Immigration, Assimilation, Ethnicity and All That Jazz

Archive for July, 2008

What did you eat for lunch in elementary school?

Posted by chinesecanuck on July 31, 2008

I’ve read, heard and seen many stories/movies about kids of immigrants bringing ethnic foods to school, only to be made fun of.  This is interesting to me, because when I was in school in the 80s and 90s, I rarely saw anyone bring ethnic food, not even newly arrived kids.  At my elementary school, which was part of the Catholic school board (and therefore, non-fee paying), everyone brought sandwiches.  I think I saw rice ONCE, and that was in Grade 4.  The closest thing we had to ethnic-based lunches were in the sandwich fillings.  Some of the Hong Kong kids, both immigrant and locally raised, had, for example, char-siu (barbecue pork) sandwiches rather than, say, ham and cheese.  Even then, it wasn’t every day.  That’s why I never understood those stories/experiences.  No one I know ever was made fun of because of their lunches, probably because their lunches didn’t seem so exotic.

Is this something unique to the elementary school I went to?  Or is it, again, more of a class thing than an ethnic thing?


Posted in culture, education, ethnicity, food, school | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Being Cultured

Posted by chinesecanuck on July 28, 2008

This is pretty much part two of my earlier post on stereotypes.  Many people feel that it’s necessary to avoid certain works because they contain characters, storylines, etc which are no longer considered politically correct.  My question to them is this: What the heck are we supposed to read/watch/listen to?  Are we going to have to avoid everything created before the 1970s?  How the heck are we even supposed to be “cultured” if we do that?  Do we not give a child piano lessons because most of the composers were Christian and wrote music for the church?  Do we homeschool the kid because they’re going to be reading works by writers from the past, whose works will, in the eyes of someone in the twenty-first century, not be PC?  Why keep kids away from them when you can discuss why it’s wrong?

Honestly, people who believe these things bother me.  It’s a form of censorship, IMHO.  Keeping a kid in the dark is no better than sanctioning such behaviour.  In high school, I read a novel for English class called The Wars.  This Timothy Findley book is about a young Canadian man who fights in WWI.  The novel is very graphic, especially towards the end.  Yet, it was part of the English curriculum at my high school, an all girls’ independent school.  You’d think that the English department would prefer us reading books which are “cleaner.”  However, the English department wanted us to broaden our horizons.  Many of the books we read were not exactly appropriate for teenage girls.  In fact, some were even banned in schools at one point (Cather in the Rye, for example).  So you don’t want your kid exposed to stereotypes.  However, as I said in the earlier post, everything CAN BE A STEREOTYPE.  Or are some stereotypes just “better” than others? 

IMHO, people who ban certain material from others because they feel that it would negatively affect their outlook on a culture (or cultures) or because they feel that it’s racist/stereotypical are just not exposed enough.  They aren’t cultured enough and/or fail to understand that there’s more than one interpretation.  And to me, it is really sad.  To deny another person exposure to something because one only sees something ONE WAY is denying someone the ability to express how they feel.  It’s denying the person a learning opportunity to discuss why something is wrong/inappropriate.  It’s denying someone AN EDUCATION.

Posted in culture, education, ethnicity, learning, literature, minorities, social class | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Don’t you LEARN from Stereotypes? Doctors, Geisha and All That Jazz

Posted by chinesecanuck on July 25, 2008

A post in Racialicious yesterday about stereotypes opened a discussion between me and another poster. The other poster had replied to a thread on stereotypes that she would like a stereotype free home for her child. There’s no such thing. Everything out there is a stereotype. Cristina Yang (doctor of Korean descent) from Grey’s Anatomy is as much of a stereotype as Cio-Cio San (Madame Butterfly). Oh yeah, I forgot. A doctor is POSITIVE, while a geisha who commits seppuku is not. Especially if she gives up her life because she proves “tragic beauty and nobility by sacrificing yourself for the white man and abandoning your hapa kid!” (post number 61). I guess she doesn’t realize that Pinkerton, the American character is a stereotype too. The stereotype of the Evil American who Just Doesn’t Care. The authors of the story (can’t give Puccni all the credit, since it was adapted from a John Luther Long play, which was in turn, adapted from a Pierre Loti (yeah, French dude) work) were trying to show the West’s cruelty.

Another poster said:

…whatever Puccini and his collaborators had in mind, somehow that’s not what’s being seen on the stage–that’s why Madame Butterfly is such a contested piece of art. Especially when Madame Butterfly is still seen in a country, like the US, that continues to stereotype APIA women as “submissive girls.” So, Madame Butterfly is seen, therefore, as another vehicle that folks just looooove as art but perpetuates that stereotype.

I don’t understand this point because I also see the evilness of the west (represented by Pinkerton) and the east (represented by Butterfly) being a victim of the evilness. However, one stereotype I DO see is that Butterfly is a love-struck teen.

So really, what *IS* supposed to be shown on TV, film, etc when it comes to non-whites? You can’t make an Asian woman too submissive/tragic, because it’s stereotypical/racist. She can’t be a bitch either, because that’s the dragon lady stereotype. She probably can’t be a doctor (or accountant), because that’s what lots of Asian parents want their kids to become (nor can she be a music prodigy….Asian parents stereotypically send their kids to CLASSICAL music lessons). Maybe that’s why writers have trouble putting non-white characters on TV. They’re worried that someone will be turned off.  In any case, it’s probably better to confront stereotypes and learn why it’s wrong than to ignore it all together.

Posted in Asian, culture, education, ethnicity, Opera | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Hong Kong Diners (aka Cha Chaan Teng)

Posted by chinesecanuck on July 22, 2008

Have you ever been to a Hong Kong style diner? Seems like most non-Chinese have never heard of these places, unless they’re very close friends with someone of Chinese descent (and has some connections to the “old culture”). Diners eat with a knife and fork and it’s somewhat lower-end fusion, but in a very unique way. Menu offerings include:

  • Pork chop and rice casserole
  • Pastas (almost always spaghetti and macaroni. You can even get macaroni in soup for breakfast)
  • Buns (western style, but catering to the Hong Kong palate)
  • Sandwiches
  • Breakfast foods, including ham, eggs and toast.

Of course, a cha chaan teng isn’t complete without offering Hong Kong tea (very strong black tea, evaporated milk (or condensed milk) and sugar) and yeen yeung (half coffee, half Hong Kong tea). In Toronto, you can find cha chaan tengs in Markham and Scarborough, though there aren’t too many in the older Chinatown area downtown.

Have you been to one?  What do you think?  Why don’t people outside of the HK community know about these places?  I’ve never seen them reviewed in too many non-Chinese publications.

Posted in Cantonese, China, culture, ethnicity, food, Hong Kong | Tagged: , , , , , , , | 7 Comments »

OMG, Stereotypes!

Posted by chinesecanuck on July 16, 2008

This is really bad.  I was on the subway the other day and sat next to a girl who had not one, but TWO designer bags (she was *THIS CLOSE* to being a label whore).  I didn’t get a look at her face at first, so I assumed she was one of those Asian girls who highlight their hair and shop at high end stores.  Turned out she was white.  In Toronto and Vancouver, one can find some Asian women (or more specifically, Hong Kong women) who shop at these stores, and sometimes, they’re head-to-toe label.  And these brands have to be big names to them.  For many, Tory Burch isn’t a big enough name.  It has to be Prada, Gucci, LV, Hermes, etc…

Readers, have you mistaken someone for another race/culture/ethnicity based on what he/she was wearing, or what accessories he/she had?

Posted in Asian, Chinese Canadian, culture, ethnicity, fashion, Hong Kong, minorities, shopping, social class | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Integration is really a class/education thing?

Posted by chinesecanuck on July 14, 2008

Over the weekend, I had a lengthy discussion on immigration and integration with a friend. Friend believes that immigrants who are more likely to retain old country values (ranging from total arranged marriages (i.e. not “this is A, this is B. You guys go out on supervised ‘dates’ and then decide whether you like each other or not” type arrangements) to marrying young to not moving out until marriage, etc) are those who are not as educated. Educated people, my friend believes, are more open to their children adopting mainstream, Anglo-Saxon (or Francophone if you’re in Quebec) values because they’re more exposed. In fact, they probably have picked up some of the values themselves (even if it’s more old fashioned – my mother, for example, gave me an etiquette book when I was 12. This etiquette book is likely a traditional gift to a 10-12 year old who attends junior cotillions and will be a debutante in her late teens. I was not a debutante. They aren’t all that common in Toronto, unless you’re Filipina). Friend cited the European immigrants who came in the 1900s or even after WWII. Many of these immigrants only had two or three years of formal education compared to Anglo Canadians had at the time (probably Grade 8-ish). They worked unskilled jobs and their social lives revolved around their place of worship which spoke the language from the motherland and observed traditions of the country.

I think my friend is only partially right in this case. There are plenty of immigrants who are really well-educated, yet their credentials from abroad do not make them qualified for the jobs they did in the old country. Immigrants who are the most integrated, those who have picked up Anglo-Saxon values are those who were educated here. Why? Because they came young. When you’re 18 years old and away from home, the first thing you want to do is something that is considered taboo to your parents. This isn’t only something that foreign students do, but basically anyone who is going to school out of town! 🙂 For some people, the new values stick, especially if you intend to stay in the new country. There aren’t parents to tell you that what you’re doing is not proper.  In addition, parents who are willing to send their kids abroad, especially girls, are probably already open-minded anyway.  It’s also the exposure that they may have career-wise.  I have noticed that many immigrants who are in, say, finance or law (especially of their senior management), are more culturally Anglo than even equally educated (or perhaps more so) and equally financially well-off doctors whose patients are primarily from the immigrant communities.  The doctor, in turn, is probably “more exposed”/culturally Anglo than someone who owns a small business.

Readers, do you think this is true? Is education the key to being more open-minded and perhaps even integrating? Or is it a combination of being educated in the new country and education itself?  Is it a class thing?

Posted in assimilation, culture, education, ethnicity, minorities, social class | Tagged: , , , , | 8 Comments »

Passing on Traditions and Keeping in Touch with One’s Roots

Posted by chinesecanuck on July 9, 2008

Matthew Egan has a post in Racialicious today about his Jewish identity. At the end of the post, mentions a conversation his fiancée had with another woman, who grew up in Chinatown about understanding one’s roots. But what does that mean in the twenty-first century? Culture changes so rapidly that many traditions become obsolete. Other traditions were invented or adapted by immigrants when they arrive in their new homeland.

I often read stories about ABCs or CBCs (American Born Chinese or Canadian Born Chinese) who are conflicted between tradition and their Americanized/Canadianized identity they picked up at school. Reading these stories, I’ve always wondered WTF they’re talking about. I went to school with lots of kids who were either born in Canada or came as young children, and never have I met a parent who wasn’t accommodating to their kids’ westernized lifestyle, save for dating non-Chinese. In fact, most parents are westernized themselves. Most people I know don’t know what it means to have “traditional Chinese parents.” Perhaps it’s a generational thing. Most American/Canadian authors of Chinese descent are from an older generation, typically Baby Boomers (e.g. Amy Tan) or born during the Depression/WWII (e.g. Wayson Choy). They typically grew up in Chinatown or a small town, with parents who worked in small businesses rather than suburban-raised kids with middle-management/professional parents.

I share the same issues as Matthew when it comes to understanding my roots. Because my upbringing was “typically suburban,” and the guy I’ll likely marry isn’t of Chinese descent, I worry that I’d be criticized that I’m not able to pass on Chinese culture beyond language (speaking only), food, holidays like the Lunar New Year and Mid-Autumn Festival and perhaps one or two milestone traditions, such as a baby’s coming out/presentation at 30 days or wedding traditions (many aren’t “real traditions” as they probably only date back to the 1910s or 1920s at the earliest when people started to have love marriages rather than arranged ones).  Or would people care?  Is that really enough to pass on?  In Toronto, one can be exposed to these traditions without doing much.  All you need to do is open a newspaper.  The Lunar New Year and Mid-Autumn Festival get lots of press in a city like Toronto or Vancouver, even with non-Asian media.  Is passing on these traditions really keeping in touch with one’s roots, or is it just part of being a cultured Torontonian?

Posted in assimilation, culture, ethnicity, minorities | Tagged: , , , , , , | 8 Comments »

I look mixed? WTF?

Posted by chinesecanuck on July 8, 2008

I had my nails done at a salon I don’t normally go to this past weekend.  Practically all of the employees at this nail salon were Vietnamese, with one lady who was Vietnamese of Chinese descent.  Like me, this woman spoke fluent Cantonese, sans regional accent.  However, I knew that she wasn’t Hong Konger based on the WAY she spoke it.  It wasn’t an accent, but the way her voice sounded.  In any case, she later commented on how I looked “half Chinese, half ‘Canadian.'”  In immigrant Asian lingo, “Canadian” means white (in any case, “Canadian” could mean any ethnicity at all, she would have just said that I “looked” Canadian).  I do not look mixed.  I kind of figured that the only reason why she may have thought that is because I’m like a head taller than her (which means that this woman is super-petite, as I’m only 5’2″…probably slightly below average for Hong Kong Chinese women in my age group).

Why would someone say that another person looks “mixed” when the person clearly isn’t?

Posted in Asian, culture, ethnicity | Tagged: , , , , , | 3 Comments »

Obama Doll Post from Racialicious

Posted by chinesecanuck on July 2, 2008

A German toymaker launched an Obama doll recently, and people are saying that the doll is too dark, looks stereotypical etc. What they (or at least Racialicious), hasn’t mentioned, is that the doll also resembles a little kid! Seriously, if it weren’t for the US flag on the doll’s lapel, I would have thought that it was a line of multicultural First Communion dolls!

Posted in culture, ethnicity, race | Tagged: , , , , , , | 1 Comment »