Tuesday, January 1, 2013

What makes an American, "American"?

first, wishing you a belated....

Sheng Dan Kuai Le!   Merry Christmas!    annnnnd    Xin Nian Kuai Le!      Happy New Year!

New for the new year....
this blog has been given a new address. KatysASIAadventureS.

"An East Coast Girl In The Far East" is still the title .... but since I figure I'll be spending a few years exploring different countries in the region- AND because I'm currently living in ROC Taiwan and not PRC China,  Katy's China Adventure ... seemed limited.

so the new address is http://www.katysasiaadventures.blogspot.com

I've been thinking about nationality a lot while living here.... both in Taiwan and in China. Thinking about my own "nationality" ... what it means to be "American". I really think, it depends who you ask - what "generation" of American you ask. I remember vividly, back around 2OO4, having a conversation with one of my old co-workers who was born in the US, but her family was from Greece -so she was first generation born in the US. She spoke Greek, knew many Greek dances, ate many Greek foods, went to a Greek Orthodox church in Brooklyn, lived in a predominately Greek neighborhood in Brooklyn...

She said "No one is 'from America' .... everyone is from somewhere else!" I agreed with her at the time, I could see what she meant. Living in New York, growing up -even in the "suburbs" of NYC- going to Sacred Heart Catholic School in Yonkers- from 1st to 3rd grade- until we moved further upstate- I had school friends from India - Zeena, Portugal- Maria, Ireland- Andrea, Germany- Addie, etc .... most of them either first generation born in the US OR straight off the boat from another country- coming to the US when they were 2 or 3 yrs old.

New York is one of the most diverse cities/states in the US so yes, it may LOOK like "everyone is from somewhere else" .... but, especially now living abroad, I KNOW that there ARE things that make us AMERICAN. - and even more specifically there ARE things that make NEW YORKERS, NEW YORKERS ....  especially when you get past the 1st generation born in the US and move on to the 2nd, 3rd generation, etc.

My father is first generation IRISH AMERICAN. His parents both born in Ireland. Despite the big age differences, I can see similarities between my father and my Greek-American friend/co-worker. Both raised in homes that were trying to preserve their heritage despite being in a new country. But in Ireland. my grandparents spoke English- so there was no urgency to preserve the language or fear of learning a new language.  Bur religion and culture were "big deals" ....

Go to Catholic church every Sunday and "Bring Home The Right Race" -- sounds awkward/ very inappropriate nowadays - especially for a "New Yorker!"  BUT it's something that my father was told by my grandmother when he was dating. My father's first cousin married a GERMAN man and, from what I've heard, it was a BIG controversy at that time- esp just after World War II, BUT they've been married for YEARS now - he worked running a successful car dealership selling Mercedes, they had 2 children, grandchildren, and .... it's all good.

 I knowwww at one point my father dated a girl named Lisa Sabatini- so obviously he loved the Italian girls too ;P .. but he ended up marrying my mother a- MOSTLY Irish father's side / Half Engish-French-Spanish mother's side- woman that my grandmother approved of. Luckily, I was never given that rule. I wasn't given the "Bring Home The Right Sex" rule either - because despite being spiritual/religious, my parents have never used religion as something to instill fear. "Just do the right thing"... "Be nice to each other" .... "find a good person who loves you and is good to you" - is pretty much what I was told - especially after coming out. My mother still "tries to understand" ... and we sometimes have these .... "conversations that go nowhere..." it's just her wondering.... but she's not afraid of what other people think. As long as her children are being good people, she's not worried about the afterlife. Her faith is stronger than that. Sooooo .... as a "2nd generation" born in the US - the "rules" may be different.

Similarly to my "first generation Irish-American father"- who lived in an Irish neighborhood, went to Catholic school, played golf, etc. ... My Greek/American friend was sent to Greece every summer to live with relatives, make friends, in the hopes of finding a boyfriend/husband.... which she eventually did/brought him to the US/ and they married and had children.

Living in China and now Taiwan, I see mostly ASIAN faces. BUT I KNOW that there are many cultures within each Asian race. "White" is not a culture, "Yellow" isn't either. What makes a Taiwanese person Taiwanese? What makes an American American? .... What makes a Chinese person Chinese? .... For myself, I've realized that I self-identify as an "New Yorker" first. Then "Irish-American" and then "American". Because I know.... "American"... is so many different things. BUT at the same time WE are NOT British or Canadian.... there IS something inherently "American" about Americans .... I would say it's our "more aggressive" in general nature - not afraid to speak our minds- but then again, maybe that's a New Yorker thing -  and our love of freedom of speech. Some others might say..... fast food, guns, and war .... :-/  I guess it depends who you ask.

I am assumed to be a "waiguoren" here in Asia because I LOOK different - and I don't speak Mandarin fluently. People have assumed I'm Canadian/English/American .... I've gotten all three at different times.

BUT what IF someone moved to Taiwan - a "white/European" person  and married another "white/European" person and they had successful jobs here, learned to speak/read Mandarin fluently and went on to have children .... who spoke/read/wrote in Mandarin, considered Taiwan their home, but LOOKED different.... looked "WHITE" .... would those children be accepted as Taiwanese?

"Wo bu shi waiguoren ..... Wo shi Taiwan ren!" "I'm not a foreigner, I'm Taiwanese!" is something that I'm dying to say, tongue in cheek, to the next person who asks me where I'm from. Actually, it's cute because on the rare occasion when I've *gasp* spoken Mandarin -!!!!- in my 7-8 yr old SPEC 2 class, one or two of my students will giggle and say "Laoshi, ni shi Taiwan ren!"  "Teacher, you are Taiwanese!" I had another student, 6 yr old Natali, last year in China ask me *which language* my parents spoke at home "English or Chinese"...

So maybe it's possible to BE Chinese, to BE Taiwanese, to BE Indian ...despite looking so WHITE EUROPEAN- without sharing similar genetics. I've asked my British co-workers here about people in Britain. In the US we say "African-American, Hispanic/Latino-American, Irish-American, etc...." to define ourselves, but apparently they don't do that in England. If you are born in England -despite having African/Indian/Hispanic heritage- you are British. That's it.

I'm hoping the same can be true in Asia. I feel like PRC CHINA thinks that everyone is the SAME between China and Taiwan. They feel that, that's "good enough reason" to "reunite" the two countries ..... but it's not true. To be CHINESE ... even second or third generation Chinese-American or Taiwanese-American .... is all very different. There are many different ethnic groups within each country. I had an AMERICAN - boss - who was ethnically Chinese but who did not speak the language- 3 yrs ago in NYC, tell me that she would never move to China, just because you LOOK the SAME, DOESN'T MEAN you ARE the SAME.

I guess that's what I'm getting at.

Also, the longer you live in a new country, the more likely you are to speak the language. Back to my Greek friend - her sister had two sons - the older one spoke Greek at home, but the younger one would always respond in English after being spoken to in Greek .... I remember her telling me, his older brother would say "speak Greek!!!" It's fascinating to see how cultures/countries/moving affects us.

I think speaking the language of WHATEVER country you are in, is helpful .... it definitely draws you into the culture and you can see that people become more at ease and comfortable.... I've seen it happen here ...speaking Mandarin with a father at my school - he looked much more comfortable and engaged, like we were old friends - after having the smallest bit of conversation about New York/China/Taiwan/Teaching, etc.

What do you think? How do you identify yourself? ....

There are lots of mixed families here too ... which is slowly changing the landscape. If/when on the rare occasion I've seen them out in Taipei, I've seen mostly white/European men and Asian wives with their kids, but also I've seen one or two White/European woman with Asian husbands .... and kids.

In China at my old school, I saw a Chinese woman with a Black African-British- husband, a Chinese woman with a Scandinavian husband. In Taiwan, I've seen mostly American/British and Taiwanese ...

so, our world is becoming much smaller ....
and I hope we can all find our "home" within it - whether we look like our neighbors or not.


1 comment:

  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.