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Archive for March, 2007

As I’ve mentioned many times before, my family practiced a kind of colorblindness when it came to me. I guess they figured if they didn’t “see” my color, no one else would. The problem is that other people did notice and on occasion, made it very clear. Try as I might, my blindfold didn’t fit quite as snuggly as that worn by my adoptive family.The ching-chong type taunting is just a given, not that I would dismiss these negative experiences as “just a part of growing up.” These were very painful experiences, but even more so, were very alienating. There was no one for me to turn to who understood on a first-person level. There was no “we” in my town. There was only “me.”

What choice did I have but to bury this “colored” part of myself as deeply as possible? Where did I have to run? The adults available to me had blinded themselves to my color. Racism didn’t apply to me. To them, I was not “the other.” Some part of myself didn’t trust that they would truly understand or be “on my side.” By choosing not to “see color,” my family had accomplished the exact opposite of what they’d hoped. They’d added another layer that separated me from them.

When I hear people hold up their “colorblindness” with defiance and pride, it’s difficult not to want to shout at them. This was a privilege that I was not allowed to have. I could ignore my reflection in the mirror, but not the kids who pointed at me and screamed “chink!” or told me to “go back to where I’d come from.” Even wrapping myself in “worldly love” wasn’t enough to keep racism from leaking in beneath the blindfold. I had no choice but to see, because the world out there wouldn’t let me forget.

I’ve come to view “colorblindness” in part, as another means of identity erasure. By choosing to ignore my “color,” my parents chose not to see “me.” Why was the yellow-brown me and all that came with it so horrible that no one wanted to acknowledge her existence? Why was she not worthy of acceptance? In essence, I became ashamed and tried to bury her. In a way, I began to feel not white, simply transparent.

Some of my TRA sisters and brothers have referred what I call “transparency” as “shapeshifting” or “adapting.” They become what their environment requires of them. As TRAs, I feel that many of us become highly intuitive experts at this. We can do it so well that we, ourselves don’t realize we are morphing until we reflect back on our memories. Sometimes we can become like Ged in Ursula Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea and can be in danger of becoming trapped by the form we have taken. In a way, we lose ourselves.

As most of my readers know, I married a first generation Lebanese immigrant. I married young before I’d really gotten a sense of myself. Aside from being young and impressionable, I was still “transparent” and had little understanding of my own mind. Within the the span of a decade after my marriage, I had completely “shape-shifted” in not only form, but in mind as well. Still, there was the transparency. Identity-wise, I was not only mock-Lebanese Sume, I also became universally Muslim Sume. Both were facades I’d created for myself in order to “adapt” to my environment. “I” remained buried somewhere beneath.

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Am, Is, Are

“Why am I?”

That’s a question that I must give equal, if not more importance to when I consider the question of “Who and what am I?” The “Why am I?” question is perhaps the most difficult to contemplate because it requires me to delve deep into my own psyche. I am required to reflect back on my experiences and try to understand how these influenced the person I am today.

Why bother? “Know thyself” References to this notion can be found throughout literature, religion, and philosophy. Still, I think its deeper implications and applications are often taken for granted. For example, it was understanding why I felt and did certain things that helped me to get to the heart of my own racism, bigotry, sense of privilege and entitlement. Eww.

It wasn’t easy turning my eye inward to look at myself critically. I’m in no way finished with the process either, so I’m not sitting here patting myself on the back. For me, it’s become a process of moving forward, stopping to reflect, moving forward again and so on. Sometimes I forget and old habits and attitudes return, sometimes I take on new ones. Still there are times when I just downright fool myself. Oh boy.

In the words of Robert Anton Wilson, “”Is,” “is.” “is” — the idiocy of the word haunts me. If it were abolished, human thought might begin to make sense. I don’t know what anything “is”; I only know how it seems to me at this moment.”

I know there are probably a few people out there laughing their asses off that I’m quoting this guy, but really, there is wisdom in it. Not only is it a statement about our own individual perceptions of reality, it is also a testament to our limits as human beings. We are products of our experiences and our personalities. How much one influences the other is subject of debate, but that’s not my point.

When someone reads anything I write, they should keep in mind that I’m writing from my perspective at that moment. My perspective is constantly changing and hopefully evolving. The day that stops is the day I know I’ve lost my way. That doesn’t mean I’m not strong in my convictions, nor does it mean what I say lacks “truth”, whatever that really “is”. It just means that I’m a flawed but thinking human being with an opinion and a voice.

Honestly, I’m hesitant to post this because people like answers, we like certainty. For someone who blogs about the things I do, to say, “I am flawed,” puts into doubt my credibility. Sorry. For me, to pretend to have too many answers at this moment would be dishonest.

Life, to me, is all about possibilities, and I don’t just mean the good kind. It’s the consequences of the choices we make whether the practical ones or the ones we make within ourselves, how we approach the world around us. Down those many paths, solutions as well as problems can be found. It is up to each of us to chose and take from it what we will.

Hmmm…not sure what brought that on. It’s been a weird month.

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Celebrity Colonialism

Apologies for all the lazy posting lately, but it’s been a bit busy on my end. I’m working on a few posts and will hopefully have something up soon.  Thanks to Baraka for the heads-up.

Celebrities have always identified with underdogs. Playing a victim or otherwise disadvantaged character is a sure route to an Oscar, and everyone from Bruce Springsteen to Eminem has celebrated the underdog in song. It’s not surprising that models, actors and popular musicians have focused on impoverished Africa, raising money and awareness for debt relief and famine. However, these efforts have done relatively little to address the structural causes of African misery. There is also an uncomfortable element of colonialism that runs through celebrities’ interactions with Africans and the current interest in African culture.

Is the celebrity fascination with Africa genuine or shallow? Are the efforts of well-meaning celebrities to alleviate Africa’s poverty and disease the continent’s salvation or a recipe for disaster? The recent spate of celebrity adoptions, Angelina Jolie’s much-hyped birth in Namibia, and Kate Moss’s infamous blackface modeling in the Independent reveal cultural colonialism masquerading as liberal multiculturalism. And despite their good intentions, Bob Geldof and Bono are being led around by the nose by technocrats and multinational corporations who bear responsibility for much of Africa’s problems.

continued…

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w00t!

I’m really too old to have that term in my vocabulary, but it was my first thought when Ji-in at Twice the Rice slid the envelope under my tracker door.

I think this is where I’m suppose to throw in the flattery part, but I suck at flattery. Plus, there is just too much to say about Twice the Rice and the incredible KAD behind it? (Oops, that’s flattery.) It would have to be a blogpost by itself. Ji-in is more to me than just her blog. She is friend, ally, sister, fellow TRA and writer. We officially crossed the one year mark on March 5th. (What?!) Not long after we met, Ethnically Incorrect Daughter was born. I’ll stop now, before this becomes too mushy.

And so, to pass the recognition forward, I’ll name five bloggers who make me think.

Mia’s Saving Grace – Mia’s blog reminds me that the question of identity crosses cultural and racial boundaries. Through her moving writing style and passionate spirit, she pushes me to consider that no matter how much we may differ, there will always be something that brings us together. As she looks for answers, she inspires me to look beyond myself and into the greater sphere of adoption itself.

On the Other Side of the Eye – A fellow TRA, Bryan Thao Worra is a brilliant, prolific writer who works tirelessly within the Asian American community to inspire, support and occasionally smack us, when he thinks we’ve gotten out of line. As a writer, he takes us to the edge of the universe and sometimes even our own sanity. All of that is reflected in his blog of which the subheading reads, “Covering issues in Asian American poetry, community activism and popular culture.” His blog does just that, but also forces me to pick apart and consider my own perspective. I’d go into detail, but then I’d start sounding nuts so I’ll just leave it at that.

Bryan’s first published collection of poems appropriately named, The Other Side of the Eye will be coming out in August. Check it out!

Just so you know it’s not ALL about adoption, ALL the time.

Thirsty Thong – This blog is run by a group of Vietnamese American expats. Thong, who seems to be the main blogger, offers a unique perspective of Vietnam, among other things. He’s funny and sometimes sarcastic and risky but there is much to appreciate in his head-on approach. As a Viet TRA , it’s been a struggle to overcome my misconceptions of fellow Vietnamese Americans. Thong’s blog has added much to my perspective. Thong, if I ever make it to the motherland, I’m going to kidnap you as my guide.

Halfway Between Ca Mau and Sai Gon – Oanh is a fellow Viet Kieu, who blogs sporadically but always offers something for my mind to chew. She pushes my brain to its limits with her insightful posts. She also reminds me that you don’t have to be an adoptee to face questions of identity and ethnicity. Oahn was born in Vietnam but immigrated to Australia. A fellow wanderer, she currently resides in the UK. I’m hoping we’ll see more examples of how she combines her sharp observation skills and gift of eloquence in future posts.

Malai – I’ve been a long time reader of Fatima’s blog. Her honest, thought provoking musings on religion, identity and ethnicity provides another unique perspective. A fellow Muslim, wanderer and mother, she never fails to inspire my own thoughts and send me in new directions. She shatters stereotypes and forces one to consider all they thought they knew about life as a Muslim woman.

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Resist Racism

Alright folks, the bloggers at Resist Racism have picked up on my post Force-Feeding Culture with some thoughts of their own.

Force-feeding/imposing 

Culture and identity 

Their archives are well worth a look as well.  Great job RR, keep up the great work.

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Privilege Prevails

Special treatment? She’s rich, white, American and famous. She’s got something called privilege. And someone please elaborate on the term “single”. Does that mean simply “not legally married”? Cause she ain’t single by my definition.

“Jolie filed adoption papers in Vietnam as a single parent, because the couple are not married.”

Am I the only one who sees something funny here?

Angelina Jolie adopts Vietnam boy

The Oscar-winning actress collected the boy from a Ho Chi Minh City orphanage after a short and tearful farewell.

She is due to hold an official ceremony at the justice department later on Thursday, which will complete the adoption process.

Jolie, 31, has already adopted two children, from Cambodia and Ethiopia, and last year she gave birth to a daughter with actor partner Brad Pitt.

Jolie and Pitt visited Ho Chi Minh City last November, where they first met children at the Tam Binh orphanage.

She arrived in Vietnam again on Wednesday night, and early on Thursday morning she went to the orphanage, taking Maddox – her five-year-old Cambodian son – with her.

About 20 children dressed in traditional Vietnamese tunics welcomed the pair as they arrived.

Nguyen Van Trung, the director of the orphanage, said it was an emotional moment when she left with her new three-year-old son.

“They tried to make friends with the Vietnamese boy, who cried when he saw them because for him, they are strangers,” he told reporters. “Jolie was very moved. Both of them tried to comfort the little boy,” he added.

The child has been living at the orphanage since he was abandoned as a baby, but if all goes to plan officials have said that Jolie can take him home by the weekend.

Quick process

The Vietnamese authorities are only reported to have received Jolie’s request for permission to adopt at the beginning of March.

Adoptions in Vietnam often take up to six months, but they can be fast-tracked if background checks and issues of whether the adopting family can support a child are quickly resolved.

In 2002 Jolie adopted her first child, Maddox, from Cambodia.

Three years later, she signed papers to adopt an Ethiopian baby called Zahara, who is now two.

She also has a biological daughter with partner Brad Pitt. Shiloh Nouvel Jolie-Pitt was born in Namibia last May.

Pitt later told US TV programme Today that becoming a parent was the “best thing” he had ever done.

Jolie filed adoption papers in Vietnam as a single parent, because the couple are not married.

And while I’m one the subject, wtf is up with that?  Poor little Pax Thien.  He’s already getting confused for his brother, or vice versa.  All look same!  All look same!

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