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.

2 thoughts on “Orientalism and Embracing the Asian-ness

  1. Yes, Iris, your perspective is powerful. Thank you so much for your willingness to share something — and a great reminder that true mutual recognition — of seeing some as fully human — is to understand that their experience is truly unique. One of the insidious parts of stereotypes is they create this binary between, you are either fulfilling the stereotype or you are defying it, when it is often a much more complicated negotiation — in your case, because American culture has never given you full representations of Asian and Chinese culture through which to explore you identity in a safe way.

    Not that our conversation about Orientalism has been perfect or complete, but it has been refreshing to have such a variety of specifically Chinese and Chinese American experiences represented.

    Like

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