Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Half n Half--dedicated to Lou Jing and the Fifty Percenters

(doesn't that just have the great ring of, like, a rock band? "Now coming to the stage, Lou Jing and the Fifty Percenters!")

At work the other day talking to my mother, who has, in a big way, gotten excited about my upcoming nuptials. She said to me, "The other day, I met my granddaughter."

Pause. "What?"

"The other day, I met my granddaughter."

I am so careful about my body, and I have a pretty good sense of what does and doesn't live in my uterus, so I knew she wasn't talking about me. I braced for some story of a half brother who had a kid somewhere, which would have been earth-shattering news. She continued. "I was in a meeting, and I met this young woman, whose father was Chinese, and her mother was African-American. Her name was Vivian, and she was so sweet, and I thought to myself, 'this is what my granddaughter will look like.' Isn't that cool?"

Insert bemused exhale of awkward laughter here. "Oh, Mom, that's funny. I was confused for a minute. Wow. That's funny."

The other day she sent me an article about how interracial couples can celebrate their Thanksgiving. She is oh, so excited about the interracial nature of my marriage (less so about its interfaith nature), and she's hosting Christmas dinner this year, wherein she's invited my future in-laws. Who knows whether or not they'll accept her invitation, or if they've even gotten it yet, but it's curious.

I have lost count of the amount of white people who smile at my fiance and me and tell us how beautiful our children will be. My mother, who is not white, has also said such things, but I know she just can't wait to run her fingers through the good hair she hopes our kids will have. I had a friend in college who swore that interracial kids were crazy as loons because the world is the kind of place that makes a person choose who he will be, makes him identify one way or another, and because they couldn't or didn't, it made them all "fucked up" on the inside. Her logic had echoes of the One Drop Rule about it. I used to think maybe she was onto something, in my bleaker, less tolerant days of viewing the world, but I don't know about that anymore. It was ten years ago she said this to me, and maybe her view has changed, but I like to think (and have lots of evidence to support it) that maybe the world has changed. But I could be wrong. Maybe the world is still the kind of place that makes people choose what piece of themselves they will signify. I've been hearing/reading really interesting things about Asian countries that aren't so tolerant of the shrinking world and the fact that it requires their bloodline to blend with others. Economic success does not always instantly create a modern nation with modern ideas. Lou Jing would be the first to testify that the world is as narrow minded and racist as I think it could be, as it used to be. But maybe that's not true, or is becoming less true, at least here in the States. There might be more pioneering people than I think who are in relationship with someone racially or religiously different than themselves, and they may be making the country a different kind of place. Maybe it's some weird cognitive need in the brain to put people into little categories, and any time there's someone who refuses to go, or it freaks us out. But maybe our cognition is changing; I don't know.

But this community of people who are dialoging about the piece of them that is Jewish and the piece of them that's not, and how those two pieces fit together, it interests me. While there are absolutely no pieces of me that are Jewish, I'm jumping in, in a big way, to a culturally blended life. It's not always an easy thing to get on board with, and let's be real, it's just as hard for me to wrestle with sometimes as it is for others to wrestle with. My sweetheart has told hundreds of folks about how challenging it can be, blending his Asian-American culture with my African-American one, and despite how well-written and hilarious it is, it's just his side. He'll be the first person to tell you that when I try to connect with him over what and how he identifies as Chinese or Asian American, he freaks out like a poodle in a thunderstorm. (Well, he might not put it like that, but trust me, he gets really touchy.)

I am convinced that whether or not he is able to recognize it, part of who he is and who he comes from is defined by his race, by his ethnicity, and by the experience he had being the first generation American in his family born in this country. I am convinced that there are parts of him that are Asian, and he simply doesn't know that because he didn't grow up in an Asian country, where everyone else was just like him. I begin to believe that part of our struggle as an interracial couple is the hyper-awareness either of us feels when we engage in each other's community and feel, either by the nature of the group or by something happening inside ourselves, like the outsider.

I know children who are bi-racial. If I have children they will be bi-racial, and the fact that more of the world than I'm comfortable with still hasn't learned yet how to cope with the growing nature of multi-racial individuals that are our citizens, our teachers and doctors, our world leaders. They don't seem "fucked up", to quote my girlfriend. Maybe the ability to rear children who can acknowledge and understand themselves doesn't lie on them, but lies with us. It's on us to teach our children where they come from. It's on us to help equip them with such a solid identity that when the world tries to make the choose to go one direction or the other, they can reject that narrow mindedness and know that they get to be whoever they are, without having to pigeonhole themselves, or be pigeonholed by the rest of the world. They can love their Christian and their Jewish. They can wear locks and qipao without a hint of irony. They can celebrate Cinco de Mayo, pray to the east five times a day, and get a tattoo of an Irish crest because they are honoring all parts of themselves.

I have no idea how my sweetheart and I will feel about our hypothetical, theoretical multi-culti kids. I have a few ideas of how we might raise them, if we have them, to know and love and be proud of and identify with, all parts of themselves, the Ohio State parts and the artistic parts and the math science and tech parts and the soul food parts and the vegetarian parts and the yogic parts and the Mandarin parts and all the little parts that he and I will pour into them. I have even less awareness of what parts of them will be present already in their play-dough soft psyches. Right now, I'm not in a hurry to have a kid as a cultural ethnographic experiment. I'm more interested in just observing and participating in the dialogue of what it means to be yourself, and how you identify yourself in a world that is both shrinking and growing more frightened of difference every day.

No comments: