, I am a reformed Jew (to be, in the future, but am practicing as much as I can now), an operatic composing and conducting student, am one foot out the closet, and I hate pretentiousness in any kind of art. I have learned that while I may be a walking contradiction, I am a human being, and perhaps we should try to see that now in everyone, irregardless of whether through the lens of the left or the right. And then with that understanding, perhaps we could go beyond having to reiterate who we are, and instead see the similarities we all have culturally, and find strength in that love.