Category Archives: American

Explaining the Face of My American Boyfriend

In the past five years, I’ve lived a life different from the life of a typical Montenegrin. I’ve traveled, succeeded academically and professionally, and grown to be an opinionated and loud individual. I did all of this on my own – which might be the most non-Montenegrin thing – to be able to preserve your integrity, and still do well. However, I wouldn’t have become who I am if it wasn’t for the assistance of many individuals who have entered my life, and those who have affected it indirectly. One of these people is my partner, an intelligent, beautiful, hard-working American man who supports and challenges me in ways I can only try my best to repay. He also happens to be of East Asian descent.

This is a very difficult topic for me to write about, not because of the reception of those who are uninterested in it – I am used to eye rolls whenever I try to engage people in a conversation about race and ethnicity, or social issues in general. What makes this daunting and intimidating is that I might not be able to fully translate what I feel into words, and my understanding of the issue at hand might be limited and warped by my own experiences. It is also very unfortunate that my partner’s colorful personality has to be reduced to his race and ethnicity in this article, but both of us feel that it is crucial for us to contribute to this conversation.

I was born in Montenegro, a small country in the southeast of Europe, where perceivably white people make up well over 95% of the population (I am part of this population). Race is barely discussed here, and when it is, it’s rarely pretty. Small communities of Montenegrins of color are disregarded, or regarded in most inhumane ways. It might be naïve to expect white Montenegrins (this sounds a bit redundant, but I use this phrase because Montenegrins of color do exist) to be critical of issues of race and ethnicity, and it’s understandable why we sometimes don’t. After all, our existence here has been reduced to a very simple life, where no improvement or progress seem possible in the sea of corruption, ignorance, and complacency. I digress, though.

About four years ago, I came back to Montenegro after spending nine months in the US. Many things about me were different, but as things go here, what stood out the most was the fact that I’ve “succeeded in life” by starting a relationship. Usually, finding an American boyfriend is regarded as a huge accomplishment here, but it seemed to me that many of my friends, acquaintances, and family members were very confused by my choice. It wasn’t only Montenegrins, it was a huge amount of whites I happen to know, both American and non-American alike, who seemed to not really understand that one can be a person of color, and also be American. What’s most disappointing, though, is that most of these individuals don’t think this is an issue – because, to them, everyone is responsible for creating and nurturing their own identity. But it is easy to be of this opinion when your identity is rarely questioned.

I have heard many comments and I have been asked many questions regarding my boyfriend’s race and ethnicity (for a lot of Europeans, race, ethnicity, and nationality are interchangeable and synonymous). A friend of mine once told me that “he’s good-looking, he doesn’t look Asian at all!”, as if you can’t be good-looking and Asian at the same time; a member of my family laughed when looking at a picture of my partner and I, asking what I’d do if my children “looked like that”; after I went back to the US again, a rumor was started that I “went to America to marry a Chinese man”. Once I got into a conversation with a friend about being in Montenegro and finding a job, to which I was given advice to leave Montenegro and marry in Taiwan. I don’t know if it’s a good thing that I immediately knew what she meant, but after I asked why Taiwan, she went on to question my young man’s Americanness – by claiming he might be born in America, but that that doesn’t make him American if his parents emigrated from Asia. I tried to explain how being American works, only to be laughed off and told that I take things too seriously. Another friend randomly remembered that she had never asked me where my boyfriend’s parents were from, I’m guessing because of the ignorant perception that, to too many, being American means being white. Maybe one day, those like her will understand that, when someone immigrates into the US at the age of 20, and spends the majority of their life in the US, they are American and they say they are from the US. Someone else told me that my boyfriend would probably get mad at her if he knew she couldn’t tell the difference between the Chinese and the Japanese. A girl from a country near Montenegro once pulled her eyes back when asking about his parents. These comments and actions imply that racism against Asians and those of Asian descent is so commonplace and normalized, especially in European nations, to the point where speaking up against it is seen as overly sensitive and unfounded, regardless of how offensive it is. In some of these instances, I tried to have moderately calm and productive discussions, but it feels that most of the time, my attempts are in vain when trying to explain that one doesn’t have to only be white (or black) to be American. The only thing that I managed to do is create this false sense of respect and understanding by these people, but what does that do when their idea of a true American is so inaccurate? Why is it that when people see my partner and I together, they are more likely to think that I’m the American one, and he’s the non-American one? Why is he the one being asked where he’s really from, and I can pass as an American when my accent doesn’t show?

It’s also important to mention that a lot of these comments are new and shocking to my partner. He grew up on Long Island, which I hear was very different from the Midwest where we met, and Montenegro where I grew up. He only knows of a diverse society, he’s traveled to more places than many people know of, and his life is rich with experience and unparalleled intelligence. He also happens to be the most patriotic American I know. So it kinda sucks that his belonging to the American nation is questioned by random Europeans whose lives are so simple it hurts, or by some American whites who so obviously should move back to Europe where their hearts truly belong.

What makes this all very ironic is that I sometimes complain about how difficult this is for me, how I’m tired of the anxious anticipation I feel when people are about to ask me about my partner’s or his parents’ citizenship, how these comments frustrate me, and how infuriating it is that I’m still learning how to react properly and productively in these situations. In reality, these comments don’t put me at any disadvantage, but they do affect people dear to me, and countless Americans I don’t know. But what is the best approach? If I were to deny that he can speak Mandarin, or that someone in his family has at some point in the past immigrated into the US from Asia, just like many other Americans did, that would just fuel people’s belief that he’s just a citizen of an East Asian country living in the US. But I don’t want to deny these things, because they are what makes his experience as an American unique and American. It is unfair that he has to choose between being American and e.g. Chinese or Taiwanese, as if it’s mutually exclusive to be American and to be Asian, when in reality, the US nation encompasses countless world cultures and those cultures are the essence of being American.

P.S. Many of the points I’m making in this article were brought up by my boyfriend in our conversations and discussions. I’d like to thank him for always being willing and understanding enough to talk to me about this stuff.

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Americans: United we stand?

“What is your obession with race?” That’s what many Europeans and Asians have asked me. I’ve lived in at least 4 different continents, and I’ve criticized and defended the issue of race and identity in the US. Outside the US, it’s true that most countries have a clear connection between “race” and nationality. China is a huge perpetuator of this idea. There have been countless YouTube commenters who say I’m somehow a traitor to my last name or worse. If you think racism doesn’t exist in Asia, Europe, and Africa, it does.

One thing I’ve noticed in many  countries is the language used by various people of different national origin, especially by Chinese Mandarin-speaking populations, when refering to other groups of people. Apparently many Chinese, and even older Taiwanese, descent people in the US will call others ‘foreigners’ or 外國人 (Thanks Google Translate!). Many times, it’s used exclusively to refer to Euro-Americans in the US. I’ve always told family members that we’re all American, but why do you call them 外國人 as if you’re from China? Although in Europe, 外國人 refers to anyone who isn’t of East Asian descent, including African, West Asian (Middle Eastern), South Asian, and Latino descent. I think it’s about time Americans of all colors updated our language (as we’ve historically been doing through being “politically correct”, but maybe that’s just progress).

I know for Latino Americans (I don’t use ‘Hispanic’ because it implies relation to Spain more directly), there are many terms for Euro-Americans, including ‘gringo’, but I wonder if any other groups in the US have their own non-offensive terms to refer others.

MTV’s White People Documentary

I’ve been seeing this on social media, but I just randomly decided to click on it and watch it. It is always very interesting to hear white people talk about race, racial issues, white privilege, and generally anything related to race, in the US specifically (racial dynamics are entirely different outside of North America, but that’s a whole other conversation). Having been in Minnesota for almost 2 years now, I would like to believe that I know white Americans pretty well (who happen to be a very predictable bunch). But it’s not that hard really – these people (Minnesotans specifically, as well as most other US whites) were raised not to “see race” as they say, which in actuality means ignoring racial issues because you don’t have to deal with them. It is very easy to pretend like everything is fine and dandy when you live in a little impenetrable white bubble where nothing can affect your life. I understand that it is hard to sympathize and relate (which it shouldn’t be), but the racial issues that the US is currently dealing with cannot be disregarded with “I see no color” or “spread the love”. It doesn’t work like that when you say that from a very privileged place and have no idea what being unprivileged in this country means.

There were many instances in this documentary where a complex issue was brought up (and even eloquently explained), and some whites still didn’t understand it. When Jose visits the Native American community (which he calls Indian…), he talks to the white teachers at the Native American school. At some point this “derogatory” Lacota term wasichu comes up, and one of the white teachers says it’s “rough” to hear it – and don’t get me wrong, she seemed like a very nice lady who has thought about race and I’m sure she’s a good person. But when you say a term like that is rough on you or hurtful for you to hear, do you think about where it came from and why it exists? It felt like throughout this whole documentary, most white people who were in it felt attacked. The Italians were talking about the East Asian community in NYC as some type of invaders, taking the land from them (wait, that sounds similar…), and they failed to reflect on their feelings. The Italian dad comments on how easy it should be for “them” to learn simple English terms, but why should they? So he can feel comfortable? So he is not irritated? And ironically, he remembers his own immigration and how difficult it was for him to assimilate and learn the language (he was far younger than some East Asian immigrants they were showing and talking about). Why is it so hard for him to understand this issue then? It was obvious that they felt like their community was being taken away from them, which I could try to sympathize with, but it seems to me that a lot of white people here feel so ENTITLED to this land that was not even theirs to begin with. Another thing that was interesting was the casually racist Southern girl explaining to the black girl what ghetto means (she was talking about how ghetto means taking off your earrings and stuff, like, do you experience anything in real life or do you get all your facts from TV?) The girl who was complaining about not getting scholarships because she is white and “discriminated against” (LOL is my only reaction to this), seemed not to be understanding the bigger picture even when she was handed the facts. And I feel like a lot (or too many) white people in the US feel this way. Like things are being taken away from them unfairly just because they were a little “naughty” in the past. It concerns me a lot.

Naturally, after watching the documentary, I read some comments and reactions which are always a blast… This guy Mark was claiming there’s this thing called “anti-white propaganda”, saying that what ‘s happening in the US is kinda how Germans are guilt-tripped because of the Holocaust and they “have to accept the euro and mass immigration as retribution”. I bet that’s really inconvenient for Germans. And I bet it’s really inconvenient and painful for white Americans to be reminded of the shameful way their ancestors inhabited and built this country.

What saddens me the most, as someone said in the YouTube comments, is that the people who this was made for were the ones who got it the least. Most feedback from white people was defensive, hostile shit that is usually what goes through their mind (but doesn’t come out of their mouth unless they get a lil comfortable…) anyway whenever race is being discussed. This is an attack, not on white people’s existence, but on the ignorance and refusal to understand the struggles of being an American of color. And the reason why everything feels like an attack I believe comes from this fear of having to live what people of color live (even though being called names in no way comes close to institutionalized oppression based on race).

Again, the scariest part is that, no matter how many posts I write, how many documentaries MTV releases, how many people of color cry and scream for justice, most US whites will still disregard it as “liberal propaganda” or some “anti-white” shit that is meant to target them and shame them just because people hate white people for no apparent reason. How self-absorbed, entitled, and BLIND do you have to be?

New York, you say?

Recently, a friend of mine, Emi, asked me to give her some photos of New York, so I went through my albums to look for ones you can’t find just by Googling. Just like foreigners usually have a misconception of the US, they also have a misconception of New York; namely that it’s only Manhattan. I wanted to represent it better. Here are some of what I sent:

2012-12-31 23.20.16 2013-05-25 17.46.35 2013-12-22 16.17.09 2013-12-22 16.17.15 2013-12-26 17.06.32 2013-12-27 13.00.02 2014-07-26 11.39.03 2014-09-07 13.37.25 2014-09-07 19.33.31 2014-09-11 17.44.49 2014-09-14 13.50.17 2014-09-14 13.50.22 2014-09-14 16.07.18 2014-09-14 18.40.35 2014-09-14 19.17.09

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Things I’ve heard on my travels…

Europe: “You’re American? But your face… But originally where are you from? But you must have Asian descent! In the movies… Immigrants weren’t in America first. All Americans are from England. I thought they were taller and fatter. I’ve never been to California. I’ve never been to Chinatown. If I’m not Spanish, then you can’t be American. We don’t have a race problem.”
“Eres estadounidense? Pero tienes rasgos… Tus padres son japoneses no? Por qué puedes usar palillos? Puedes leer esto (Kanji)? No tenemos un problema racial.”

Asia: “You’re American? Your English is so good, are you Korean/Japanese? You must be ‘mixed blood’. Americans all have blonde hair. Why aren’t you fatter? But in the movies… That’s why your skin is lighter; I wish I was as light-skinned. Your hair is too dark. Your skin isn’t white enough. Obama is African, not American, just like you’re Asian. We don’t have a race problem.”

I don’t think in any way that the US is perfect, but race is something to be discussed and not swept under the rug. . Welcome to the New World. African American history is just American history. Asian American is just American. Latino American is American. European American is just American. Only Native Americans don’t deserved to be questioned about where they’re from.

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Homogeny is dangerous

What’s similar between Europe and Asia? Very little, you say? I propose that there’s actualy a lot in common.

This topic has been on my mind for quite some time, and it probably crosses over with other posts. It’s organized from my own experiences as an American, and citizen of the New World, living abroad.

  1. West vs East
    • This concept is the original inspiration for posting this; also Tina
    • Europe and Asia constantly talk about how different the East and West are, respectively
    • Why is there a need to draw this line with some much in common in terms of mentality?
    • Even in American literature, more antiquated terms, like “Far East” have been purged because of the Eurocentric geopolitical discourse in which such terms were used
  2. Idea of nationality
    • This ties heavily with homogeny. China is a big culprit of this concept of nationality, but European countries also exhibit this quality
    • “You can look Chinese, look Spanish, or look American”. Except one can’t look American, unless you’re Native American
  3. No problem of “race”
    • From several conversations I’ve heard from Europeans (namely Spanish) and Asians (namely Chinese), they say “Look at the US and their huge problem of race. We don’t have that here.” My ass.
    • What race? Any other ‘race’ is effectively ostracized, deported, or “taken care of” if there’s separatist sentiment in Asia and Europe. They would be lucky to have any discussion at all…
  4. Determination of identity
    • Individual identity is often determined by others and skin color (and features), as evidenced by their idea of nationality in Europe and Asia
    • It’s tough to say that appearances aren’t indicative of our identies because, in many ways, they are. However, these are factors we have choices about, such as body modification, clothing, religion, and even spoken languages
    • Most importantly, however, is our ability and right to self-identify, and I believe that isn’t the case in the countries I’ve been. “I’m Chinese because my family has been in China for several generations.” By this logic, there would be very few Americans left in the US.
    • Gender and sexuality. I’m so tired of hearing you shouldn’t do something because you’re a man or woman. “There are people throwing away their femininity because they cut their hair short”. “I can tell he’s gay by the way he moves his hands when he’s talking.” Oh dear Moses…
  5. Homogeny
    • I’ve come to the conclusion that homogenous societies foster detrimental or false beliefs about the “outside” world
    • Homegeny is easier to control because of stronger forces of groupthink. Think of communism and censorship in China and how it stifles free thinking
    • I was told by a friend that Asians and Europeans often ask about “origins” because they want to feel at ease with you. That scares me a bit… Are they unable to sympathize or get along with people who they perceive as different before even getting to know them?
    • Even Americans from more homogenous regions in the US don’t realize that the media misrepresents reality and occasionally (often) lies. Representation of people of color, anyone?

Here are some Americans for you

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