Put it into words. 言葉にして。


mmmkay, so I read this post awhile back, and it kind of went to the back of my mind for a bit because I got caught up in other things, but I did and still do want to post about it so I am gonna do so.

“The Oriental mystique has always existed as the predominate fascination of the Western world. Americans look to Asian culture as a way to make themselves ethnic by appropriating symbols that represent a sense of exoticism and intrigue. Chinese tattoos, for example, often prompt onlookers to ask the tattoo wearer the significance of their meaning, giving the tattooed a chance to seem cultured and otherworldly. It is the best of both worlds: not having to truly educate oneself about another culture and being able to wear the pretense of mystique and wisdom on one’s sleeve (or arm). It is the superficial possession of a cultural trinket without having an understanding, or even willingness to understand, its true significance.”

TBH, after seeing sites like hanzismatter it seems to me that a lot of the people who get kanji/hanzi tattoos don’t know what they mean.  Just walking downtown by my college I see tattoo flash art that shows unconjugated Japanese (I know it’s Japanese because it ends in する, る, etc.).  I feel like if you’re gonna put something on your body, at least conjugate it right, y’know?  Like, if you want to put something like “Live”, maybe conjugate it in the imperative?  (Kinda reminds me of Hayden Panettiere’s tattoo that begins with the unconjugated form of “to live”, vivere, in Italian.)  The more I’ve found out about Japanese culture, the less and less I want to get any tattoo because I don’t like the association with the Yakuza, however old that is, and I want to be able to go to any onsen or waterpark without issue.

So for someone who actually cares about understanding foreign culture and is white, like me, this is heartbreaking.  I don’t get it!  Why would someone do something that they don’t really understand…?

Admittedly, I have been in the camp of doing that.  I didn’t know about the significance of Buddhist prayer beads when they appeared in America as “Power Beads” (I was an elementary schooler at the time) and now that I look back at that trend I recoil from what I didn’t know I was doing.

I was surely ignorant, but not due to any willful ignorance.  It says a lot about the appropriation of culture that people will just take something that looks like it could be a trend and make sure that other people don’t realize its original significance.

I’ll admit it.  I have a kimono (which I’m crazy proud to own because it is vintage silk from about 1969) and a qi pao.  The kimono was given to me as a gift, and I had a hand in choosing the qi pao, but I bought that because I think it is beautiful. I don’t think the fact that I own those is a bad thing in and of itself, despite my ethnic background.

I am confused about my place in the world, you know?  Despite not being Asian by blood, I’m still really interested in Asian culture.  But I try not to make it a kind of suit that I can put on and take off whenever I feel like it.  I’ve been wondering for months what it’s like to be an ethnic minority in the US and see people like me who are interested in Asian culture with no blood connection…sometimes I feel weird for being white.  I am trying to educate myself so I am aware of what kind of privileges are afforded to me for being in the ethnic majority.

I spoke to a friend of mine yesterday whose mother is Korean.  I was telling him about living in the Asian House at my school next year. I didn’t get a chance to explain that it’s generally for people who are learning Chinese or Japanese in order to provide a more immersive environment, but he asked me if I was the only non-Asian in the house.  I feel weird about being asked that.  It’s true that most of the people in the house are of Asian descent, but they’re American just like me…

And then there’s the sticky stuff, like that time I was craving seaweed hardcore and an acquaintance of mine said something about me being “more Asian than [she is]” (She’s Asian American).

So what is it that makes me who I am?  It’s worth noting that I am even capable of choosing to learn more about a foreign culture.

Today I came across this post called “Open Letter to Non-Asian People“.  Both the Korean American guy who wrote the post and the commenters had interesting and valid things to say.  I guess there are people out there who would pull the kind of stuff that he wrote about, but I’m not one of them, even though I’m white…it’s a little weird to be called “you people” too.  Later on when a commenter wrote about his experience as a non-Korean who made the effort to learn the language the original poster wrote back “While the Korean admires your familiarity with Korean language and culture, your kind is few and far between.”

Am I kind of an exception to the rule (“rule” is debatable) that “non-Asians [or insert alternate group here] don’t care about culture to the point that they want to study it and actually know what’s going on instead of just appropriating culture bits that they like or pretending that the foreign culture is something to be blindly worshipped and all other cultures should be shunned”?

If those kinds of posts that I mentioned today aren’t about people like me, I would feel at ease.  I think they’re not, but even so, it’s unfortunate that people who do what I mentioned in the above section seem to be numerous.

Ahhhh, am I doing things correctly?  I like what I like because I really like it and I think it’s cool…I’m not the kind of person who thinks that American culture should be shunned, either…  I’m just trying to live and learn despite having no blood connection to a place.  I’m vaguely reminded of a presentation given at my school’s New Student Orientation last year in which a woman with a German American mother and African American father didn’t think of herself as African American, although people labeled her that because that was what she looked like.  It was more like she was just herself.  I kind of feel like that; I’m just me and I’m white I guess but that’s not as important as what kind of person I am in terms of my personality and stuff like that.

I think that it really isn’t just DNA that makes us who we are, it’s who we associate with and what we choose to engage in.  I think the best thing for me would be to be okay with my own interests and just go about life looking at other people for who they are, which is what I strive to do already.

I feel a little uneasy still, but I wanted to say all this.  I don’t think I said anything offensive, but if I did I absolutely wasn’t trying to.


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