Category Archives: society

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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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?
Americans

Here are some Americans for you

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Conversation of race

In light of recent events in the US, I want to reflect upon my experiences in Barcelona.
As Americans, we generally have a different idea of racism from the rest of the world. The reason for this is obvious: we’re a nation of immigrants, as Barack Obama puts it. I argue this because of the few other countries I’ve lived in and also because of immigrants I’ve met.
A handful of Europeans I’ve met say that Americans are of English descent, which I think is the most offensive to the white Americans. While it’s already established that there’s racial misconception of the US by foreigners, I was surprised to find that there’s self-racism, for lack of a better word.
As I have a habit of talking with owners of stores and restaurants, I’ve met one who stuck out as particularly racist. Nothing overly hateful but just going as far to say I’m not American because of my face. I remember watching Obama’s speech on my phone, and she comes to my table and sits across from me. In the most serious tone, she says to me,  “You’re not American okay.” What…?
I feel like outside the US (and maybe all of North and South America), it’s impossible to be accepted as a “minority”.
On a separate occasion, the restaurant owner says to my Japanese friend that she doesn’t look Japanese because her eyelids have a quality that make them pretty and it’s a trait Japanese don’t have. And for this reason and my skin color, she deems me Japanese. What…?
The irony is that most my ancestry originates from the same place as hers. Don’t you love it when people try to racially generalize the Americas?

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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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China versus the “West”

The Washington Post: China refuses open nominations for Hong Kong’s leader. http://google.com/newsstand/s/CBIw7paDrx8

I really don’t understand China’s fascination that democracy  undermines their power in Hong Kong, where has become great because of freedom of speech. It’s becoming a hypocritical issue when China argues the West shouldn’t interfere because whatever type of government is working in China. Meanwhile, they keep trying to take away exactly what makes Hong Kong appealing.

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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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