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.

Random Observations

Sometimes, I have snippets of thoughts that might not flesh out into full-fledged posts of their own and thus, I have nowhere to shelve them. Well, I”m shelving them here in a sort of catch-all for stunted ideas. Is it really the idea’s fault though? Surely their stunted state of being is more the problem with the ideator? And is that a word? If so, it’s a pretty handy yet utterly awful buzzy type word. It’s one of those words that sound entirely fabricated and make me want to punch someone in the throat. I hate it already.

Anyhow, why should my laziness and lack of follow-through deprive you lovely people of my pithy and, dare I say, profound (but not original), thoughts?

So, here they are, in no particular order:

1) The other day, someone asked me in all sincerity why I was so dressed up. I was wearing yoga pants. I may have reached a new sartorial low.

2) I had stopped posting Time Out pics of my kids for awhile on Facebook because I rarely put the older two kids in time out anymore. Thank goodness Glow Worm has stepped up to the plate in that regard and filled that niche in so timely a manner.

That pouty face!

That pouty face!

3) I despise silly putty.

4) Rubbing alcohol gets rid of silly putty and their incumbent stains. It also gets rid of permanent and/or non-washable marker stains.

5) I love rubbing alcohol. (In either noun or verb form.)

6) Why do I insist on taking pregnancy tests when it is too early to tell? It’s as if I enjoy starting the day out disappointed.

7) I feel churlish and ungrateful for being disappointed that I’m not pregnant yet. In part because I used to just think about getting pregnant and then, BAM! I’m pregnant. But mostly, so many of my friends have had actual difficulty getting pregnant or staying pregnant or both that it feels unseemly to complain.

I’m still complaining.

8) As vapid as I find Taylor Swift’s lyrics (although, no more so than your typical pop song), they are just so dang catchy!

9) Incidentally, I find 90% of current music unbearably bad. And even the tolerably good ones, I find the lyrics abysmal. At times, this state of affairs even makes me angry. Not just angry, FURIOUS. (This may turn into an actual post some day if I can actually get off my duff and write it.)

10) Now, get off my lawn.

11) I “like” too many things on Facebook. I admit, my likes are worthless. In my defense, what’s not to like about cute kid or pet pics? I desire people to like my pics. Why wouldn’t I return the favor? And really, I like a lot of things. You should be worried if I don’t like something of yours. Don’t you crave my good opinion? Oh. You mean you didn’t notice?

I hate you.

12) Getting stuff ready for Cookie Monster’s kindergarten registration makes me want to homeschool even more. (Yes. I would rather homeschool than fill out paperwork.) The only reason I’m even registering is to keep my options open next year. (We’re in an impacted area so there are too few spots for too many students. And isn’t it better to have a spot and not need it than to need a spot and not have it?)

You’ll be pleased to know that I somehow, successfully finished registration before the deadline. It was a near thing though since apparently, I gave the school the wrong birth certificate. Too many kids with the same starting letter to their names.

13) My handwriting is atrocious. I clearly rarely hand write anything anymore. It’s laughable. Let’s not even mention my Chinese handwriting. Cookie Monster puts me to shame. He is five.

14) Prepping for homeschooling seems overwhelming. Especially since Hapa Papa doesn’t think I can do it. Not because of any lack of ability on my part. More so that I’m so lazy and put in such minimal effort with my children. I’d be mad about his lack of support but I can’t say he’s off the mark.

15) I find myself no longer interested in movies. In part because so many seem to suck. But mostly because given my limited free time, I’d rather use it for reading. Or eating.

16) I find it so crazy that everyone out there, all those people driving in their cars, sharing the road with me on a daily basis, these are all PEOPLE. You know, with their own lives and wants and desires and hopes and dreams and jobs and families and kids and loves and pets and everything. And there are 7 billion more people out there. 7 BILLION.

I find that mind-boggling.

17) Cookie Monster now makes all these ridiculous poses for the camera like he’s Sailor Moon or some anime character powering up. It is ridiculous and awesome. I blame Taiwan.

Cookie Monster pose 1 Cookie Monster pose 2 Cookie Monster pose 3 Cookie Monster pose 4IMG_0263IMG_0248

18) Glow Worm now refuses to nap. He is so obviously tired but he is like, “FUCK NAPS. FUCK SLEEPING. EVERYONE IS HAVING FUN WITHOUT ME. FUCK YOU ALL!”

He’s literally hopping mad. Stomping his little feet and slamming his hands against the crib. I hope he doesn’t figure out that he can climb out his crib. (His siblings both did before 18 months.) Then I would have to gate the room because baby boy can open doors now. Little stinker!

19) And because I haven’t posted a pic of Gamera in awhile, here are some of her best over-the-shoulder looks when she was about Glow Worm’s age (and younger).

IMG_0821 IMG_0820 IMG_0819

20) And to round out the list to twenty, here’s a recent one of my pretty girl and I:

IMG_0758

 

Alright. Go enjoy your Wednesday and stuff. Be off with you all!

Temper, Temper

It has been a rough morning. Not sure exactly why since it really is your basic morning where my kids refuse to eat breakfast, I worry they will be hungry, then I scream at them at new volumes and crush their little souls and see them slump into their chairs, zoning me out as a coping mechanism because Mommy is yelling and mean and cruel and I know I am making things worse but my fury is so acute and I feel helpless and angry at myself and at my recalcitrant children and GAH. It’s not even 9am.

I always apologize and hug them and kiss them and tell them I love them, but you know what? It sounds really familiar. Both because I do it to my kids so often, and because I remember my father doing this to me. Well, perhaps not the apologizing. He never apologized. But he would say he loved me and hug me and kiss me after beating me or screaming at me or in general, making me feel worthless.

I feel the sweeping tide of violence rise up within me in moments of great frustration. It takes a lot of control to not want to physically throttle my kids – or worse. I abuse my power over my small children, using my voice and love like weapons to browbeat my kids into obeisance.

I make my children – especially Cookie Monster – feel small and helpless and incapable of pleasing me. He lashes out. I hear him change his voice to please me or just to clown around; insecure. Gamera will tell me not to yell at Cookie Monster and tell me I’m not kind. She will also cry so piteously. Glow Worm just stares.

I am a monster.

I am a tantrum throwing toddler.

I am my father.

I am sad and ashamed.

I realized something this morning. When I get this angry, it is the same type of anger I get when I am trying to assemble a piece of furniture only despite hours of sweat and labor, I can’t find the right part, or the piece doesn’t fit, or I’m done and there are too many leftover screws to be safe. Only when I kick the instructions or throw down my wrench in disgust and curse and bellow, I am mad at an inanimate object. I am mad because the things I’m trying to bend to my will aren’t bending the right way in the right speed with the right attitude. Except when I’m mad at my children, they aren’t things to be manipulated; my children are tiny people.

Tiny people to whom I’ve been entrusted not to break, to handle with care and dignity, and to protect (at a basic minimum). Even more so, my children are tiny people to whom I’ve been entrusted to nurture and teach and grow and help thrive.

It’s just, why can’t they be tiny obedient people?

That really would make my job a lot easier. With a lot less yelling.

Truth is, I like yelling. I mean, I hate myself when I do it, but I feel slightly less out of control (even though it’s the exact opposite). It feels like “parenting” to me. (Sigh. Just when you think you’re past a lot of brokeness, you blink and you discover even more.) Yelling makes me feel powerful. And I am. Yay me. Way to go. Yelling at small children. So strong and brave and courageous I am.

Ever since coming back from Taiwan, I have felt off. Either a mild depression or some mild dissatisfaction with my life. But I feel it seeping out in the ways I treat my family, the way my discontent sinks deeper and deeper into my bones. I’m not sure I have figured out what it is, yet.

I want to blame external circumstances and other people, but let’s be brutally honest. It’s me. I have a problem.

I want to believe that I can just power through and solve this on my own. I want to re-read good parenting books or just hope that re-reading the Bible or whatever trendy parenting blog will fix me and yay! I’m all better! But I know myself. I will get better for a few days – if I’m lucky, a few weeks, and then slowly but surely, I slip back into who I really am.

Water always finds its level.

Holy crap. I think I’m depressed. As in, not an emotional state, but a physical state of being. I will need to think on this some more.

I hesitate to end the post on such a Bleh note. Hopefully, I’m just in a funk and not a full blown episode of depression.

Wish me luck, friends! And Jesus. I’m sure I need lots of Jesus. And babies. Lots of fatty babies for me to snarfle and kiss and devour and then hand back to their mommies.