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Fusion or confusion:

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  • Sunny Jo
    Fusion or confusion: Asian Americans in multiracial families By Todd Lee (This article was written for Asian American Resource Workshop Ô AARW Ô and appeared
    Message 1 of 1 , Jan 9, 2004
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      Fusion or confusion:
      Asian Americans in multiracial families

      By Todd Lee

      (This article was written for Asian American Resource Workshop Ô AARW Ô
      and appeared in its February Newsletter. It is reprinted with permission
      of the author and edited for the web.)

      The AARW's last discussion topic was the experience of Asian Americans
      growing up in multiracial families. The discussion featured speakers
      representing Asian Americans of mixed racial background, Korean adoptees
      and parents in interracial relationships touched on topics of great
      resonance to all Asian Americans, including the definition and
      self-definition of ourselves; elimination and "otherness:, and the
      generational divide. In many ways, the contradictions of Asian American
      identify were illuminated by these multiracial experiences: the societal
      dynamics borne out in the microcosm of the family.

      The speakers from our membership and friends spoke about their personal
      experiences and how their family has dealt with issues of race and
      identity. MaryAnna Ham spoke about her experience growing up biracial.
      She contrasted the intensity and conflict of her developing racial
      identity with the seemingly easy and proud multiculturalism of her
      daughter. Judilee Reed spoke of her desires to fit in, her isolation as
      a Korean adoptee, and her recent embrace of her Asian American identify
      as a young post-college adult. Dana Oshiro expressed the dynamics of
      marrying a non-Asian, the subtle and not so subtle racial dynamics with
      her husband's family and the upcoming challenges facing her pre-school
      age children.

      Search and Tension
      The presentations and discussion touched on quests and clashes that
      resonate deeply in the Asian American experience. For Asian Americans
      raised in multiracial families, the alienation and sense of experience.
      For biracial individuals, the sense of "otherness" can become a built-in
      schizophrenia of not belonging in either your mother's or father's
      racial community. In response to this confusion and pain, some children
      of multiracial families have chosen to visit and/or embrace the home
      country of their Asian parent or their own original ancestry. This has
      often produced mixed results. For some, this has been a way to connect
      to their ancestry and culture and has been helpful and enlightening for
      them. Others have found that the experience of "going back" has been
      alienating and disappointing. They have sometimes found that the
      reaction of the native Koreans or Vietnamese or Chinese, etc. has been
      negative, and that some of the values of the home cultures are
      oppressive or limiting (e.g. the inferior status of women). They have
      found that as Asian Americans, their American experience and ways have
      them out of synch with their Asian counterparts, and that among Asians
      in Asia sometimes they are looked down upon, unable to spea] their
      native language and American in their ways and sensibilities.

      These themes: isolation and "otherness" in America and alienation and
      "otherness" in Asia, seem to point to two things. First, that being
      Asian American means being a distinct animal - not Asian, not mainstream
      American, but a hybrid experience of a minority in the U.S. And second,
      that racism and oppression is much of what defines and unites that
      distinct Asian American experience. While there are certainly some
      common elements in Asian culture that come from the history of the
      region (e.g. Asian language characters; imperialism by Europe, Japan and
      the U.S.) that linked Asian countries, I would argue that the experience
      I share with Filipino American rappers and Japanese American congressmen
      has more to do with our experiences facing American racism than a common
      culture as Asian Americans. The diversity and complexity of Asian
      American culture grows as our immigrant populations increase and the
      number and diversity of Asians in America also increases. But our
      disenfranchisement from the mainstream culture and society remains.
      Racism remains, and in a sometimes perverse way (e.g. white America's
      tendency to confuse different Asian nationalities) has united us
      together in this country. Not to say that I am belittling the importance
      of culture. I do believe that there has been and is now a sector of
      Asian American artists and people in other fields that are helping to
      define an emerging conglomerate culture that is distinctly Asian
      American. And, to the extent that they are able, they will help define
      the direction as well as the texture and flavor of Asian American life.
      I would argue that today, its' that inequality and institutionalized
      racism, and the struggle for us to define ourselves and live our lives
      despite that racism, that is one of the strong defining themes among us.
      Otherwise, different would not have to be so painful and the cause of
      alienation. Our continuing experiences, and that of our African American
      and Latino and Native American brothers and sisters, belie the myth that
      Dr. King's dream has been achieved. We will not all be "free at last"
      until the equality that underpins that dream is achieved ... and we are
      still a long ways off.

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