I’ve been meaning to blog on this for quite some time, ever since Dennis Prager brought this New York Times article to my attention over 2 years ago.
Take a look at the photo at the top. Is there anything strikingly odd about the photo? What do you see? I see a “ridiculous” little Asian boy pretending to be a cowboy, and proud of wearing the get-up. I say “ridiculous”, because, of course, there weren’t really any Asian cowboys out in the Wild West. If anything, I should be playing the part of an Injun. But back then, at the time, I didn’t feel ridiculous. I thought I looked like Robert Conrad.
I was born in 1968, Phoenix, Arizona. My ethnicity? Thai. Beyond that, I have no knowledge of my birth heritage and biological parents, as I was given up for adoption. I do know that whatever the circumstances around my birth mother’s pregnancy, she loved me enough to carry me through 9 months to be delivered right away into the loving home of a young Air Force fighter pilot, wed to a Japanese woman in 1964 while stationed overseas. I couldn’t have been blessed with a more stable home or asked for more loving parents.
My parents never kept my adoption a secret from me. I’ve known all my life that I was adopted, so it never seemed strange to me. I do admit, however, that in college, it did begin to occur to me what a unique experience mine might be; and earlier in my pre-teens, I know I was self-conscious when visiting relatives (on my dad’s side….which consequently also affected my feelings when around my relatives from my mom’s side) in California of the fact that I was not blood-related to people who seemed to offer me unconditional acceptance and love. Still, it couldn’t erase the feeling that in a “skin-deep” sense, I didn’t belong. And it had nothing to do with how my relatives treated me. One of the experiences that really meant a lot to me was when my grandpa introduced me to his nurse as his grandson. My Dad and I had flown out to visit him in the hospital, because he didn’t have much longer to live. My grandfather was a short thin man; a fisherman and a cusser who was known as “Firpy” (my dad inherented the nickname) because in his youth he was scrappy (I believe there was a boxer named “Firpo”). He was not the kind of grandfather you felt comfortable to be bounced upon, on his knee, and run up to for hugs.
The reason why it was a healing experience to hear him tell the nurse that I was his grandson, was that a few years earlier, my mom in a moment of bitterness, told me the story of how Grandpa Phirpy apparently said to my Dad before he shipped to Japan, “I don’t care what you do over there, but don’t you dare marry a Japanese lady. If you do, I’ll disown you.” My dad said, “Alright”. But of course, things turned out different. And no, apparently he didn’t get disowned. But it was another experience in my maturation toward dealing with racism on a personal level.
My earliest memory of being race-conscious, was one day when I was about 4 or 5 living in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. My mom took me to check out Tinkerbell Kindergarten. It must have been an open-house or something. I went out on the playground where two boys were playing on the monkey bars. They basically told me to go away and I couldn’t play there with them; they used racial slurs to reject me. Back then, children used to take their thumbs to stretch the corners out to mock those with “slant eyes”. I don’t see kids doing that these days. It was one of those experiences that began to shape my consciousness that there was something physically different about me from other “Americans”; that I didn’t physically resemble Robert Conrad. And I began to take a closer look in the mirror, to see what others were seeing that I had failed to see.
As a footnote, one of the two boys, Richard, became my best friend and neighbor when we moved into the house across the street. Subsequently, because of that, the other kid, Butch, grew to accept me, too. They were the first ones to teach me a rhyme involving the “N” word. In a moment of ignorant innocence and stupidity, I asked Dad, “Do you want to hear something funny?” And I told him the rhyme. He asked me to repeat it. I think even then, even without the incredulous tone of disbelief in his voice, I knew that I had said something bad. And as young as I was, 5 maybe, I am sure I was conscious of what that word was related to. Richard and I had sang it, while sitting in a car, watching an elderly black man getting into his car. I was ignorant of what I was saying, and yet, part of me I think was consciously aware, and not so blissfully ignorant. My dad told me to never, ever say those words again. I didn’t get spanked, but the verbal berating and the gravity in his tone of voice really made me feel ashamed.
My first girlfriend was in kindergarten. She was the only other Asian at Tinkerbell. Basically, she gave me no say in the matter of our relationship, and simply said, “You’re mine. I own you.” And I went along with it. Every recess, I had to pretend I was Little Joe (Michael Landon) from Bonanza. I still wanted to be James West, though.
I have a vague recollection of Bruce Lee from when I was really, really little. He must have been big, for me to have known about him without having actually seen any of his movies. Back then, and later when the Kung Fu TV series came out, if you were Oriental, you were expected to know karate chops and kung fu. The only Asian hero I remember who “looked like me” when I was young, was Ultraman‘s alter ego, Science Patrol member Hayata. It came on in South Carolina, translated from the Japanese series, during the afternoon, hosted by a pretty woman called “Happy Rain”, dressed like an Indian. Other than Hayata, all of my heroes and role models growing up, the G.I. doll toys I played with, the T.V. and movie stars, were white male figures. When Star Trek was on, I didn’t want to be Lt. Sulu. I wanted to be Captain James T. Kirk, dammit.
Multiculturalists would tell the four year-old boy in the photo that he was being white-washed. They would tell the 40 year old blogger hammering this post out on his keyboard, that he is a twinkie: White on the inside, yellow on the out. If I were black, maybe I’d be an Uncle Tom and a sellout. I spent 6 years of my college time living with two of my teammates, who were brothers. They also happened to be middle-class black, from Alburqurque. One day, a student asked Greg, the younger brother, if he had been to any ASU meetings, lately. He replied that, “Yeah, we’ve been out there; we compete there sometimes.” (My roommates and I were on the gymnastics team- the older brother, Chainey, eventually making the ’96 U.S. Olympic Team). The guy who asked Greg the question just shook his head and thought my roommate was so out of touch because Greg thought he meant had he been to Arizona State University; but what he really was asking is, had Greg attended any African Student Union group meetings.
UCLA is heralded as diverse and multicultural. That might be. But rather than a melting pot, half of what I saw were self-segregationists. On my way to class, down Bruin Walk, I could see the Chinese Student Union members mingling at the steps of Kerkhoff Hall; on the other side, ASU members hung out together. I attended one Pilipino student group meeting, and found myself turned off by the rhetoric of activism, which had an “Us vs. Them” mentality of persecution. I, as a non-Filipino, felt alienated because I didn’t identify myself through my skin-color. They didn’t know this, and probably thought I fit right in, due to my shared Malay heritage.
In college, I largely slept-walked (is that even a phrase? Does it matter? It is one now…) through student political activism and consciousness. That is probably a good thing, because even though my father always voted Republican, I was not “overtly” raised on conservative values and principles. My dad is not particularly political. He never really told me “You should think this way, you should not think that way” when it came to political thought. So, really, I was pretty ripe pickings for liberal indoctrination. It happened to some degree. Being an English major, I read a number of modern American literature focused on issues of multiculturalism and racism, with teachers to match. My poly sci professor came to class in tie-dye and Grateful Dead concert t-shirts, jeans, and sandals. He was a Marxist.
Liberalism was all around me, and somehow I was innoculated from much of the “damaging”, “brainwashing” effects, even without understanding and being exposed to conservative ideology.
It was only after 9/11, that my political conservative gene was activated. The events of 9/11 shaped my political identity and forced me to exercise a voice in the political direction that this country heads into. Responsibility for the future rests with each of us. I realize now, that there are no sidelines. No fence-sitting. Politics is vital to shaping our values, upholding our traditions, and steering the direction that our country heads into, in a post-9/11 world.
Going back to the NYTimes article….
My opinion is strictly my own and I do not pretend to speak for every person adopted by parents of a different ethnicity. That being said, I strongly disagree with the parents who feel it is necessary to force cultural heritage studies upon a child, based upon the child’s ethnic makeup and native culture. Especially if the child expresses non-interest. The Chinese adopted girls do not need to be raised to know intimately, Chinese culture. What they do need to be raised on, are American heritage, American values, American traditions. The adoptive parents are misguided if they feel obligated to give their child a Chinese name and raise a Chinese kid. What they need to do, is they need to raise an American kid and impart the knowledge, traditions, heritage, family history, religious beliefs, that they are familiar with.
My college roommates are now both doctors. They did not embrace Afrocentrism and black separatist nationalism. Nor have they been white-washed simply because they speak perfectly good English, have kept their “slave names”, and embrace and contribute to mainstream American society. That is not being “a sell out”. It’s participating in the American dream. It is enjoying the fruits of their labor in the land of golden opportunities. A country where any citizen regardless of race, gender, or class can grow up to become president.
Diversity is our strength; assimiliation, the glue that binds us all together. E(x) pluribus unum. Out of many, one.
Multiculturalism, as it is preached today, is not about celebrating the beauties of other cultures and appreciating mixed heritages. In the hands of leftists, it is about separatism and narcissism. It is the selfish need to replace already established American values and traditions with one’s native values and traditions. All cultures are not equal, when it comes to the historical shaping and founding of America. I am neither Jew, nor Christian; but I fully acknowledge and appreciate that it is what is commonly referred to as our Judeo-Christian values that enables us to tolerate, welcome, and embrace all other cultural heritages. That is at the core of America. When immigrating to this country, the core must be adopted. It is up to immigrants who wish to be American to adapt to American customs and values; not the other way around. Otherwise, we will dissolve into a nation of many nations and many people. Not one nation and one people. I am all for adding one’s unique cultural flavor to the mix; but I am not for replacing the established American “core” culture with one’s own.
So, who do you now see when you look at the photo at the top?
I see a young boy who will grow up secure in his own identity; who acknowledges his ethnic roots, but is not bound to it by the divisiveness of race and skin color. I see my past which came to shape my present.
And here I am, a proud and grateful American.
Happy Independence Day, my fellow Americans!