Tuesday, June 13, 2006

213. earthling

Most of the people who read this blog (as far as I know) are people who know me personally, so most people know that in a few months I'm going to be moving to Seattle along with my band. And if you didn't know, well you certainly know now.

And I haven't written a lot about the move because even though it's a big change for me in all kinds of key areas, I'm not all that worried about it and so I'm not really thinking that much about it beyond practical items like making sure I have enough reserve cash to get me by until I get settled.

But the days are going by and the reality of the move is starting to dawn on me and I'm beginning to have thoughts on the matter. But not the thoughts you might expect.

I've started running again, and while running, I've taken to catching up on some of the podcasts that I've been downloading. This afternoon I was listening to an interview between host, Valerie Jackson, and author, Laurel Snyder. They were talking about Snyder's book, Half Life: Jew-ish Tales From Interfaith Homes, which is about the changes occurring in Jewish culture because of intermarriage between Jews and non-Jews.

It was a fascinating discussion, and I couldn't help but wonder if what's happening to the Jewish community (the mixing of once pure bloodlines and the resulting cultural conflicts and confusions) is happing to all kinds of ethnic groups (and yes, I realize that being Jewish has both an ethnic and a religious component to it but I'm just using it as a launching pad for a larger discussion). Intermarriage between people of differing racial origins, while far from ubiquitous, is not as uncommon as it used to be. And I couldn't help but project this phenomenon out into the future and I started wondering about a world where race is a non-issue because of intermarriage.

I'm sure there are some who recoil in horror at the thought of the loss of the ethnic component of cultural identity. And I'm sure there are others who see that as a beautiful thing - an explosion of diversity and a potentially utopian symphony of different cultures coming together to create something altogether new. And pushing the idea even further into the future, I wonder if there will ever be a time when the idea of racial divides will be seen as an artifact of a darker, more ignorant era of human history. If this were ever to happen, I suppose people will simply consider themselves humans or earthlings.

Think that's impossible? I think a bit of that has already happened in America. There are whites in America who don't give much thought to the different Northern European bloodlines running through their veins. If pressed, they can probably tell you about their great-great-grandparents and some of the different countries they came from and how they, in their time, tried to maintain cultural traditions which they (sometimes more, sometimes less successfully) tried to pass on to their children and their grandchildren. But there are some whites who would prefer to just refer to themselves as white instead of breaking down their specific ethnic makeup by percentages. And I'm sure if you were to trace their family tree back far enough, you'd find an ancestor who would have recoiled at the thought of their great-great-great-great-grandson disregarding the racial component of their cultural heritage, but it happened anyway.

Thinking of the future in this way raises all kinds of fascinating questions and it's not hard to imagine some scary scenarios between the here and now and the there and then.

"Hey, I thought you were going to talk about your move to Seattle."

Oh yeah. So to kind of round out this soliloquy on race, I ended my little workout routine thinking about how life might be different for me being a part of a racial minority and if/how being an Asian-American from Hawaii might give me a different perspective from an Asian-American born and raised on the mainland. Because they're not necessarily the same thing.

I remember being an English major at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, and I remember how in the Asian-American writing classes that I took, they were still talking about the Asian-American writers conference that they held at UH in the 70s. And you could tell from the way the story was told that there were still unresolved issues even some twenty years later.

The conference started off as a great idea. There was a burgeoning Asian-American writing community growing in Hawaii at the time, and so people thought it would be a good idea to get some input from the more established Asian-American writers in the mainland. And so they organized this conference and held it at UH. And then the shit started to hit the fan. Basically, what happened was, the Asian-American writers from the mainland started accusing the local (based in Hawaii) writers of not being political enough and not doing enough to challenge stereotypes. The local writers countered with the argument, who are you to tell us how we should write?

See, many of the mainland Asian-American writers used their writing to give themselves a voice in a community where they were minorities. A lot of their writing had to do with identity and dismantling the stereotypes that tried to define them.

Because Asian-Americans in Hawaii make up a racial majority, they were free to just write stories about their parents or their childhood or just regular adult issues. They didn't feel the need to assert their identity because they weren't burdened by stereotypes to the same degree that the mainland writers were.

I think of that story and I wonder how being Asian-American in Seattle (or anywhere else in the mainland) will be different from being Asian-American in Hawaii. And I'm not that afraid of running into outright racism, I'm more curious to see what the differences are. And I wonder if I get the chance to hang out with some raised-in-the-mainland Asian Americans and I tell them about the Asian-American writers conference at UH, if they will have anything to say about what happened.

I don't know.

There are lots of unknowns when it comes to moving and I'm not naive enough to think that race won't be a factor at all, I'm just interested in finding out how much if an issue it will turn out to be.

"So you're moving to Seattle, and you're thinking about these abstract ideas on race?"

Heh, yeah. Welcome to my world.

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