Thinking back to my original blog post on the subject to Orientalism, I come up a bit unsatisfied and bit miffed. I never could figure out until now. Mainly that my exploration into the “Orient”‘s perspective of the west ended during the Second Opium War. With the topic of Orientalism moving on to the modern day I think I should I continue the story. But before I do so I thought I should try to answer why I’m doing this, simply put everybody else is doing their thing on West to East, I thought I might try as well do the other side.

I call this Eastern fascination with the west Occidentalism, from Latin Occiden, meaning west. In my opinion this entire idea can best be embodied in one word, Kare. You know in America how we have faux Chinese instant noodle with flavoring which as Iris points out is basically just sesame oil. Well in Japan the have something called Kare. Kare comes from the English word curry, which comes from the Tamil word Kari. Its nothing like actual Indian curry and you can find it in pre-made cubes in boxes in most grocery stores. That’s right, Japan has its own Orientalism for India.

And its not just that. You know in America how it’s not too uncommon for a person to have a tattoo of a Chinese character, one often drawn incorrectly or taken out of context, well Japan has it as well. Mostly in the form of t-shirts with English writing on it, often times out of context or with incorrect grammar.

Finally this brings me to my main point, isn’t this a good thing? People from all across the world are taking an interest other cultures. Instead of shunning them out they are seeing them as worthy enough to make their own.

Orientalism and Embracing the Asian-ness

On Monday, I found myself reading through the blog posts on Orientalism and one in particular caught my eye. Alex’s! I read through it about 3 times and thought about how it must have been for him adjusting when it came to cultures inside his home and outside in the South (which has the reputation of the conservative, all-white land). He said something that caught my attention: that he resisted being Asian. When I read that, I was shocked. How could anyone want to resist Asian culture? Then I realized that, although Alex and I are both Chinese, the way that we were raised is completely different (of course that applies to everyone but in this case let’s just stick with this).

Although I’m Chinese and I was born in China, I have white parents! It’s not something I reveal super openly unless someone asks but it’s also nothing I’m ashamed of. Growing up in an all-white family confusing (to say the least). I always looked at these big family pictures and wondered why I looked so different than the rest of my family. So, when I was younger, I made it my mission to embrace everything in the culture I was born into. That being said, not EVERYTHING, but culturally, I tried to understand my roots. As I grew up, I slowly became exposed to the different aspects of Chinese culture (whether it was bad Chinese food or instant ramen that was “oriental” flavored– which is really just sesame oil..). Obviously, the exposure to actual, rich, Chinese culture was lackluster growing up except for the one trip I took to Beijing with my family when I was 4 (which I barely remember).

However, growing up in a society that barely highlights the Asian race, it was hard to fully understand my Chinese identity. Orientalism has always been interesting because it’s how other people view Asians; it covers the “ideal standard” of Asian women in particular, from a very male-centric view. Of course, this standard for Asian women spread like wildfire and now infects Chinese culture today and often makes me super paranoid (as I have a Chinese step-mom who is the classic Chinese mother). However, because I was unable to have an “authentic” Chinese childhood, I took it to my own hands to abide by the stereotypical Chinese girl throughout middle school. Turns out, I’m absolutely awful at math and science and I’m equally as awful at test-taking so I gave up on that pretty quickly.

Nevertheless, the western view on Chinese men and women in particular shone in media in the pest decades and still is very much in effect today. At least from my perspective, I tried to soak it all up when I was younger to obtain the status of “true Asian” because apparently I’m not due to my parents (or as I’ve been told by some stupid little elementary schooler when I was younger). The Asian stereotypes shown in the media, I think, have a particularly strong effect on adopted kids, such as myself. I’ve seen it go 2 ways before: orientalism and the ideals that westerners have put on Asians are either 1) completely ignored and they go the opposite way or 2) completely soaked up which leads to the attempt of being the “stereotypical Asian”. Again, this is from my own experience with other adoptees. I think I’m losing sight of what I meant to highlight in this post; which was, to say, the Chinese culture perspective is awesomely different when it comes to comparing someone with a native Chinese background and someone who is an adopted Chinese.

Oh, and, don’t even get me started about how westerners have viewed Chinese girl adoptees in the past. But I won’t get to that. Maybe another time.

The Secret of Stories

At the beginning of Chapter 12, while Rahel is at the temple Roy’s words stood out to me about the “secret” formula of stories. While being home I have been watching a lot of movies that my parents liked to watch in the 80’s and around that time. Roy describes the Power of Stories and why people choose to rewatch a movie or reread a specific book even after multiple years, and they still enjoy it as much as they did the first time.

The secret of the Great Stories is that they have no secrets. The Great Stories are the ones you have heard and want to hear again. The ones you can enter anywhere and inhabit comfortably. They don’t deceive you with thrills and trick endings. They don’t surprise you with the unforeseen. (218)

While the first part of the quote may seem unimportant at first, this is exactly the reason books or movies continue to be popular even though it has been years since they came out and are labeled “classics.” But the second part of the quote is what really ties it all together.

They are as familiar as the house you live in. Or the smell of your lover’s skin. You know how they end, yet you listen as though you don’t. In the way that although you know that one day you will die, you live as though you won’t. In the Great Stories you know who lives, who dies, who finds love, who doesn’t. And yet you want to know again. (218)

This was giving me flashbacks to the beginning of the year when we talked about the power of stories, which I think especially is true with God of Small Things. The language and the characters are “fresh and different” the book is something different and has a different feeling when you read it. I think something that makes this book so enjoyable is because the book from the beginning is familiar and easy to enjoy. It doesn’t require a lot of deep thinking, but is still able to communicate a deeper meaning. Overall, this quote really made me think about all of the books and even movies that I reread and rewatch and the reason I keep doing it even though I already know everything that happens.

The Most Important Sentence in the Novel “God of Small Things”

When I initially read the first chapter of God of Small Things, I was feeling very confused. There were so many names, relationships and situations mentioned in the first chapter, and I struggled to keep up and retain this new information.

After a closer analysis of the first chapter and its crucial application and introduction to the rest of the story and many themes of the book, I have realized that this confusing chapter is crucial to understanding the larger meaning of the book as a whole.

More specifically, the last few lines of the chapter really got me thinking…

That it really began in the days when the Love Laws were made. The laws that lay down who should be loved, and how. And how much.

God Of Small Things, page 33

This last sentence of the first chapter basically explains the meaning of the text, the differences and disparities between the classes.

As I continued to read farther into the novel, I began to connect more and more information to that in the first chapter. The first chapter acted as a “flash forward,” as it explained to the audience many of the big events that occurred, such as Sophie Mol’s death, and how theses events have had a profound impact on the lives of the family.

The first chapter, more specifically, the last sentence of the first chapter establishes the overall theme of the novel, and it gets the audience to begin making connections and uncover the layers of the theme and meaning.

As I finish the novel, I am looking forward to uncovering new dimensions and layers to the theme of this novel that were established in the very first chapter. The first chapter of God of Small Things peaked my interest in both the novel itself, as well as the themes and historical and cultural context present in the book.

Colorism Lies Everywhere

It’s really interesting for me to be reading God of Small Things and also this book called The Blacker the Berry for my African American History Class. One book highlights the disparities between those in an Indian culture, and the other highlights the disparities between those in an African American culture.

I’m pretty sure God of Small Things never fully said that the Paravans were all dark in complexion, but based off of the descriptions of the paravans in comparison with the Mol family it seemed that their color also had a play in the caste system.

In Blacker the Berry, the basis of the book so far is colorism and how a dark skinned girl is continuously discriminated against and seen as less than just because she is dark.

It’s so interesting to me that even when people of color have to deal with racism and general discrimination and oppression of their people, they even create ranks inside of their own culture. And much of it is based on how light your skin is.

I know that being more fair was seen as more attractive in white people as well in the past, and there is a degree of colorism in almost every single ethnic group. It really makes me wonder how the idea that being lighter is better even came about it in the first place. Colorism is still very much alive and well today.

Orientalism and its Prevalence Today

I had always thought that Orientalism and the word Oriental itself was simply just racist towards Asian individuals. I do still think that, but it was interesting to hear Said’s point of view on it. He worked to see “past” its racism and instead studied it objectively and historically to try to figure out why Americans have such an “us” and “them” mindset. But God of Small Things showed that some people who live in Asia may have that same mindset, but view being American or being from the west as a positive, while it’s the opposite for Western folks.

Although the video of Said and his book on Orientalism are from quite a while ago, the Eurocentric view of Asian people has remained and nothing has made that more clear than the Corona Virus.

On countless occasions I have overheard people confidently say such uncomfortable and harmful things about Chinese people because the virus originated from there. It seems like everyone is forgetting that the most harmful and murderous diseases came from Europe. But of course as soon as something comes from Asia it is suddenly all of their faults and their way of life is now being constantly criticized. It’s also been crazy to see how the media has used Asian people in pictures when reporting on the virus when it made no sense to.

The only way to truly understand why people are so quick to say such ignorant remarks is to trace it back historically. I think we all take part in reinforcing ingroups and outgroups, and I don’t think they’re always bad. But when it comes to blaming a gigantic group of people who are just as guilty (but more like innocent) as you and I, is when it becomes a large and harmful issue.

God of Small Things and its Showcase of Broken Rules

I would like to start off with my opinion of novel, and I must say, it was not necessarily a favorite. I think the imagery throughout the novel was nice, and I enjoyed how certain characters developed throughout the story. But many times I was left absolutely confused. I think that may have been intentional as questions I had were answered throughout the story, but I think it being written that was didn’t allow readers to truly make connections with the characters and their stories and personal struggles. My favorite character was Velutha, simply because he seemed to have the most depth in character in my opinion.

Although I was not the hugest fan of the novel, I liked how it highlighted the breaking of a number of societal norms, whether they were specific to Ayemenem or just in general.

The first one I noticed was the number of failed marriages. I think divorce is still something people feel ashamed about today (although they should not) and it was interesting to see that almost everyone that was once married in the novel was either divorced or had a terrible marriage (like in Ammu’s mother’s case). And despite it being common in her family, it was still not common in her community. The text states,

Within the first few months of her return to her parents’ home, Ammu quickly learned to recognize and despise the ugly face of sympathy. Old female relations with incipient beards and several wobbling chins made overnight trips to Ayemenem to commiserate with her about her divorce. They squeezed her knee and gloated. She fought off the urge to slap them. Or twiddle their nipples. With a spanner. (43)

Ammu was still treated as if her situation was terrible and incredibly unfortunate just because she was divorced.

Another societal norm that was broken in the novel was the idea of a loving and supportive mother. Ammu seemed anything but that most of the time. She obviously loved her kids, but her love for them was often volatile and detached. Ammu literally said that she “loved her children but their wide-eyed vulnerability and their willingness to love people who didn’t really love them exasperated her and sometimes made her want to hurt them — just as an education, a protection(pg 42).” I don’t really think that’s much of a nurturing mother way of thinking. And when she did things like shrug her kids off when they were embracing her, or telling Rahel she loved her less the epitome of a detached love that lacks insight on how her actions affect her children.

There is also the biggest societal role broken when Rahel and Estha slept together, which I really did not enjoy (but I’m sure that was the point). I was kind of expecting it as the book went on and highlighted their closeness and their “oneness.” But it was just so weird.

Orientalism, Racism, and the Coronavirus Pandemic

On March 14th in Midland, Texas, an Asian-American family was brutally attacked and stabbed in a Sam’s Club store by a man because “he thought the family was Chinese and infecting people with the coronavirus,” (ABC News). This is just one example of many hate crimes against Asian-Americans have occurred in the United States and around the world.

In addition to this, President Trump has repeatedly, and purposely, referred to the coronavirus as the “Chinese Virus”, which only further amplifies prejudice against Asian-Americans during this time.

These examples of racism towards Asian-Americans can be considered as modern Orientalism, which is still very present in the United States and around the globe.

Orientalism is defined as the belief among Europeans and Americans that Arab and Asian societies are “exotic, backward, uncivilized, and at times dangerous” (Reclaiming Identity: Dismantling Arab Stereotypes).

As defined, both the man who attacked the family in Sam’s Club, as well as President Trump, who referrers to the coronavirus in an incorrect and racist manner, are examples of how Orientalism is present today, during a global pandemic.

Orientalism is not dead, and it never has been. During this time of global crisis and at all other times, it is important to destroy these racist stereotypes that Asian-Americans are currently living with, as they are in fear for their lives. During this period of uncertainty, it is essential that everyone from around the globe stands together as one in order to defeat both the coronavirus, and the racism that is incorrectly being associated with this pandemic.