Sunday, July 24, 2011

INTERRACIAL RELATIONS - GUESTPOST BY WAIMAN KO

The following essay is by Waiman Ko in the Netherlands, whom I am very pleased to have guestposting here.
It presents a point of view which you may not have seen represented on this blog before.
Please read it, and leave your comments.

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WAIMAN KO

I am honored to be guest-posting at ATBOTH’s blog as for being a reference and thereby able to be contributing to the dialog about interracial relations at this platform.

On the mentioned Facebook page I've shared my experience of having an interracial relation with a white female about five years ago. I would also like to mention that everything I write here is from my own experience and is from my perspective. I've used this experience for this guest-post to show the intensity of the context that is unspoken within the story. And it is with the sources I have used and gained throughout life to write this guest-post. I say this because the next story might feel very private.

I actually made my white ex wait for two months before making it official between us. I said: 'I want to be sure that this is the right choice and that I can take the consequences.' What would the people think of this kind of relationship? Would I be ok with it? Would we stand firm together? How would the families mix? Would they be supportive or not? Could I take the possible damage and fight for our relationship? Having thought it over, I finally said yes. The reason for this is believing the future is uncertain, therefore we would see where the boat floats to...and how hard we would row to save it. Obviously, this is a quite modernistic Western thought or at least here in The Netherlands. As for the two months part, I've graduated on a beta-study and therefore have been educated with analytical manners. I tried to be thoughtful of the possible consequences of the relationship and what I would have to do to maintain the relationship.

At first, I kept it secret for about three months from Chinese people. We would not hold hands on the streets and such. I was very afraid that the Chinese people would know about it and start talking about me and my, at that time, white girlfriend. I've told only my closest friends and nobody else, wailing and waiting for the inevitable. After all....sooner or later people would know about our relationship and the Chinese would catch and judge our story sooner or later.

As three months passed by, my ex became impatient and discomforted by the secrecy of it all. My mom also suspected something was going on as I started to go outside more often. Pressure from both sides made me tell the truth. My ex wanted an honest and a 'nothing to fear' relationship while my mom got enraged about it. She scolded me, yelled at me, told I was an useless kid with a pathetic mind etc. etc. etc. whatever a stereotypic first generation chinese parent would do to crush any identity or character of their children - to show their disappointment and try to instill fear in the child - . To her, she said, it was all about 'my reputation', 'my status', 'my bad competences', 'my lack of money'. I thought she was actually mad about herself, but trying to project her fears onto me.

Since then, my mother would not accept, but 'respect', my ex as a friend that comes by often. Every single day, she would try to talk (then yell) me out of it by trying to make me feel miserable about having a relationship with a white female. About having "mo mien" (no face = getting bad reputation for being with a whitey). Yet, I got raised in a Dutch society with Western, catholic and European humanistic philosophies. And I've thought through my choice, therefore I stood ground and backfired each time with "This is my life and my relationship. I have to learn from this myself. You talk about "mo mien" for me, but you're actually more concerned about having a bad reputation within the small Dutch Chinese social circles yourself! (as she seems to know every important Chinese in The Netherlands...)" Talking about a Westernized Chinese boy right?! Whether it's actually Western or humanistic, I leave that to another discussion because the point is that this was more of a battle of attrition between my mother and me.

She 'already knew' that it would not work out between me and my white ex because she was simply.... white. The families would not be able to communicate with each other and that showed when my parents had dinner with my ex. I would be the translator while my mother looked with dreadful eyes, asking why we're together, how it happened etc.. Any deep or serious conversations were simply impossible. Yes, I already took that into account in the two months of thinking. I simply believed it was possible to bridge cultures as long as everyone would cooperate. After all, everybody's intention should be for the happiness of the two people together right?

Well...my utopian and naive dream went *poof*. When instigating deep conversations, it would lead both my ex and my mother to holding on their own culture, respectively their norms and values. I was very unfortunate to see the differences in cultures and not being able to bridge between them. I could blame it on me or on the others. Point is that from my experience, culture does influence the worldview every person receives towards others.
The attitude of the girl's family might have been innocent and humorously intended with the "ah, at least we'll be getting free egg rolls"-pun. I can't say if that's stereotypical, because this isn't my empirical result. Just a single experience. What I can say is that I do understand what the family has said and that I do believe they've intended to keep it as a joke. Yet, for my ex and for me, it felt quite humiliating. We didn't feel supported by her and neither by my family.
Our friends thought it was brave to stand ground, believing in a relationship possible between two races. However, they didn't know what to say about our relationship. We could presume that they didn't have frameworks to relate to or say that they were too immature to have thought about having an interracial relationship. Or that maybe they wouldn't have ever thought about the possibility. Whatever reasons there might be, they weren’t throughout supportive because they didn't know how and if they could support us. This shows the mindset of Dutch and Chinese adolescents in The Netherlands in 2006 from my experience and what I have seen in similar cases with interracial relationships as subject.

As time flew by, scars started to show in our relationship. Influenced by our own words and deeds as well as the environment, namely the differences in culture or better yet, the differences in norms, values and principles. We were also in a stalemate where the Dutch parents still haven't met the Chinese parents and the Chinese angry mother still didn’t accept the Dutch girl. My mother still hated the fact that I was in a relationship with a whitey because she could not boast about it. She felt ashamed and did not want to even try to understand what I was saying or explaining to her by repeating her statements over and over again.

Then me and my ex eventually broke up. We grew tired of fighting for our stalemate relationship every day. I cried my heart out for a minute and didn't sleep for a night. My mother found out as I stopped going out and she....laughed and said: 'You see! I told you, you stupid kid! You just didn't listen to me. I was right, because I already saw it fail before it has even begun. You just didn't listen to me because you're so stupid! Chinese and Whiteys CANNOT be together. They were never meant to be. You will lose even more face now within your social circles and you're now a laughing stock for everyone. No one ever would want you hereafter and how are you supposed to find a new girl now? huh? You're a worthless son! You can't do anything right. Look at x and y, they have found beautiful wifes and you? You're 19 and still are not married to a Chinese wife. You don't understand the world. You foolish boy.'

I would backfire in anger, saying it was my life, not hers, and I had to learn from it and experience it in my way. This reaction - I couldn't understand - was supposed to be protective towards a son. Yet I could and still can only see it as a incredible destructive way of 'raising a child'. With my perspective, I tried my utter best to border my thoughts between hers and maintain my own beliefs. She might be right though; cultures probably don't mix (well). But I still believed that love shouldn't have boundaries. At least I now knew I had to value those boundaries more. And yet, I'm not sorry for having had a relationship with my ex, or having fought for it every single day.

I deliberately wrote this experience in detail to show the happiness and joy of a Chinese mother when discovering the breakup between a white girl and her little boy. The power of her belief and how strongly her norms and values are embedded into her world view. But also the difficulties I went through by having an interracial relationship with a 'whitey'. It's not strange to start hating my mother for her (psychopathic) verbal reactions, but what I want to point out is the consequence I got from breaking up with a whitey. A relieved Chinese mother who lived in anxiety and shame, playing the victim and perpetuator in eroding my relationship .... and as if fate has struck.... luck comes around and saves her from falling to a fate where she could not boast about her single child and yet-to-be successful son. And I struggled with the hardship of fighting for my ideals every day, perhaps putting the relationship as example and on the line for it.

We could discuss if this is an exceptional case or not and talk about the issues between me and my mom. But if we put this personal experience in a more abstract perspective, we undeniably see the collision of two individuals formed by their cultures they've been raised in. I got raised by Chinese parents in a Dutch (catholic and European humanistic philosophized) society and culture. My parents were raised in China by their Chinese parents and are now living in The Netherlands. Our beliefs are different because my belief is more individually orientated while the belief of my mother is family and reputation related.

Following the stories of 2nd generation Chinese in The Netherlands I have conversed with and have heard of. Their parents wish for a Chinese partner for their child. The spoken reasons are ‘difficulty in communication and misunderstanding the culture’. But I think there are underlying reasons. I would speculate that unwillingness and mistrust in each other’s faith and cooperation would be more basic reasons. Partly because of thinking in fear constructions (‘what if’). Partly because 1st generation Chinese seem to be very sensitive to their environment. And partly because, in my experience, the 1st generation Chinese seem look down on non-Chinese people. “The government always picks on us. You can’t trust whiteys. Only trust Chinese. Whiteys are egocentric. Chinese are always family-orientated. Whiteys backstab you whenever they can." etc. are actually very common (un)spoken thoughts I've been hearing among Chinese people here in The Netherlands. Not only from my family but mostly other 1st generation as well.

I frequently counter this talk by simple mirroring “Oh, so Chinese never backstab? How about gossiping? Blackmailing? Chinese murderers don’t’ exist? The Triads are a myth? Or how about egocentric Chinese (examples)? Arrogantly proud about their rich history? Aren’t those black marks?... have you ever looked at it from the other side? Have you ever thought about looking from the inside AND the outside of your world view?” ....Sadly, when the roles are reversed by me, I’m suddenly a disrespectful big mouth. Isn’t this just plain hypocritical? Yet, you could say it isn’t the wisest choice to counter like that. It could’ve been done more diplomatically. I am just saddened by the disrespectful and ignorant view and presumptions of a lot of 1st generation Chinese in The Netherlands about caucasian cultures, relationships with other cultures and identity. And I know that they know that I was right of showing a different perspective.

Unwillingly to being humble their selves while looking down on other people just for their other line of philosophy and culture. They, luckily, aren’t the only ones in the world and will have to consider respecting other cultures (multiformally). Now, I do want to press the other side of the story as well. The Dutch aren’t as cute, tolerant and nice as you’ve most likely seen the news last couple years about strong right-winged politics in The Netherlands. I wasn’t there when my parents were being bullied and discriminated by racists. I wasn’t there when Dutch people looked down on Chinese immigrants working as waiters in Chinese restaurants. I haven’t seen and heard a lot of things what bad things the Dutch have said about the Chinese in the 1970’s. I've been bullied myself in elementary school. But I can imagine and see that the Dutch would somehow look down on Chinese. Yet I think it’s for a different reason, as the Dutch never really had a ‘Dutch’ history with pure Caucasian Dutch people. They’ve always known multiculturalism and can nag about everything, that’s for sure. This is why they are searching for an identity in good and bad ways while they never had one, in my opinion. But that’s also for another discussion. The point here is that both cultures are for several reasons ignorant towards each other and yet the philosophies (and thereby the world views and frameworks) could learn from both. It’s just that most people (subconsciously) deny that time is a dynamical phenomenon and prefer to stick to their comfortable safe biased ‘only-race-in-the-world’ view. Politically they might say pretty words, but it’s in bad times when you see the real faces. If there would be a human embedded law, I would believe this is one. And if I used this law to reflect on cultures, I would say: both are guilty of being unwilling.

So… is everything cosy and good now having a Chinese girlfriend? Well, no… not really my mother now fights with me everyday about being ‘overdue marrying’ and ‘still having no status, reputation or money’. She actually spoke over the phone with my girlfriend’s mother ‘to try out her mom’s willingness of giving her daughter’s hand’. Well, luckily her mom’s view has been individualized and therefore countered my mom with: ‘HELL NO, she needs to finish her study first and DATE your son before settling down.’ It’s very unfortunate, but it seems it’s the reversed situation for me now. * BIG SIGH * haha. But oh well. Unfortunately, I haven’t heard thoughts of her parents about interracial relationships, so I can’t say anything about that.

My mother can’t wait for my girlfriend to poop out her grandchild. However, me and my girlfriend take our own pace. In love, I believe the most important are: communication, trust, connection and willingness to accept differences. There is no 'parent's wishes' included. And so, as usual, I tell my mom the same thing:“It’s my life, my relationship, my girlfriend….my love.” So……yeah, there are still issues even if it’s a Chinese-Chinese relationship. This is also why I can say that it’s not just culture but also philosophies, cultures, frameworks, worldviews, individual norms and values have to be taken in account in answering to the subject. If anything, I would say in a romantic manner that love would be the answer. But as through time and literature shown, love isn't something that can be conceptualized. How are we to love, in rational terms? No one has been able to answer that and perhaps no one will. Therefore we will have to find our own individual ways to love each other as humans, as speaking in terms of individuals, cultures and races. At least, that's what I think.

I believe that time will fade most of the problems of interracial problems away eventually. It is, what I believe, the old 2nd generation, the new 3rd or perhaps the 4th generation that will show at least two kinds of people. One that will try to find back their ‘real’ roots and the other will accept the post modernistic thought and therefore accepting the relations with and within the environment. I prophecise that the difference in cultures will matter less to 3rd generation, but that their own cultures will also matter strongly for their identity in Western countries. I believe it’s because the secular (and humanistic) philosophy is embedded in these countries and promote autonomy (and connectedness between each other). As the European humanist would say: “Look at the individual human. Think for yourself and work together”. Therefore, in overall, I think it will matter less to the next generations if they should marry a bounty, a banana, a chocolate, a whitey or whatever. I can’t say anything about this kind of development in Chinese countries because I’m not too familiar with the Chinese history and philosophies, but I hope to see such development happen in China and Chinese cultured locations, through their own philosophy.


Waiman Ko
Guestwriter for Chinese Youth Organisations in The Netherlands
MA student Humanistics

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AFTER WORD

In many ways Waiman Ko's story mirrors the experiences of American-born Chinese. While even here in San Francisco some of the attitudes towards relations are changing, Chinese Americans born before the eighties remember how unusual it was to date outside one's own community. In this day and age there are still parents who will be absolutely horrified at the prospect of a non-Chinese spouse for their son or daughter, and if the child actually marries an outsider it will be a continuing issue within the family.

I made reference to Waiman Ko in a previous post:
http://atthebackofthehill.blogspot.com/2011/07/white-guys-asian-girls-and-hitting.html.

I've written about the issue from a different angle, of course.
Those posts can be found by clicking this label:
Savage Kitten.
At some point in the future I may ask Savage Kitten to guestpost on the issue.
Don't know yet. Still reconstructing myself after our break-up.
She's in the process of re-inventing herself too.
So we'll just have to see.


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NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:
LETTER BOX.
All correspondence will be kept in confidence.
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7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Do Chinese people live vicariously through their children?
And do they measure themselves by how much their children are worth?

Louisa said...

I feel that I can relate to your situation. The only relationship I've been in (at 19 nonetheless) was with an African American man. Although my parents have told me time and time again that they would accept if I dated someone not Chinese, they had a hard time with the relationship. My mother and I also had an enormous fight about it; she even said that it was a "stone that weighed in her heart." While she claimed that it was because he wasn't doing very well in school and that his family was sort of in the public eye (his dad is a politician), I'm pretty sure ethnicity played a part in it. She did try to respect the relationship and let it run its course. When we broke up because of personal issues, I know that my parents were relieved. They also gave the "it's difficult for people of different cultural backgrounds to date" spiel, but at the same time my mother has a cousin who is in a working marriage with a white woman and she has nothing but good things to say about him and his family. But this is maybe because the entire family are successful doctors. So for them to have a comfortable life makes their interracial relationship "viable."

I think that with future generations and interracial dating, it really depends on where they're located. I seriously doubt that China and Asia in general will be accepting of mixed couples, mostly because they're such homogeneous societies. I live in an area that is predominately first and second generation Chinese Americans, and while there are a handful of 3rd or 4th generation kids, they are sometimes made fun of as "twinkies" for not being as close to Chinese culture.

On a side note, I always find it fascinating to talk about cultural differences with my parents. There are fundamental differences in belief systems. It's also pretty funny when they go off on rants about Chinese people (they actually dislike most Chinese people, thinking that they are egocentric and will cheat you. White people, they say, are less crafty and so are honest. No joke).

I've just started to look at things with a sense of humor. There will always be differences, I just accept them and move on. Laugh it off if you will. Poking fun of it makes it hurt less I've found. So I've poked fun at my interracial relationship, with my father's sometimes embarrassing pride when he wants to brag about me (yes to the comment above, to a Chinese parent, the success level of the child is a gauge of how successful the parent is), with my mother's sometimes hilarious fallacious logic. With my friends who have gone through the same experience dating-wise, we joke about it, shake our heads, and shrug it off as "that's just our parents being Chinese." It makes things much more bearable/light in my experience.

I don't know if this incredibly long comment makes any sense at all, but this is my initial reaction to your post. It is something that I find very common in the experiences of the Chinese diaspora, along with any type of interracial dating. It's an annoying obstacle that sometimes can be overcome, given the right circumstances. But those circumstances are quite hard to come by.

Oh, and my ex's family didn't joke about free eggrolls when he was dating me. They joked about getting discounts on plane tickets (my parents run a tour company). Haha.

Rosamund said...

I married Raymond ten years ago. His brothers are okay with it, his mom refuses to allow me into the house. Raymond and I visit his brothers and there families, but he won't visit his parents. It's surprising how much Raymond's mom and mine are alike. My mother always makes nasty cracks in Spanish about 'noodle eaters' and 'Oriental burritos' (egg rolls). No, I wouldn't advise anyone to do what I did. If you want to eat bitterness till you puke it in your sleep, marry outside your race. But I'm very glad that I did it. I really don't think I could be hapier.

Anonymous said...

I told my boy friend to get the hell out of the apartment once I found out that he kept searching for chubby Asian chicks on the internet.

Two words of advice: make sure the big white hunter doesn't have a hot thing for cherry blossoms, chubby or otherwise, and always initiate the affair yourself so that you aren't being hunted by a yellow freak. Oh, and loose weight.

That is all.

Ex cherry blossom.

Anonymous said...

You seen this: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-northern-ireland-14245802 ?

Wareef said...

Inherently relations outside ones own group are spiced up by fascination of that otherness. It cannot be seen as separate. The difference appeals too, and perhaps as much as the personality traits and physical characteristics.

Perhaps, to parents of a conservative culture that adds to the disturbing quality. If the child makes choices, is permitted to make such choices, the choices are expected to confirm the ideas of the parents, not deny them.

Dating someone so different is seen as rebellion.

WM said...

@Anomymous:
Well, it could be. For most Chinese parents it's a way of having someone 'better' caring for the family. So they will want their children do to best and become wealthy so they can support their family. In this way you can see it as living vicariously through their children. As for measurements, well…. 'mien' or 'having face' (reputation, social status) is about one of the important things in the world for (conservative) Chinese people. Many Chinese parents, I believe, see their children as projects instead of individuals with their own wishes and demeanor. They will definitely use them as an reputation object towards others. "My son…." But time and culture changes…I would say that the future generations are more individually orientated and will be more willing to respect their other 'humans' (children's) wishes too. I see it happening here in The Netherlands already and if I'm correct, it's already gaining form in China as well.

@Louisa:
I won't say I'm sorry to hear your experience. Actually I'm delighted you've shared this reaction with us. If you had to say it, then you just had to say it ;) Humor is a excellent way to make difficult situations more bearable and lighter indeed. My mother was very relieved too when we broke up, but as you've read. She's always been against it, tried to sabotage it and then just waited it out. I just hope the future Chinese generations won't be as narrow-minded as the Chinese culture is now and I do believe it won't be. Cultures intertwine and so will values and norms too. Let Twinkies be twinkies, they sound like bounties and mars. Delicious and sweet ;)

@Rosamund:
It's sad to hear that both mothers are negative about each other's families, but hey….you know why people joke a lot about stepmothers ;D

@Ex cherry blossom:
You've had a bad experience with a 'big white hunter'. But you should know that there are 7 billion people in the world and therefore should at least be one person who would match pretty well with you in whatever state you are. He likes cherry blossoms, so what? He liked you better right? That's why he became your bf. Anyway, I would rather ask you this: …."Why do you see it as being hunted? Do you fear being hunted?" Because I think this has something to do with you rather than cultural differences. You might want to take a look at that.

@Wareef:
What makes you think it's inherent to groups? It's probably inherent to humankind that they are curious or fascinated and therefore to groups. But what about fear and uncertainty? Don't they 'spice up' as well? Your comment sounds a bit too progressive of a perspective of how relations work between groups. It doesn't seem to relate to your second paragraph. But yes, the child is expected to confirm the ideas of the parents….. in cultures where that's the norm. I would say that such phenomenon is happening in the Chinese culture more than in Western cultures. In Western cultures, the >individual< humanistic values are more dominant resulting in most parents being happy, respecting their children's wishes. As for the Chinese culture, the parents will want to intervene and make their children's choices the same as their ideas.

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