Measured Extravagance

15 July 2003 - 6:14 p.m.

Manish K. Mishra sums up some of "otherizing" (both negative and positive) Asian UUs face. Kok Heong McNaughton's GA Journal includes the following musing:

A non-Asian UU friend wants to know, "A/PIUUs are telling the rest of us UUs that we are doing it all wrong, or not enough. But you don't tell us how we can do it right, or what to do to make it right." As I was riding up the elevator with many things going through my head, certain neurons snapped together and the word "suspension" kept popping up. Suspension of disbelief. Suspension of judgment. Likewise, suspension of quick connections. When a "clueless white folk" asks, "Where are you from?" of an Asian/PI or any minority person or of a person with an accent, this person is attempting to make a quick and easy connection through opening up dialogue around this question. What does the person gain with this knowledge but some small advantage to a quick and easy opener? Suspend the question. Slow down, let the information find its way out at its own pace. Don't be too quick to connect at this level. I am wondering now: is this level of connection is a deep level or a casual level. I tend to think it is the former. Perhaps that's why some of us feel uncomfortable with this simple question. I don't speak for the entire Asian American community (to quote Frank Wu), I am not upset by being asked where I am from. It's because I wasn't born and raised in the USof A. I can understand how those who were born in raised here feel about such a question. It tells them that they are strangers in their own land.

I've been reflecting a bit on how out-of-step the whole identity politics miasma can make me feel - not just in regards to race but also religion and even economic attitudes. No wonder I'm so allergic to the royal "we" (or even worse, "we all"), even from the groups with whom I am an affiliate or an ally. I have neither the time or inclination at this moment to unpack all of the whys and wherefores, other than to quote the narrator of S.P. Somtow's The Vampire's Beautiful Daughter - under the barrage of a teacher's effusions over his ancestry, he blurts out, "It's a pain in the ass." I don't have a problem with friends collecting netsuke or studying Mandarin or raving over fabrics from India or geeking out over Jackie Chan, but for the love of God, I'm tired of being expected to be an expert on "authentic" Chinese cuisine and my second-best language is French and while I'd like to master brush calligraphy someday, it has little to do with my ancestry and much more to do with the limits of metal nibs.

Sigh. The short of it is, most days I have a decent grip on the fact that I will never "belong" - not to the Asians, not to the Americans, not to the Unitarian Universalists, not to the Jews, not to the feminists, not to the GLBT tribe, not to the writers-with-a-capital-W, not to the academics, not a true hedonist, certainly pure of neither heart nor mind - oh, hell, the list goes on and on and you get the idea. It's fine, really - complacency is the enemy of mindfulness, mindfulness is essential to the work of bearing witness - oh, what I'm really trying to say is that most days I can deal with the fact that I'm muddling along to the beat of the proverbial different drummer and doing my best not to stomp on other people's feet in the process and that seems to work out okay (and that some of the other odd ducks and wallflowers seem to appreciate the spectacle). Some days, though, it's a little more upsetting that so much of it wasn't my choice to begin with - that I have to have "Taiwanese, not Chinese" discussions at all, the instant bad attitude that surges up in me when someone says "Ni hao?" before they've heard me utter a single syllable, feeling compelled to ponder whether to join the outrage over tacky Fox programming (the program in question does sound vile, but I'm generally of the opinion that boycotts = unintentional free publicity) - some days it's just a pain in the ass, and I just have to teach myself all over again that "belonging" isn't the issue that matters to me in the end, it's doing good work, and that I get in my own way more often than the molehills I keep tripping over. (Such as wasting precious time knotting myself up over this stuff instead of getting on with my work. Gah!)

Moving to another realm of translation (and identity, for that matter): it's funny how a meme morphs amongst its carriers. Following Mer's specifications, I have very few films to choose from, not having much of a "personal library" (and not having made enough time to go through all of it yet. I still haven't finished watching the RSC adaptation of Nicholas Nickleby that I splurged on nearly ten years ago. . .)

Echo Soup (a documentary by my friend Daniel Baer)
FOTR (Extended Edition)
Monteverdi's Il Ritorno d'Ulisse in Patria (1972 Glyndebourne Festival - Janet Baker)

Outrage casts the question more simply: "What three movies could you pick to describe your personality?" Presumably not restricted to one's own collection. In which case:

The Red Violin
Fanny and Alexander

One year ago: "Those whom you love will steer you."

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