Sunday, 7 February 2016
Chinese New Year begins tomorrow and the first thing that comes to my mind are those red envelopes full of money. I know they're called ang pow, but I didn't actually know how to spell that until I googled the word literally ten seconds ago. Every year my sister and I make jokes about how ang pows are given by married relatives to unmarried ones, and every year we get super protective of these red envelopes and blame our mum for trying to steal them to repack as ang pows for our cousins or second cousins or any other Asian unmarried child she may find. This year I even asked my mum if I could receive my ang pows early, because I came home from Italy to find that I had spent all my money. She told me I couldn't because that would be bad luck, which made me realise that I actually have no idea what the purpose of these ang pows are.
Yesterday a fellow Asian asked me if my family had big celebrations for Chinese New Year, and I replied with the fact that we have pineapple tarts all over the house, which is a bit of an exaggeration already. Then I started thinking of other Chinese New Year foods, and the next most famous one I could think of was moon cake - but it turns out moon cake is actually brought out for the mid autumn festival which is in August some time, so that shows how little I know about my culture, and I feel somewhat appalled.
I mean, subconsciously I've absorbed some of my culture through our visits to Malaysia and the food we eat, but throughout my life I've also fought hard against it in order to feel more normal in the country I live in. Chinese people are more competitive, they can't talk as well, they're too modest - those are the thoughts I've been unknowingly bitter about while growing up, thinking that the way I've been raised is a shortcoming of my persona, basically blaming it for everything I feel insecure about. However, in the holidays I watched this video by the Fung Brothers and at the end they discuss the angle the person who wrote the article they were reading was taking, and I guess it made me feel as if I'm not the only second generation Asian immigrant to feel this way. In fact, I'm probably just one in this huge demographic of people who can relate on so many different levels.
The Fung Brothers also talk about embracing Asian culture in a lot of their videos. They persuaded me that we actually have the best of both worlds because while we culturally assimilate and have amazing opportunities living in a white country, we also know what the best, weirdest Asian food tastes like and we have extra holidays to celebrate. We basically get to pick and choose the best bits out of white and Asian culture and mush them together to create something even better. And while this picking and choosing and mushing may be difficult, and our identities may seem non-existant not fully belonging to either culture, as we grow up we become comfortable with this bicultural person we've created. There's no escaping your culture because no matter what it'll always be a part of your identity, and I'm thankful of mine.
After rediscovering the Fung Brothers, I also began to watch more of mychonny's videos and I'm not sure whether I truly relate with them or if I just think I do because he's an Asian-Australian. You see, there are just so few Asians in mainstream media to relate to, but discussing that would require a whole other post. One thing I noticed about mychonny and the Fung Brothers though, is that they both buy into Asian stereotypes as a form of humour, which is also probably one of the main reasons I like their videos - I find it funny. Joking about how Asians play the piano or the violin or both, Asians have strict parents, Asians are bad at driving, Asians have the 'Asian flush' is something I do often, and after I realised I had been fighting my culture and gained a newfound appreciation, I questioned whether stereotyping was a form of racism, and whether it's wrong to use it as something to make people laugh, degrading myself. But the thing is, I'm not really because as the Fung Brothers say, all stereotypes must come from somewhere, so there has to be some truth in them. Not all Asian stereotypes are negative either, like 'Asians are smart' for example. What I don't agree with is when people assume these stereotypes apply to every Asian, but that also goes for all the other stereotypes that exist in this world.
After this year's trip to Malaysia I began to feel defensive of my race for probably the first time. On the first day after we landed in Sydney we were walking from the train station when this tradie yelled 'Ni hao' at me, and while this might sound like a harmless act to you, I felt like yelling about how ignorant he was, coming up with all sorts of comebacks in my head, but I knew picking a fight would be a bad decision. My dad simply ignored him too and it just sucks that this is the right thing to do.
In Italy this girl on the trip started talking about how Asians should go back to their countries and stop migrating to Australia because they're destroying our resources, and I don't think I realised what was happening for a while. I reasoned with her, I tried to tell her why everything she was saying was wrong on so many levels, but she just wasn't getting it. I mean, Europeans were the ones who invaded this country ILLEGALLY in our modern-day books, and they're the ones who started destroying resources. Now Asians are coming under skilled migration and family migration with visas - it's not like they're just letting anyone into the country willy-nilly - so we have just as much right to be here as they do. And afterwards, when I was ranting about this horribly ignorant discussion with some friends, I still defended her in some ways. My friend had to make me feel mad, because I wasn't before. I condoned freedom of speech, I felt bad for 'bitching' about her, and I'm worried about how compliant I was about these comments. I should feel angry at this girl and completely dislike her, and the fact that I don't makes me feel like a traitor towards my race.
What also concerns me is the fact that nowadays a lot of Malaysian girls strive to be more white, because apparently that's what's in right now. They're neglecting their nasi lemak for second-class cafe food to seem more hipster, going to Melbourne is reason enough to delete their entire Instagram feed to restart with just 'Melbourne photos', my cousins are always yelling about how much they would rather eat pizza and pasta, and I just feel like they're all striving to become either more like the people they see on American TV or super hipster like the girls you see photos of on tumblr. So maybe it's not only second generation immigrants who are questioning their Asian culture, maybe it's our generation in general?
What is wrong with us?