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.

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.