Category Archives: Culture

Why is the US considered the West?

Let’s ignore for a second how archaic and lazy the East/West dichotomy is or how the definition of East/West changes across regions and individuals.

Traditionally, the “West” is Europe or cultural Europe, whatever that means. According to early eurocentric genius anthropologists, the “Orient”, or “East”, actually began at North Africa and goes into Asia. What makes the two largest and most diverse continents a monolith is beyond me, to be honest.

Now back to the US. To play devil’s advocate here for a second, there are indeed many reasons why the US or even Canada is “western”. We were former combined colonies of England, Spain, and France; and we speak dialects of their languages, but languages are a horrible indicator of national identity (although still better than ethnoracial features). Also, are South American countries considered “western”? Try googling ‘Alberto Fujimori’. What about African countries? In my travels, I’ve met Europeans who think that Americans also fly east to get to Asia. Now, of course we now know the world is round, and there are more than just two sides. So given purely cultural and demographic factors, doesn’t the US fit snugly in between “the East” and “the West”? Our west coast is much closer to East Asia and the Pacific Islands. Most of our food is a result of fusion of African, Asian, and European ingredients (we arguably popularized sushi with California rolls); nothing is truly American (except maybe corn).

I wonder… Perhaps “western” is a euphemism for “developed” or even for “white”? In that case, most of East Asia is just as, if not more, developed (have you seen some of these airports in Korea?).  Western Europeans usually consider themselves “western” which makes sense to me, even though Europe is totally different from North America. Moreover, I recently learned that cultural Russians (Ukrainians and Belorussians, etc.) believe that Europe is Europe and the US is the “West”. Many Eastern Europeans don’t even consider themselves “western”. Meanwhile, in East Asia they believe that anything outside the region is considered the “West”. China is extremely guilty of sinocentrism just as Europe is for eurocentrism. So where do we draw this imaginary line? The point of division is rather subjective.

Any differences between Europe and the US (or North/South America) are just dismissed as minor by some people, while differences between the US and Asia are because the other is too “western” or “eastern”. Can we just stick to calling ourselves American and stop labeling things and people as directions on a compass? At least stop prescribing to the notion that the US is somehow “western” because Europe feels the need to assert their legacy or because certain Americans can’t get out of their comfort zone to mingle with people on the other mystical side of the “East/West” dichotomy. Perhaps Asians want to group Europe together with North American and South America when, in reality, East Asia has more in common with the latter two continents.

Can we all agree that the US is both Eastern and Western, or it’s neither? And please discard the harmful rhetoric of “western media”; it’s almost impossible to define as a monolith either and rarely ever agrees on one view.

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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.

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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Cost of diversity

Foreigners are the cause of racism.

Now before I get more into that, I want to say that I’m not a xenophobe. I am a descendant of immigrants, as are most Americans, believe it or not. One would think that the US couldn’t possibly be a place of xenophobia and racism then, right? Think again.

For a long time, I have viewed racism as something that didn’t apply to me. After all, I’m a New Yorker, born in a beacon of diversity. However it soon dawned on me that true equality is a very difficult thing to come by, especially because the differences between people are so observable. A friend of mine noted there is such socioeconomic disparity here. In the US, there is a structural division between racial groups, but there are also so many exceptions to this system. Every day, Americans of all colors are crossing racial lines, but in homogeneous countries, these lines are being reinforced because of limited exposure. I have spent some time wondering if racism exists in a country without diversity. The answer, in my humble opinion, is yes.

What is racism? It’s stereotyping based on perceived racial features, such as skin color. Stereotyping is prejudging people as more different or similar to a group than they actually are. Here’s a typical example: thinking somebody is troublemaker because of her/his attire and brown skin. Now think about an atypical example: believing somebody isn’t American because he/she has dark hair and yellow skin.

I would say that being abroad only solidifies the notion that being American also means being white; I’ll refer to this as the notion of “white American”. My theory is that it’s comfortable to conform to “white American” because it’s a bother to explain to each and every person, especially if you happen to be white. One very valid and common point is that in countries rearing “white American”, there is a lack of frame of reference and exposure to the outside world except through mainstream media. But what if it’s because there isn’t a good representation of Americans going abroad? What if you’re an American who believes the same?

I’m not sure how many people worldwide actually realize this but the US is an immigrant nation. Since this is true, one cannot truly have an American ethnicity. Often times, countries like China view anyone of Chinese (even East Asian) descent as Chinese, not American or Peruvian, etc. Famous examples include Gary Locke, Bruce Lee, Alberto Fujimori, Jeremy Lin, etc. I’ve met many international students who, after spending a year or more in the US, realized that “white American” is a myth (even while staying in homogenous areas, such as the Midwest). However, after returning to their home countries, they’ve also found it too tedious to convey it to their peers. Because the “white American” notion is fostered, new Americans will always continue the trend of immigrant-become-xenophobe. I hear older generations refer to white Americans as ‘foreigners’ (or a similar translation) as if they are speaking from their birth country’s point of view, and I think to myself, “You and your children are Americans!”. Either accept everyone or accept no one.

While diversity is rampant in the US, there are obviously some regions that are quite homogeneous. As a US American, I have the right to racial ambiguity. Many individuals of color may often hear the question, “What are you?” Can anyone tell me what the frick-on-a-stick that really means? As a black American, nobody is asking you if you’re from Kenya or Nigeria, or even labeling you African. As a yellow American, nobody should be asking where you’re from and labeling you Asian, while completely neglecting fellow brown Americans. I’ve rarely heard the term “European” when referring to a white American.

Here is an exemplar exchange:
A: We should toss the disc again. Let me get your number.
B: It’s <320-690-6589>.
A: My name’s <Noam>. What’s your name again?
B: I’m <Chad>. Just call or text my phone now so I know it’s you.
A: Nice meeting you, <Chad>. Maybe next time we’ll play ultimate.
B: Yeh. Sounds good. So where are you from?
A: Oh, I’m from <New York>.
B: New York! Why did you come all the way here?
A: I go to school here.
B: I study here too, but I live 20 minutes away. Were you born here?
A: No, I was born in Manhattan. I’m from New York, remember?
B: Oh right, but like, where are your parents from?
A: They’re from New York.
B: And what are they?
A: What do you mean? Like their nationality? They’re also American, but my dad’s father is Taiwanese.
B: I see. Okay so you’re Taiwanese.
A: Where are you from?
B: Oh, I’m American, don’t you know?
A: Oh yeh? You’re Native American?
B: No…
THE END

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Black Hair and blurred Uyghur name of Flight MH370

“Why do you have black hair if you’re American?” This is one of several things in common between Minnesota and China. It was said by middle school aged students. I’m more shocked by one of these two places. The misconception arises from multiple reasons, one of the culprits being earlier Western media. However, the leading culprit is the endless cycle of misinformation by local Chinese themselves. Even my host school here refuses to straight up say that I’m American, instead opting to explain in full detail why my English is genuine by going into my grandparents background and my birthplace and upbringing. Also, the parents continue to fuel this, effectively closing a necessary generation gap with grandchildren thinking the same way as their grandparents. I see very little reason why something like this would also happen in Minnesota. In the end, kids are the most honest reflection of a community’s beliefs and ideas.

On a completely separate note, a colleague of mine informed me that Chinese officials have blurred out an Uyghur passenger aboard flight MH370. What is that about? Is China senselessly pointing fingers again to justify further action against the people of Xinjiang? There are questions to be asked.

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Ја сам homosexual

Para el primera vez en mi vida, alguien pensó que era gay, así que estoy halagado por supuesto. Un amigo que conocí en St. Cloud ha pensado en eso todo el tiempo! Nos estábamos hablando por Facebook sobre la razón que me fui de la universidad allá. Era una combinación del lugar, un departamento que me parece una pandilla y que me estaban preparando para trabajo sólo en el colegio donde hay muchas cosas políticas. Mi amigo me dijo que sí es difícil trabajar en las escuelas si seas de sexualidad alternativa. En ese momento, le pregunté si hubiera pasado algo con él.

Ahora sí me realizo que estaba hablando de mí. Luego me preguntó si hubiera experimentado discriminación y le dije que le voy a decir cuando me recuerda más. Me preguntó si tuviera un enamorado, así que dije que una profesora pensó que inglés no era mi primer idioma. Me dijo, “No eres gay?” Contesté, “No, no soy pero estoy halagado y estoy de apoyo.” Le recordé que él encontró con mi enamorada antes pero él ha pensado que estuviera un disfraz y le di “gay vibes”. Le conté que no creo en esas cosas y que él ha estado en Chile y Minnesota por demasiado tiempo jajaj. Es la verdad triste que no conocía a alguien gay hasta tenía 19 años…

También me dijo que si tomara, seríamos buenos amigos. Voy a suponer que es un cumplido.

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