Who Made Me Gatekeeper?

It has occurred to me that based on my previous posts, it can seem that I have some sort of chip on my shoulder when it comes to Mandarin Immersion. (Perhaps “chip” seems inadequate. “Boulder,” maybe?) And perhaps, at times, I do. But like I mentioned in my previous post, just because my delivery isn’t to your liking doesn’t mean what I’m saying is not also accurate.

At any rate, I’d like to clear some things up and answer some (self-selected) questions folks may have. To change things up a bit, I’ve decided to do the post Q&A style today. If only because that requires less transitional writing. (Hey, what can I say? I want to be informative, but also, I’m really lazy.)

So, without further ado, a highly curated and self-induced Q&A.

Q: Why are you so mad all the time anyway? Just what is your problem with Mandarin Immersion and people who are not Chinese/Asian (non-heritage speakers) who want to do Mandarin Immersion?

Since I’ve already written several posts on this topic, I’ll refer you to those:

1) How An Article Confirmed My Worst Fears About Mandarin Immersion

tl;dr: Even on the topic of Mandarin Immersion wherein the majority of students are of Asian or Chinese descent, the focus is on the white experience. STOP OBLITERATING ASIANS FROM THEIR OWN STORY!

2) Hating On Mark Zuckerberg’s Chinese

tl;dr: Why is a rich white guy learning and having mediocre Chinese so impressive when millions of immigrants are FLUENT in English (albeit with an accent) but insulted and maligned and told, “You’re in America, speak American!” (And usually with laughably bad English.)

3) Will All This Mandarin Immersion Be For Naught?

tl;dr: My internal conflict re: the Mandarin Immersion bandwagon. On the one hand, I’m pleased at the increase in resources and classes. On the other, I’m still really annoyed by my language being relegated to a trend.

Q: Why can’t you be happier for more Mandarin Immersion opportunities?

As I have repeatedly mentioned, I am happy there are more opportunities for Mandarin Immersion. Anytime more people can be introduced to another language (in this case, Chinese) is a good thing. The more folks there are who express interest, the more resources and opportunities there are for me to take advantage of for my children. So, in purely Machiavellian terms, it is in my own self-interest to promote Mandarin Immersion.

However, it is possible to be both happy about more Mandarin Immersion opportunities and point out shit that makes me angry about the current situation.

Truly, even though there are parts of me that scoff at all the unrealistic expectations folks have for Mandarin Immersion, what’s it to me? Who cares if people are doing it for the “wrong” reason? Or don’t have a snowball’s chance in Hell for their kids to actually become and retain fluency? How does it harm me? And how is it any of my business?

The only time it does matter to me is when there is actual harm to me and my kids. (And by harm, I consider racism, entitlement, etc. all forms of harm.)

Again, my main concerns relate to the following:

1) When non-heritage parents and students think that just because they know some (or are learning) Chinese that they are now somehow Chinese and can understand and speak for the Chinese/Asian American experience.

2) When non-heritage parents and students dismiss the legitimate concerns and experiences of Chinese/Asian American parents and students.

3) When heritage parents and students dismiss the legitimate concerns and experiences of non-heritage parents and students.

4) When the white experience and viewpoint is of primary importance and spotlighted to the exclusion or tokenism of other experiences. (Ie: business as usual.)

5) The entitlement and utter cluelessness non-heritage (okokok, I mean white) parents exhibit when they complain about their kids being excluded or not popular or otherwise experiencing what every single minority person in America experiences to some degree on a daily basis. Then they cry “reverse racism!”

Q: Why are you so divisive? 

As for division, I am not advocating for exclusivity or some sort of litmus test. But rather, truthfulness in a community. There is no peace when the offenses and hurts of part of the community are papered over and over again for the sake of “unity.”

That isn’t real unity, opportunity, or peace. That is a lie.

ETA: Just had a thought. Why is it when I, as a Chinese American person, don’t like the idea of white people jumping on the Mandarin Immersion bandwagon, I am considered an elitist? But when white people do it about their golf courses, or financial institutions, or neighborhoods, they’re just “keeping tradition”?

Q: It seems like you’re wanting a litmus test or some type of delineation to see who should be allowed to participate in Mandarin Immersion. As if there were a “right” way to do it.

As appealing as a litmus test initially sounds, ultimately, I find it a dangerous slippery slope.

After all, who is to say who should “qualify” and be a “good” Mandarin Immersion candidate? Should it only be native speakers and their children because the parents want to pass on their cultural heritage and legacy? Should it also include heritage parents who CANNOT speak the language because they feel regret at their lack of fluency and because they also want to pass on their cultural heritage? Should it include only white and non-heritage allies? Should it include only white and non-heritage families who show the appropriate amount of dedication and commitment to learning a whole different language and culture? For that matter, should it include only native families who show the appropriate amount of dedication and commitment?

And even if we could “decide” who the “right” people are to allow in the Mandarin Immersion classes, who should do the deciding? And why them? And the danger of having such a calcified code of rules and qualifications is that all of them are so subjective. A person runs the risk of failing their own litmus test!

You know what that’s called? DOGMA.

I am uninterested in dogma.

I think the only litmus test is that the participants be human and someone in their family signed them up and enrolled them in Mandarin Immersion. Everything else is gravy.

Q: Who made you The Mandarin Immersion Gatekeeper?

No one. Aren’t you paying attention?

I am not The Mandarin Immersion Gatekeeper. Nor do I wish to be. After all, who wants to be the one who’s telling others that the “Seat’s Taken?”

I’ll freely admit. I used to wish there was a gatekeeper of sorts. You know, to keep the rabble out. But over time, I realized that that type of thinking was incredibly arrogant and divisive and ultimately, not helpful to the conversation. Plus, if I loved Mandarin Immersion, then really, I want as many people to take part in it as possible.

Personally, I think all schools should have some type of language immersion – be it Spanish, Mandarin, Arabic, Russian – whatever. Having more languages and cultures can only be a good thing. Keys to better understanding our allies and enemies and what have you.

Some instrumental posts that have changed my mind from being super “conservative” as it were about Mandarin Immersion, have actually come from the geek/SFF world. Many long time gamers or purveyors of Geek Culture (yes, capitalized) got all upset by the mass marketization of the things they love. And SF author, John Scalzi, wrote several posts that helped me a lot.

Now, I realize that the analogy is imperfect because I wouldn’t say geeks are or ever were an oppressed minority with major justice issues needing address. But the parallels are there. (Although there IS a need to address injustice and minority representation WITHIN the forms of comics/games/books. But that is an altogether different post.)

Anyhow, the main articles that really resonated with me are:

Who Gets To Be a Geek? Anyone Who Wants to Be – John Scalzi

A Creator’s Note to “Gatekeepers” – John Scalzi

When Someone Says They Love A Thing That You Love, Don’t Challenge Them; Embrace Them, And Love That Thing Together – Wil Wheaton

Q: You talk a lot about what you don’t want from fellow participants in Mandarin Immersion. What are things you would want? Or think that people “should” do?

Sigh. Again with the “shoulds.” I know. It’s human nature to want to draw a line in the sand and separate the sheep from the goats.

I don’t want people to live in fear of a bunch of “shoulds.” I don’t want non-heritage families to be kow-towing to heritage families. (But wouldn’t that be a nice reversal? NONONONONONO. Let’s not even go down that path.)

Rather, I consider some of these on my Wish List. A bunch of, “Wouldn’t it be nice if people acted in this manner?”

Here then are some of my “It Would Be Nices”:

– For non-heritage parents to listen, truly listen (without being the Tone Police), to the experiences, pain, and opinions of Chinese and Asian American parents. Language does not exist in a vacuum.

– For non-heritage parents to think before they speak. Especially thoughtless comments like, “What is ‘Asian,’ anyway?” or “Will they make any friends that speak English?”

– For both sets of parents to remember that not all Chinese Americans can already speak or read Chinese.

– For heritage and native speakers to not seem/be so smug.

– For non-heritage speakers to remember that it’s not all about them.

– While we’re at it, it would be nice for heritage speakers to remember that, too.

– For each group to remember that there are unique challenges each type of parent faces and to be a safe space.

Ultimately, the community of Mandarin Immersion families needs a healthy mix of heritage and non-heritage families. If the community is limited only to heritage families, there is no way Mandarin Immersion will reach the critical mass it needs in order to get more resources and money. If the community is limited only to non-heritage families, there is a great loss of cultural context.

Truly, it is possible to recognize that there can be different needs for different families – and to address those different needs. Let’s be respectful to the unique challenges each type of parent faces and be a safe space. Ultimately, we want to raise happy, healthy, and hopefully bilingual children.

Feel free to add more questions in the comments! As per usual, all trolling will be ignored and/or disappeared.

How An Article Confirmed My Worst Fears About Mandarin Immersion

Author’s Note: As per usual when I have a controversial post, I direct you to my Comment Policies. I encourage discussion but trolling, flaming, and general bad behavior will be vigorously disappeared. Also, comments that attempt to Tone Police will not be tolerated. If you don’t know what that is, figure it out. I don’t shit on your kitchen floor; don’t shit on mine.

Yesterday, an article about Mandarin Immersion schools in San Francisco made the rounds all over my Facebook feed. Pretty much every time I’ve seen it posted is in the context of self-congratulation and affirmation.

Well, friends. It’s time to Get Real.

For folks who find the article too long or too dry, here’s the tl;dr version: Chinese immersion schools are on the rise and super popular in the Bay Area. White parents worry their kids will make friends with Chinese kids who only speak Chinese. (Because OF COURSE Chinese kids can’t speak English.) White parents are sad their kids are excluded from the Chinese and multi-ethnic kids so they withdraw their children because they have The Sads. Oh, and didn’t you know? We aren’t even Asian anymore. Or Chinese. White people are. You know, because their kids can “talk” to the waiter in a Chinese restaurant.

Takesdeepbreath.

I haven’t yet decided if my post today will be scathing and sarcastic or even keeled and level-headed. (Trust me, thus far, I’ve been holding back.) On the one hand, I feel like we tiptoe too much around white people in case we offend their “delicate” sensibilities. On the other hand, I also know that it is hard to listen and learn when you’re being publicly ripped a new one.

I am, as it were, conflicted.

At any rate, upon reading the article, my immediate reaction was a swift and biting fury. And in true fact, I am still livid. But as I mull over this article more, I realize, more than my anger and offended sensibilities, is a deep underlying sadness.

Here we have an article on Mandarin Immersion that could be so encouraging in terms of garnering interest, collaboration, resources, and so many other possible things, and instead, we have an article that is at best, facile, but mostly, plainly offensive. But it is useless to bemoan what an article could have been. Rather, let us focus on what it is.

For an article that describes the immersion school demographic as mostly Asian or mixed-Asian descent (at De Vila, 63% identify as Asian, 18% white; at Chinese American International School, 38% Asian, 19% white; at Alice Fong Yu, 66% Asian, 5% white;), it manages to obliterate Asian people from the picture. Literally. Even the fucking CARTOON is of a white, blond family.

Oh, sure. They quote a few Chinese Americans who married white guys and aren’t fluent in Chinese. And full disclosure, my husband is half white, and most of my best Asian friends’ husbands are white. I really don’t care who people are married to or what language they speak. I don’t disparage Chinese Americans for not being able to speak Chinese. As an American Born Chinese (ABC), I know too well how difficult it is to maintain a language with which there are few people to converse and seemingly irrelevant to my life in America.

But overwhelmingly, the article treats Chinese as a commodity. A tool to be acquired separate from its people and culture. Chinese is for white people – something which they are entitled to because reasons. Just one more thing with which to be competitive in this hyper-competitive world.

The Chinese and Asian students and parents are mentioned only in the following contexts: demographics; a passing comment by a white couple that their kid only made friends with Chinese speaking kids; wanting kids to be able to learn their heritage; and excluding white kids.

Even in situations where Asians are the majority-minority, the focus is on the white children and the white experience. We cannot even star in our own fucking story.

The article mentions that some kids think they are Chinese because they can “speak” the language. How cute, the article implies. Look at how tolerant and accepting we are!

NO.

It is not adorable or a sign of “colorblindness” (please don’t get me started on that term) for some white kid to think he or she is Chinese. Because no matter what, that kid is still a white boy or girl who will grow up to be a white man or woman. And no matter how fluent or culturally aware this kid becomes, they will still be white. With all the privileges and cultural currency whiteness evokes.

He will not be Chinese because he will not be overlooked as a meek or effeminate male who just needs to be a little more assertive to get that promotion.

She will not be Chinese because though she will encounter sexism, she will not be seen only as a submissive sex object to fulfill every white man’s fantasy. Or a victim. A prostitute. A dragon lady.

He will not be Chinese because he will not have the size of his penis mocked or be told by his iPhone to open his eyes when he smiles.

She will not be Chinese because all her hard work and success in math, science, or medicine will be dismissed because she’s Asian and they’re all good at math. It’s in their DNA.

He will not be Chinese because any poorly pronounced Chinese words he speaks will be fawned over and praised and gushed about and make the international news cycle where a Chinese man who is actually fluent in English but has an accent is written off as a waiter or the dry cleaner or the delivery man with a “Ching Chong Chinaman” song.

She will not be Chinese because even though she was born here, no one will be amazed at how well she speaks English. Or randomly spout Chinese words at her like “Gung hay fat choy” or “Wo ai ni” or some other cheesy pick up line and then get offended if she isn’t suitably impressed. Or ask her where she’s from. No, where she’s really from. No, where her parents are from. No, before that.

He will not be Chinese because he will walk into any room or any country and expect to be catered to because he is American but really because he is a white male and the world bends over backwards to make sure the poor, sensitive white man is not insulted or has his feelings hurt.

She will not be Chinese because even though she is with her own children, no one will come up to her and ask her how much she charges to be a nanny or au pair.

I am deeply offended when the article quotes an author of a Mandarin Immersion book (a book which I purchased because I thought it would be helpful to me in my homeschooling) saying, “What is ‘Asian’ anymore, anyway?”

What’s Asian? What’s Asian? I’ll tell you what it’s NOT.

It’s NOT white people randomly deciding that my people’s language is suddenly useful for the future so it’s the hipster language trend of the moment.

It’s NOT some thing you can acquire from lessons or a bauble you add to your collection of progressive liberalism to show off how fucking enlightened you are.

I want to give the author, Beth Weise, the benefit of the doubt. However that doesn’t give her a pass. It doesn’t matter if she had good intentions. A person can have good intentions and be offensive. Weise’s comment is incredibly dismissive of an entire people. In fact, an entire continent of multiple peoples and cultures and lives.

Also? I’m really weary of constantly giving benefits of the doubt and passes. Where the fuck is MY benefit of the doubt or pass when I am angry about racism or sexism? Or when the Tone Police come to town when poor white folks are offended by the truth and consequences of their actions?

And then, the article ends with indignant white parents who cry because their kids aren’t popular and are excluded because the cool kids are Chinese and “mixed” kids. As a result, only a handful of non-Chinese kids are still in the programs by the eighth grade.

Look, I’m sorry your kid is miserable and not cool. I get that it is painful and sad. No one likes to be left out. But you know what else? WELCOME TO THE WORLD OF MINORITIES, YOU FUCKING ENTITLED TWATS.

Or, as my friend, Guava Rama put in a much more tactful way, “It’s nice some people can pull their kids out or graduate out of being a minority.”

Or as my friend, Irish Twins, said in a less tactful, but incredibly spot-on way:

I get that we need white allies to have more resources, get more immersion, etc. But they [white people] are so entitled. I think they feel heard. Because that is really important. Did you know that is it HARD to be a minority? Sometimes you get teased!

Congratulations on being so enlightened that you realize that the US has about 5% of the world’s population and there are other languages out there. That they [the kids] know any Chinese. Even if they don’t, they will be much more compassionate people because they have walked in the shoes of a minority and understand what it is like to not be the default answer to what is normal, pretty, cool. But oh wait, THEY CAN FUCKING LEAVE IMMERSION SCHOOL. Oops.

You know what annoys me about white people or non-heritage people who are trying to raise their kids bilingual in Chinese and English? It often feels like they are trying to make it about them. (Possibly because they are.)

Here then, is the crux of why I have spent the last few hours of my day seething and why so very many Chinese Americans are both cautiously optimistic as well as highly skeptical of Mandarin Immersion programs: Once again, we are being rendered invisible.

Can you imagine how that feels? To have your culture and your language appropriated and commodified? But then, to still have your people, your very personhood and identity denied? Or if acknowledged, as a charming footnote to someone else’s story?

Look, I am all for Mandarin Immersion. I value it so much, my blog has Mandarin in the title. I’m considering homeschooling my kids so that they will be surrounded in Mandarin as long as humanly possible. I send my children to Mandarin preschools. I go to Mandarin Mommy and Me’s and playgroups. I have spent thousands of dollars on Mandarin DVDs, CDs, books, materials, schooling. You name it and I’ve got it.

And sure, you can say that I’m all for Mandarin Immersion because I’m ethnically Taiwanese/Chinese and want my children, who are multi-racial, to “inherit” my culture. But do I want other people to have Mandarin Immersion?

YES. I really do. If only on a purely selfish level, more interest means more resources available for me.

But on top of that, I really do think Mandarin Immersion is a wonderful thing and if non-heritage families want to participate, how does that hurt me (except in the instances I have just illustrated in this post)? Like Irish Twins said, it can only be more helpful to have more folks have positive memories of Chinese language and culture vs the “Ching chang chong” crap I remember dealing with as a kid or a general suspicion of Chinese things as weird or exotic.

So, I tell myself it is a good thing. As long as folks who are doing Mandarin immersion don’t all of a sudden believe they are immune to being racist or an expert on being Chinese American, I think it is a good thing.

I hate that I even have to justify myself. I feel like I’m mollifying an overly sensitive child.

Just because you don’t like how I say it doesn’t mean it isn’t true. Don’t fucking tell me how to feel, how to state facts, or how to point out bias just because you can’t handle it or are uncomfortable with where it’s going.

Your discomfort and my anger doesn’t make you a bad person. In fact, it has nothing to do with you.

This post is not about you.

This post is about the entire peoples, in particularly, those who are ethnically Chinese or Taiwanese, that the article neatly sidesteps and renders unseen.

This post is to implore and beseech writers of articles, parents of Mandarin Immersion students, and the students themselves. Be aware of how your internal biases affect your writing, your response, and your behavior. Be cognizant that there are more people than just your narrow, self-centered, white-centric view of the world. Be open, humble, and gracious enough to the opinions, experiences, and pain of the people you affect with your words and ignorance – no matter how innocuous.

It doesn’t matter if your intentions are good. If you mean well.

Unfortunately, your intentions have no bearing upon the natural consequences of your actions. And honestly, I don’t particularly care. Please don’t act like a two year old and whinge about how other people are reacting.

And finally, my language, my culture, and my people are not commodities.

I am not a trend.

I am not a competitive edge.

I am not foreign.

I am not a memento.

I am not just another angry minority.

I am a person.

I am fury.

I am wounded.

I am exhausted.

I am powerful.

And I will NOT be silenced.

Why I Am So Insistent On Mandarin Immersion

As many of you know, I’m very gung-ho on raising my children bilingual in Mandarin and English. The English part is relatively easy since it’s the majority language of the Bay Area. (Although sometimes, you’d be rightly surprised!) Plus, it’s the language Hapa Papa speaks to the children, the language Hapa Papa and I speak to each other, and the language of the bulk of TV and media. English surrounds us.

As for Mandarin, for now, it is the main language in which I, my mother, and the kids’ teachers speak to my children. I have a ton of Mandarin DVDs, CDs, apps, and various books and media for my kids to consume as well. Both their preschools are in Mandarin, (one teaching traditional with zhuyin and the other teaching simplified).

I used to worry about the kids learning simplified Chinese characters because truthfully, I hate simplified Chinese. I feel it butchers and guts the rich history and meaning of the Chinese written language – a ploy by the Communist government to rip their citizens from any connection to the heart of being Chinese.

I know, it sounds so 1984 – but consider this: the traditional character for love is 愛. The simplified character is 爱. To the illiterate eye, it might not look any different at all, but for those of us who are literate (or in this case, semi-literate), the simplified character has literally ripped the heart out of love. For you see, the character for heart is 心 and it is no longer in the simplified word.

How can you have love with no heart?

At any rate, I am Taiwanese so of course, I am a bit biased. And now that Cookie Monster and Gamera have been in both schools for at least a year with no ill effects to their ability to recognize both traditional and simplified characters, I’ve decided that our children’s minds are incredibly agile and able to understand that the same character can have different physical representations. After all, aren’t most letters in the English alphabet like that anyway (albeit on a much simpler scale). There are upper case, lower case, different fonts, cursive, etc. Tons of ways to render the same letter totally different. And yet, no one bemoans that it is too difficult for our children to learn to read English!

I realize that was quite a tangent for something that most people couldn’t care less about, but to many of us Taiwanese Americans, it’s a pretty big fucking deal.

Either way, it’s good for my kids to learn to read Chinese – simplified or traditional. I just want them to be literate!

In fact, one of the main reasons I’m pushing so hard for homeschooling is Mandarin language retention. Through personal, anecdotal, and empirical data, once kids start regular school in English, you can pretty much count on their Mandarin to take a nosedive. It’s a sad but universally acknowledged truth. And the only way to combat that Mandarin attrition, is through a LOT of concerted effort.

Now, I know that officially, I have to homeschool my kids in English – but still. Their exposure to Chinese will be far more at home than at school. And also, at home, I can teach Chinese as well. This way, I don’t have to send my kids to additional Chinese schools either on Friday nights or Saturday mornings. Once all my kids are done with preschool, I can go back to Taiwan at any time and spend months there, too. (The only limiting factor would be time away from Hapa Papa.)

So, why do I want my kids to be not only fluent but also literate in Mandarin? I can give you a bunch of reasons such as the value of being bilingual/multilingual, communicating with my family in Taiwan, retaining cultural heritage, etc. But truthfully, one of the dominant reasons is because I know they will be judged and I want to remove one barrier in life to people questioning my children’s identities.

Growing up as an ABC (American Born Chinese), I often felt like a foreigner and like I didn’t fit in. Of course, I was smart and fluent in English and could converse with my peers, but that didn’t stop me from noticing that none of the “pretty” or “popular” girls looked like me. None of them ate what I ate. None of the media I consumed had people who looked like me. None of the fashion magazines gave advice on how to do makeup for Asian eyes or dress for our skin tones and figures (or lack thereof!).

I was invisible.

Then, on the few occasions I went back to Taiwan, I felt stupid because though I could speak the language, I couldn’t speak Taiwanese, and I couldn’t read or write at peer level. My family would always find it amazing that I could even speak Chinese at all. But then, occasionally tease us for cultural or pronunciation errors. I didn’t dress right, move right, or even communicate right and even awash in a sea of people who allegedly looked like me, I was picked out to be an ABC even before I opened my mouth.

I was dismissed.

Now, keep in mind that my spoken Chinese is actually very good – and people are often surprised that I am an ABC. However, as soon as I try to read something, it is evident that I am. (Although, with technology, my literacy has greatly improved to that of maybe a 2nd grader. Okokok… maybe a 1st grader.)

Since my kids are multi-ethnic, I can only imagine this “foreign feeling” to be even more heightened. To feel as if they are not really Taiwanese and not really white. (Forget anyone thinking they’re also Japanese. That pretty much never comes up.)

Of course, to my eyes, I think my kids look Chinese, but I do realize that my eyes are lying. Plus, since I’m used to seeing so many multi-ethnic kids, I think my sample size is a bit skewed. One thing for sure, whenever we head back to Taiwan, EVERYONE can tell my kids are mixed. And immediately, the assumptions and presumptions come flying.

My children are dismissed as not really Chinese. (No one says it, but I can feel it. Being a minority helps a person attune to what the majority is thinking.) People are surprised that they can speak and read Chinese. (In a way that is unintentionally insulting. Like, “Oh, good for you! You can walk and talk and not wet yourself!”)

My children are a novelty.

So yes, being bilingual is a great thing in and of itself. But one of the primary reasons I am so adamant is because I see their fluency as armor. As a way to say, “Fuck you” in whichever language they want to any who would dare underestimate them.

They will NOT be ignored. They will NOT be invisible.

Judge them at your peril.

Will All This Mandarin Immersion Be For Naught?

As many of you can surmise even from my blog title, I’m big on Mandarin learning for my children. Even though they are multi-racial, it is super important to me for my kids to be verbally fluent in Mandarin, as well as be literate.

Mostly because I’m Taiwanese and speak fluent Mandarin despite being born and raised in America and I want to pass my family’s language down to my children. Plus, there is an entire side of my family that is still in Taiwan and I would like my children to be able to communicate with them. Lastly, even though it’s racist to assume that people who look Asian should be able to speak their particular language, I think it’s important that my kids, who look Asian-esque, should be able to speak at least one of their heritage languages fluently (and I’m not talking about English).

I am relatively confident that my kids will grow up to be fluent in Mandarin in part because I, personally, am fluent and I was born and raised in California, so I know that it can be done. And even though my literacy skills are subpar, I’m much better than I used to be and stumble along just fine with my Perapera Chrome app as well as my Pleco Chinese Dictionary app on my iPhone.

And if I, a Taiwanese kid raised in the Bay Area in the 80s, before it was au courant to be learning Mandarin, could be fluent just on a diet of weekly Saturday morning Chinese School classes for my entire K-12 education, then my kids, who are in two Mandarin preschools, will likely be homeschooled in Chinese, and surrounded by Mandarin learning resources, will be just fine. Plus, I have the will and the money and the time to force my kids back every summer into Chinese summer camps in Taiwan.

Here’s the thing. My dirty secret.

Part of me is starting to get annoyed by all the white people jumping on the Mandarin Immersion bandwagon.

Yeah, I said it.

It’s that same feeling I get when I see white acupuncturists, or white yoga instructors, or white Chinese medicine doctors, or white martial arts sifus, or white rappers, or white whatever.

I feel supremely conflicted.

On the one hand, I’m grateful for the increased interest in Mandarin immersion because hey, the more people who are interested in teaching their kids Mandarin, the more resources and materials that are available to me! And I am, if nothing else, incredibly opportunistic.

On the other hand, I get annoyed because I feel that here is yet another part of my people and heritage that white people are co-opting for their own. Here’s another thing that white people are stealing from others. Here’s one more thing that is no longer mine.

And seriously. How likely are all these non-heritage kids going to retain their Mandarin anyway? It’s hard enough for kids of heritage and mixed-heritage to keep up their Chinese, a huge part of me is pretty skeptical that these non-heritage kids are going to succeed – at least not without a TON of effort both initially and sustained. (And yet, part of me truly hopes this is possible because hey, if these non-Chinese kids can do it, my kids certainly can!)

Look. I know this sounds incredibly petty. Likely, because it is petty. (Rather like my rant about Mark Zuckerberg learning to speak Chinese.) But I can’t help the way I feel.

There is a lot of historical baggage regarding white privilege and cultural appropriation – especially with Chinese folks. (Also, side note: if these topics are foreign to you, please do not pester me with your questions. Not because I don’t want you to learn about these topics. Believe me. I do. But I’m not your teacher and Google exists for a reason. Use it.) As a result, it is hard for me to sort out all my feelings about this stuff.

It’s complicated.

I won’t lie. My sometimes ambivalent to slightly negative reaction to other people learning Mandarin is not entirely righteous indignation.

Part of it is that there is something nice to feeling as if you’re in an exclusive club. (You know, one in which at least a billion people in the world are a part of, but let’s not let facts get in the way of my silliness.) I’m sure it’s residual Chinese pride or something to that effect. (Hey, we’re called the Middle Country for a reason – because we think we’re the center of the world.)

The other part is just, for lack of a better word, sin. (More specifically, racism.)

I know this is a nasty part of me that wants to think myself superior to everyone else because I and my kids can speak Chinese. (Again, a skill that isn’t even unique.) And dammit if I don’t want to keep that superiority all to myself. I think of the disciples who complained to Jesus when they witnessed other people casting out demons in Jesus’s name and wanting Jesus to put a stop to that crap already. And Jesus smacks the disciples down and tells them to stop being such jackasses. (Ok, that’s perhaps not a direct quote.)

In the end, I know I cannot change the way I feel. You know, that gut reaction. But according to my therapist, that gut reaction is not who I am as a person. (When Dr. T told me that, I had a Good Will Hunting moment. I swear. TRANSFORMATIVE. I’ll post about it some other time.) How I choose to respond is.

So, even though I am somewhat fearful and skeptical and truthfully, a lot suspicious, I choose to be optimistic and open and gracious. I choose to welcome all people into the wonderful world of Mandarin immersion and pass along any advice, tips, and commiseration that I can. Because in the end, what I truly desire is to be a person who is good to all people – regardless of my own personal baggage. I want to be a person that my children can be proud of, and if that helps my kids become fluent in Mandarin, all the better.

Thanks for reading, friends. Even all my ugly parts.

The Histories of Our People

I have always been envious of my friends who know their family histories and genealogies back hundreds of years. Whenever I see commercials for genealogy sites, I sigh, wishing it were available to me, but resignedly accept that it is mostly for white people and perhaps black people. American people. Or Europeans. You know, people with records.

I cannot imagine that being available for countries with recent unrest and tumultuous histories. But if I am real with myself, my family history will dead end in China. (Thanks, Communists!) I am tempted to trace the roots of my family and Hapa Papa’s, if only for the benefit of my children, but the thought seems incredibly daunting. The task seems much too large. But I also know that if I don’t get started now, the last remaining keys to our history (our grandparents’ or our parents’ generations), it will all be lost.

That makes me really sad. If only I didn’t hate my paternal grandmother so much. Perhaps, I could mine her for our family’s stories. If only my husband’s family weren’t so distant – especially his white/German side, I would ask them more questions, too.

I often feel adrift, cut off from my family’s past. I want my children to feel connected to something more than just themselves. That they are part of a long chain of people going back to multiple countries; to the beginning of time. That if we are here, then we are survivors because we descended from survivors. How mind-boggling is that?

As much as I joke about my kids being Chinese and not anything else, I know that is not true. It seems a crime to erase the rest of their heritage just because it isn’t mine and I am too lazy to inquire further.

Tonight, I was listening to the Street Soldiers show on one of our local urban radio stations. The hosts were talking about Black History Month and discussing their personal connections to black history. When did they first learn about their people’s history? What was it about?

A little girl had called into the show and was talking about her school teaching them about slavery. One of the hosts sighed and said he understood why schools always started Black History Month with slavery, but that he really wished they wouldn’t. After all, black history didn’t start with slavery; it started with empires and cultures and thousands of years of history, of pharaohs and kings and goddesses and rich and powerful peoples who were forcibly kidnapped and sold into unimaginable slavery.

When he mentioned that, I realized, it never occurred to me that that distinction seemed small but was of tantamount importance. How demoralizing to only hear about your people as beaten down and oppressed. How weak and small must you feel when all you hear about is your own people being treated cruelly – and to see it mirrored in society still? How truncated is your sense of cultural pride and history if you start at the lowest point?

But how empowering if you start from the glorious beginning, wade through the ignoble middle, and see the struggle and fight of your people not just grabbing for something that they might not deserve, but really a return to the glory and dignity and abilities they always possessed?

If it made a huge shift in perspective in me, a Taiwanese American woman, just to hear that brief five minute conversation on the radio, how much would it mean to a black kid in school for a month?

I remember in junior high, we were in the middle of World History, and in the giant textbook, there was only one page (maybe two) devoted to the history of China. The history of the whole fucking world, and there were only two pages on China. I think it might have been shared with Japan.

Fucking amazing.

In high school, we no longer learned world history and learned solely European history. Such a teeny, tiny part of the world, and a big Fuck You All to the rest of humanity.

No wonder America is so jingoistic. No wonder white America thinks itself superior to all other peoples. (Except the British, because gorram! We sure love the Royals from whom we declared independence.) No wonder so many of us minorities see ourselves the way the rest of America sees us. No wonder we feel small and adrift.

This doesn’t even begin to include the history of our peoples in America.

Do you know that I know more about Black History than my own people? I mean, I take it as a given that I know more white history than any other people, but shit! My own people! Five thousand years of history and all I know is maybe about the Cultural Revolution and random history from kung fu movies. Oh, and we invented firecrackers and paper. And discovered methane long before anyone else.

Five thousand years of history and all I know can be summed up in two short sentences.

This is a huge reason why I want to homeschool my children. I know for a fact that my children will learn nothing about their people except a token mention here or there during Asian American History Month in May. And with that, they’ll learn about Chinese New Year, the Great Wall of China, geishas, Hiroshima, and maybe, Japanese internment camps, the Chinese working on the railroads, and Chinatowns.

It’s like black kids (and all kids, for that matter), learning only about slavery.

Our histories become something we are ashamed of; that we crawled out of the gutter to beg for a seat at the table. When in reality, we were pioneers, brave and courageous, innovative and ingenious; amazing. We came from our own fucking tables.

I think about how eager I am to learn about my own Chinese and Taiwanese histories. And about teaching my children their Japanese and German histories, too. And then, I think about all those histories out there – and wonder why we focus so much on dates and major events when really, the point of history is to learn about all these amazing peoples who came before us. All their joys and sorrows, fears and accomplishments. How did they solve and come through adversity? How did they triumph and rule their peoples?

I think this is why I envy the Jews so much. Yes, persecution since the beginning of their history is not to be coveted, but they have a book that unifies and tells their story. They have a story that is told in every synagogue and church all over the world at least every Sunday for at least the last two thousand years. They are known and seen.

I want my children to know their pasts on a personal scale, but also on a vast, historical scale. That we, people of color, have a past. A history. A place in the world where we lived, loved, and made big things happen. That we mattered in the past.

This is why I find it so important for shows and movies about the future (like Battlestar Galactica or Star Trek) to have people of color in them. To be seen. To be known. That we are important. That we matter for the future.

This is why it is so vital to me that my children – that all children – see themselves reflected in their history books, their current events, and their visions of the future. If we are not in the past or the present, how can we possibly be in the future?

Do you teach your children about your family’s history? If so, how? And if your family is of mixed heritage (I include mixed European heritage in this!), how do you go about it? Is there a particular side you might emphasize more? I am exceedingly curious and really want to know. Please share in the comments and I thank you in advance.

 

Did Our Parents Freak Out, Too?

So, ever since I became a parent, it has amazed me that my parents – particularly my mother, did all the activities that they did with us. We went cherry-picking, went to Taiwan, went on tons of trips to national parks in CA and the western half of the US, had tons of lessons, etc. – and all BEFORE the internet with English as their second language. I don’t know how they did it.

I’m taking the kids to Taiwan in exactly two weeks and I’m terrified. I’m going to a place where though I am fluent enough in speaking, I am functionally illiterate (unless you think having a first grade reading vocabulary is impressive). I will have three small kids under 5 – two of whom have food allergies – mostly by myself. My mom is going with us for a week so we can visit family, and Hapa Papa will be going the last week, but for about 3-4 weeks, it’s my one adult against three. My good friend with her three kids are also going to be with us, but the ratio of adult:children will still be the same.

We are going to be outnumbered. In a foreign country. I am terrified.

I know we’ll be fine. It’s just that I’ve never done this before on this scale and it’s a bit overwhelming to think of all the stuff I have to get ready and then do. I am comforted by the fact that even though I’ll be sticking Cookie Monster and Gamera in a Taiwanese preschool all day, five days a week for four weeks, (this is WAY more school than they are doing now), kids are resilient and they’ll be fine. My friend is doing the same with her older two kids (our kids will be in the same classes), and we will each have our youngest babies with us all day to eat and play through Taipei. My mouth is already salivating in anticipation.

We rented a nice apartment through airbnb.com and I am very excited to pretend to be a grown up and fake living in Taipei for five weeks. I have to tell myself it will be fine. The things I do for Mandarin Immersion. (The kicker? After paying about $10k for the trip and related expenses such as food, lodging, and tuition, my children will be getting two hours of English instruction and European history every morning at this school. Irony, you bastard!)

I WILL BE FINE.

But whenever these types of events occur to me, I always wonder if my parents felt the same way when they confronted new or tough situations. They always seemed as if they had their shit together. (Other than the marriage bit, but even then, it was my normal so I guess I thought they knew what they were doing.)

I mean, my mom pretty much raised my brother and I as a single mom – without any help from my dad monetarily – but she had support from her family and through our church. And I suppose when you are in a crappy situation with two young children, you just have to grin and bear it and somehow get to work, provide care for your children, and get through one day at a time.

It just occurred to me that I could possibly ask my mom how she felt during this time, but that would be CRAZY. Ah well. I hope that my own kids think that I know what I’m doing and that they can’t smell fear. When they’re older with kids of their own, I can tell them that I was terrified and didn’t know what I was doing. They better tell me they had no idea.

What about you? Do you plan things for yourself or your family that you’re terrified of but still really want to do? How do you deal with it? How did it turn out? Let me know in the comments.

Flirting With Homeschooling

So, many of you know that I’m a completely lazy parent. I can barely muster up the energy and desire to play with my children (that’s why I gave them playmates in the handy form of siblings). How can I possibly think that I will be able to teach my children anything and homeschool them?

My brother thinks I’m turning into the DuggarsHapa Papa thinks I barely pay attention to my children now – how will I add teaching on top of that?

Here’s the thing. I don’t particularly want to homeschool, but I am feeling very conflicted.

You see, I firmly believe in kids having lots of free time. Free time to play, to read, to watch copious amounts of TV. In short, to have the sort of childhood I recall having. I also want my kids to learn and be fluent in Chinese so that kills either a Friday night or a Saturday morning for the foreseeable future. If I add sports, music, and other activities on the list, that’s more afternoons gone. I would also have three (hopefully four) kids in these classes. Unless they are all in at the same time, it’s going to be a LONG time. Plus, I’m sure their regular schools will have homework as well.

Don’t get me started on how stupid homework is. I get needing homework for math, science, and reading. But a lot of the homework I’m seeing is truly a waste of time. I already know I’m going to be one of those annoying parents who complain about the amount of homework their kid brings home every week.

My friend told me her first grader (in the same school district my kids will be attending) had to write a paragraph on what MLK’s “I have a dream” means to them. Then, the parents had to write an essay on the same topic. WTF? The parent has to do homework?? I’m sorry. I already have a college degree, thanks. I don’t need to be doing homework for the fucking first grade. Also, how do people who work full time even deal with this shit? If I were a working parent, I’d seriously be even more livid. Why is my precious little time with my kids going to be wasted on busywork and stupid sheets of paper that teach them “math mountains” (what the flying frak is that?) and circling how many things “11” is?

No.

Which brings me back to my dilemma. How do I have my kids in extracurricular activities and school without overscheduling them?

I know there is no way my kids can learn EVERYTHING (forget time constraints – they likely won’t be interested in everything). I also want to say I have certain non-negotiables in terms of what my kids will learn such as a musical instrument, a sport, and Chinese. But even if school lets out at 2:30pm, that’s not a lot of time for other stuff PLUS free time. It will likely be just extracurricular stuff and no time to just be a kid.

So, I was thinking. If I homeschooled, then my kids could take the extracurricular activities during the regular school day and I could teach them their “normal” curriculum at other times, that would be awesome! I mean, no offense to regular schools and teachers, but I am pretty sure that I would take less time to teach my kids the same stuff by virtue of there only being my kids vs. twenty-six other students. I can tailor the pace to my child and not teach to the mean. If my kids need me to slow down, I can. If they need me to hurry up, I can. Plus, I can teach a lot of stuff in Chinese (and my Chinese will thereby improve, too!). There really seem to be so many benefits!!

There are two main drawbacks for me. 1) Cookie Monster is highly social and I think if he were stuck with me all day, he would miss kids his age. I can sign him up for classes with peers, but there is no real substitute for sharing life with a classroom of other children. 2) I have to teach my children and spend all my time with them. sigh I mean, I love my children to pieces but this sounds truly awful. Almost enough to break the whole idea altogether.

An alternative is if Cookie Monster gets into a Chinese immersion magnet school in Oakland and then, I don’t have to worry about adding Chinese school on top of other activities. Then, it’s really just being reasonable with outside activities.

For those of you who are further along in the parenting time line and have older children, how do you manage? And for those of you who homeschool, any tips? Good sites? etc? Thanks in advance for all your help, friends!

I know I have at least a year to figure out what to do – and that any decision I make isn’t final. I can put them in regular school, pull them out, put them back in, etc. It really is rather flexible. But I do believe in being prepared.

For now, I will think about trying to do more formal teaching for my kids in the afternoons. Cookie Monster is showing signs of wanting to read so I guess I’ll teach him that. Gamera might just learn because she wants to be like her big brother. If I can actually follow through on this (and maybe teach Cookie Monster some basic math), then perhaps I will have a decent shot at homeschooling them in the future.

Or maybe pigs can fly. Sigh.