Sunday, November 15, 2009

Open Letter to Lou Jing

Dearest Lou Jing,

I recently heard about your troubles on National Public Radio here in America, and I am so sincerely sorry for the scrutiny, cruelty and ignorance you and your mother have had to endure. It's absolutely awful to think hear that people can be so hateful and judgmental, can have such narrow minds. Frankly, I was surprised to learn that such things happen in China. I naively tend to think that this kind of racism is a uniquely American sensibility. Given the history of my country, what race means, how race relates to what defines an American, and how people of various races and ethnicities engage each other here is complicated to say the least. But evidently people in Asian countries have a huge identity crisis of how their nationality is defined, and how that relates to race.

My fiancé’s parents are from Taiwan. I imagine that Taiwanese citizens have a kind of identity crisis on their own, having been the original Chinese government that was ousted with the rise of communism. So while my fiancé considers himself Chinese, he also considers himself American, and to a much greater extent. I know little about how his parents identify: I know they grew up speaking dialects different from each other, and so in their home they speak Mandarin or English, the two languages they have in common. I know they came to the states to study, wound up marrying each other and raised a family here. They are naturalized citizens, and while they may also still consider themselves Taiwanese, or even Chinese, they can call themselves Americans in the truest sense of the word.

However I know that my country is full of people who would not treat them as such. There are people who will hear their accented speech and notice the difference in their eyes, hair and skin, and would make racist, hateful remarks, would pepper them with insults and epithets, and try to ensnare them with cleverly worded, sarcastic jokes about racist stereotypes. That kind of thing happens in this country all the time.

My own ancestors came to this country from Africa. I think; I don't really know: for all I know, they may have come from Haiti or Jamaica or some other country. But I know I am descended from slaves, which grants me the label African American in the States. Despite the fact that my ancestors helped build this country, that I was born here and have lived her all my life, there are still those who would shout at me, "Go back to Africa!" as if some country in Africa were my home. It may be true that Africa is in an ancestral sense my home; but America is my home. I am a product of America, made in the U.S.A., and consider myself an American. I reject the idea some might subconsciously hold that Americans are all fair-skinned or light-eyed, and anyone who looks different is an import. White Americans forget that they too were imports in this country.

I have heard tell of the kind of racism that causes Frenchmen to ghettoize Arabs in Paris; the kind of racism that causes European imperialists to prefer one African tribe over another, creating the genocide of millions; of Germans purporting a Master race and exterminating all whom they decide are "the other". So I suppose I shouldn't have been at all surprised to hear about your misfortune at the hands and mouths of your fellow citizens; it was just an example of the people displaying the worst part of themselves. Nevertheless I was. When I learned about how your countrymen treated you so poorly for looking different than they do, despite the fact that you are all citizens of the same country, I was saddened, and it made me wonder if this kind of xenophobia is more common among Asian countries than I knew. I suppose you have a lot to be proud of as a nation; but no country is without its secrets and its flaws, and this kind of behavior is among them.

My fiancé recently sent me this article about mixed race young people--who are part Korean, part something else--and how they cope with their identity in the face of others who judge and alienate them so harshly. These young people have faced similar struggle in their home country of South Korea. It must not give you any comfort at all, but let it remind you that you are not alone in your struggle to create a life for yourself, while being able to be yourself without being ashamed of who you are.

I like thinking of your desire to study abroad, and your hope to study journalism in New York. New York is an amazing city, incredibly sophisticated and cosmopolitan, full of opportunity and diversity. But please do not be deceived. There are a growing number of people in this country who are multi-racial, much to my delight, and if my fiancé and I choose to have a family our kids, like you, will be among them, a few of the amazing group that help to diversify the fabric of America. But do not think that the kind of intolerance you have faced in China does not exist here; it does. It is perhaps more subtle than the discrimination you have faced of late, but it is here, and it is as much a part of our American fabric as our diversity is.

Let me end by saying, finally, that I think you are beautiful. You have a young, sweet face, and skin that absolutely belies your age: you won't show your age for years, I think. Lucky girl ;) You are beautiful. You look absolutely like the face of China. Be strong and be encouraged.

Much love,
Jessica M. Young

1 comment:

Laura said...

Great article! I'm going to use this in my ESL class (half Chinese students and half Latinos) -- it should spark some interesting discussion and will connect perfectly to some stories that we're reading. Thanks for putting this out there!