Where Are You From?

The Asian American organization Thymos just published Where Are You From? An Anthology of Asian American Writing.  This anthology includes writings from notable Asian American writers such as Lawson Inada and Darrell Hamamoto.  There are a wide variety of essays, short stories, poems and even artwork on a diverse set of topics.  Here are some of the stories and essays that stood out for me:

"Dog Muncher" by Beth Kaufman

Do you ever wonder what goes through the mind of an Asian American woman who rejects Asian men?  This funny story reveals the thought process of one such woman, a TV journalist, who  goes on a girls night out with a fellow news editor and a weather girl.

On the surface it sounds like the crap-on-Asian-men-Sex-and-the-City-imitation China Dolls, but "Dog Muncher" is a very funny insightful story on the insecurities of a Korean adoptee and how rebelling against societal expectations can limit your choices in romance and prevent you from becoming truly happy.

Our Man Obama: The Post-Imperial Presidency by Andrew Lam

In this essay, Andrew Lam discusses what happens when marginalized peoples move closer to center stage.

"Mistaken Identity: Pale Does Not Equal White" by Marivi Soliven Blanco

Marivi Blanco analyzes how 450 years of colonial rule produced a hierarchy of skin tone in Filipino culture.

Double Suicide: The Deaths of Ernest Hemmingway and Iris Chang Reconsidered by Darrell Hamamoto

I'm a bit of a conspiracy nut, so I was intrigued by Darrell Hamamoto's theory that Iris Chang was driven to suicide by nefarious government forces.

Two Letters from My Lost Father: A Transracial Adoptee Shares His Heart by Nicholas Hartlep

Korean adoptee Nicholas Hartlep talks about how racism made him question who he was and where he came from.

Where Are You From? An Anthology of Asian American Writing also has an interesting point and counterpoint between two essays on the use of racial slurs:

A Slanted View by Simon Tam of The Slants

What a Difference a Word Makes by Ben Efsaneyim

"Masculinity and the Asian American Male" by Byron Wong

Byron Wong of Big WoWo has posted a lot about Asian American Masculinity.  The essay in this book is not just a reprint of his blog posts, but an entirely new essay on the topic (although he does reference his past posts and commentators).  Byron tackles the topic of (yep, you guessed it!) the IR disparity and cites the cause of the disparity as two-fold:

  1. A significant number of Asian women have a preference for White men.
  2. Asian men aren't aggressive enough in pursuing Asian women.

He comes to the conclusion that "the root of the problem lies in manliness or masculinity" or the lack of masculinity in Asian men.  Byron quotes Kobukson on the ultimate cause of this emasculation:

"I realize using the word itself can push a few psychic buttons in the Asian American male psyche. Because the rallying cry in the oppressed Asian American male ethnic studies department is 'emasculation.'  Emasculation means that your balls are cut off.  By whom?  The official dogma states that it is the evil conspiracy of Hollywood, the white male power structure and Asian women.

"I propose that much of this emasculation originate within our own families, communities and is even self-inflicted."

I'd have to agree with Kobukson: a lot of Asian parents raise boys to be boys, but they don't raise boys to be men.  Byron points to Tiger Mom parenting as having an emasculating effect on Asian boys.  I believe Tiger parenting, if done appropriately and without the berating, builds confidence through skill-building.  But when Tiger parenting is done poorly, it can destroy confidence in a child.

With all of this analysis on what it means to be a masculine Asian American male, it's ironic that the most masculine AA men don't actually think about this stuff.  If you were to ask an ultra masculine dude what manliness meant, he'd probably say, "Uh... I don't know... I like fast cars, big guns, hot chicks."

Now not every guy is as simplistic and brutish as Puddy from Seinfeld, but masculine men don't think about this stuff because there is no contradiction between how they feel and what they do.  They will not use the terms "masculinity" or "manliness" in their speech.  They're not that self-reflective or introspective, because they accept their nature.

Why would Asian American men on the Internet discuss and analyze at length the concepts of masculinity and manliness?  Because the "toxic parenting" we received as boys was at odds with our aggressive energies.  It created a contradiction between feeling and action that for some men needs to be resolved:

"...within the internet discussions, Asian men often spent so much time discussing the damage from the interracial relationship disparity that we neglected to focus on who we are as men, independent of what women want men to be.

"...we spend most of our efforts fighting internal demons from our past rather than external problems."

To remedy the supposed lack of manliness, Byron adapts a number of concepts from Michael Gurian's The Wonder of Boys and applies them to Asian men: honor, structure, ritual.  The willingness to take calculated risks.  The need to go on a journey of your choosing.

All of these are good recommendations.  Having written about the Asian masculine ideal before, I thought I'd add to the list:

  1. Take a leadership role of some sort.  Most people (Asian and non-Asian, men and women) are not leaders.  In fact, they will shy away from taking the lead on things, because being a leader means taking on additional responsibilities and being accountable for more than just yourself.  Most people would rather backseat drive or criticize their leaders.  But these same people will not step up to lead, because they want to protect their egos from the possibility of failure.  But if you choose a big role, then you will grow and develop into that role.  You will learn to be a better man and a more confident one, if you become a leader of men.
  2. Learn to be resilient.  To be a leader, to be a man, you have make to good decisions.  Sometimes you have to make good decisions under duress.  So you have to be emotionally resilient.  Whereas women are allowed to express fear and anxiety, men cannot.  Fear and weakness are things not tolerated in men.  You have to be able to deal with psychological and physical stress, because you are expected to as a man.  Many rituals for boys and men are forms of stress inoculation.  Martial artists, athletes, soldiers and gangs recreate stressful situations to inure them to stress.  Familiarity lessens fear.
  3. Develop your moral code.  To make good decisions, you need to have a clear moral code.  You have to have integrity.  People respect a man with principles.  If you have no values, then you have no value as a man.


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