As untouched as the turn signal in an Asian woman’s car

The title of the post probably makes absolutely no sense to you, but once you see it in context I’m sure you’ll understand it. Some of you may even chuckle about it. However, I’m not sure it’s the laughter that I would find offensive. Most-likely, it is the fact that people still have the perception that it’s funny because it is rooted in truth. Before I get to explaining this further, let me take you back about 40 years. Let me share with you a tv commercial from the 1960’s about a baby that wants to eat some glape jerr-o. Again, you probably don’t get what I just described, but after watching the video below you will:

Was it funny? Was it offensive? Are your feelings neutral about it? Continue reading

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A Hunch

this is going to sound like gibberish and maybe it is, especially since i don’t wax philosophical/historical/social all the time. so this is just a thought-sketch, and i’m prepared to be wrong or change position on this as much as necessary.

asian americans (from the 2nd generation on) are in general, ambivalent on matters of faith and church. the impressions of Christianity seem limited to morality and/or clique-ishness. asian churches do not speak to an asian american identity, nor do they allow for adequate room for healing and reconcilation in and among communities. while college groups may see some success in reaching this ethnic demographic, the long-term impact remains to be seen, but there are no indication that this phenomenon will help with a sense of identity or reconciliation for asian americans or their churches. in short, they have no particularity about this universal God. so in the church, we have no unique history or unique part to play in the future, just a present experience complete with contemporary worship and definition of doctrines and traditions.

in essence, faith and culture are seen as having little to do with one another, and for those who pursue a notion of faith and spirituality, they are doing so, not as asian americans, but as merely believers who deny that such a category of race actually matters. which in turn, conveys the message that the particulars of race and history and culture do not matter to God or to whomever they engage with concerning faith matters. and these faith matters seem to highlight a very abstract notion of what happens after we die, or how we view specific matters in our own hearts while we live. so the chief preoccupations of christianity as it is commonly presented, are the afterlife and the inner life – which is to say, we should be sure that we do not live with demons when we die; but while we’re alive, we should wrestle with our demons now. but to be honest, even those demons are not unique, they’re just as bland as our churches.

and while this may sound a tad bit medieval, somehow wrestling with our demons now and proving that we’re fit for heaven is tantamount to progress. be sure to note, it’s a fact of economic history that protestantism and progress have a strong correlation. with the exception of japan and perhaps the young tigers of the pacific rim, most of the wealthiest modern nations come from a protestant tradition. and progress and wealth are attractive and auspicious things to wish for and work towards, especially from an asian heritage.

a historical side note, the reformation which took place throughout Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries, was, i would say, sidetracked or short-circuited by capitalism and industrialization. in other words, much like the coup that constantine made of the early church, emerging market economies made over the reformation. in doing so, to decipher the true motives between God and country are highly convuluted and remain so to this day because we are subscribing to and are dominated by an economy that has valuated us. therefore to project ‘family values’ or ‘Christian values’ in this environment is like a fish saying it has a method of acquiring oxygen other than the water it swims in. even if it’s true, it doesn’t seem sustainable. which is why the most powerful sign of Christian protest is to completely un-plug i.e. the Amish, the monastics, the desert fathers, the missionaries. to be ‘in the world, but not of it’ is, as history demonstrates, an incredibly difficult proposition.

asian immigrant churches in the US largely hail from missionary tradition of late 19th/early 20th century. when the dependencies of historical circumstance (poverty, war, displacement), which may have provided adequate grounds for God then, have changed or been removed, we see that because we desired God for liberation or survival or prosperity or eternal life, and having achieved that desired end (or some assurance of it in the case of the eternal life bit), we either dispose of God or continue to use God (or the institution of church) as a means for other smaller victories, whether that be power or political influence or as self-help salve. in those cases, again, it’s hard to determine how this christian God was not an economically savvy idol to worship. in other words, in this scheme of things, i can’t tell if i’m christian because i’m proud to be an american where i’m free or because i’m “saved” or because “i’m rich, b#@!$!!” in other words, the growing disenchantment with church is because it is increasingly difficult to discern where our allegiance to this jewish messiah begins and ends.

here’s my hunch, if we do not wake up and begin to articulate where we as asian americans align with this jewish messiah in ways that deconstruct the modern notions of progress and prosperity, we cannot survive without becoming disenchanted ourselves. furthermore, if we do not particularize the universal gospel to the context of the history and sociology of which we are a part, we underestimate the particular methodology of demons and sin to captivate us. and even further still, if asian americans do not critique our own posture with regards to a theology of identity and culture in the face of wealth and accomplishment, then we can rest assured that the Christian churches in China and Korea will be subverted by capitalism in the same way it was in the west. but that’s just my hunch.

What To Do With Wealth

Sudhir Vekatesh posts insightful thoughts as to “What Should South Asians Do With Their Wealth?” on the Freakonomics blog.

Here are few excerpts to sketch out his thoughts:

Young South Asians living in the U.S. (Pakistanis, Indians, and Bangladeshis are the majority). Some moved to America after college, and others (like me) were raised here. They are coming into significant personal wealth.

So, what are young South Asian philanthropists struggling with? Three things:

1. Should we give it away or turn money into power?

“You have to have power, because right now, we’re just a bunch of people who are not connected. I say we find each other, then give our money away strategically. Yes, we have money, but it doesn’t mean anything. You can’t do anything. Who will listen to you unless you get power? I think we should be looking at African-Americans. They finally got some power because they stuck together. Then people listened.”

2. Should we change perceptions or attack issues?

“We still don’t feel like Americans. I know the recipe: you come here and only when you participate — vote, protest, all of it — you become part of this country. I think we should be focusing on changing our approach to living here; we don’t see ourselves as Americans, and I wonder how we can make ourselves more a part of this country. How can you do that with money? I’m not sure, but we should be working on it.”

3. How can we work across the class and ethnic divide?

There was growing sentiment in the room that South Asians should use their education to reach across ethnic and class lines — helping spread the gospel of education and technology (i.e., closing the digital divide). They suggested bringing South Asians to New Orleans, to rural communities in Appalachia, to soup kitchens in downtown L.A., to anywhere that collective help could be provided across the ethnic divide.

Shuba invoked a popular acronym that pokes fun at people like me who lack deep connections to South Asia: American-Born Confused Desis (A.B.C.D.):

“I don’t want to use my money to help these A.B.C.D.’s become better Hindus. I mean, that’s just worthless. Our money should be used to educate other people.”

These questions Venkatesh brings up are intriguing to me as I feel most Asians can relate to South Asians in this orientation around wealth. Although we may not be in a position of philanthropy per se, I think the questions are certainly applicable before the point we feel we have so much as we’d like to give it away. Also, I think this begs questions of Asian American Christians who have come into wealth and yet should have an alternative narrative from which to operate in terms of charity. What does it mean for the our churches to prosper as well? Do our churches give money away or turn it into power? Do we change perceptions or attack issues? Or do we work across ethnic lines?

Perhaps even more convicting was the last comment – “I don’t want to use my money to help these ABCD’s become better Hindus. I mean, that’s just worthless.” I wonder if wealthy Asian American Christians would say the same thing about their children. And did you notice the use of the word “gospel” under the last question? – “The gospel of education and technology.” The gospel.

What does mean for us to spread a different gospel? If many Asian Americans see faith as fiscally irrelevant, what would it look like for us as individuals and as churches to begin to put our money where our mouth is? or rather, where our heart is? which is where our treasure is? which is not where it should be?

And one last thing, it shouldn’t take an economist to so clearly parse out these questions for us. Asian American Christians and churches need to be doing more than covering our overhead or planning our next building out in the ‘burbs. We need to think about and envision what it is we’re doing with wealth and whether or not the kingdom of God moves through us or away from us. Our churches should not be seen as tax shields or a place where ethnocentric Christians sermonize, moralize, and pontificate on Sunday morning–on that note I quite agree with the person who might say that helping people become better Christians is worthless – because becoming a better Christian needs to mean and be something different than what it does today and it should not be worthless to society, it should be a light to it.

The N-Word In Their Own Words

I recently remarked to some friends that having someone refer to me as an “Oriental” was as offensive as the N-word is to a Black person. It’s an involuntary, visceral response. I cringe, I wince, I can’t help but think that the person who said it either wants to cause a fight, has nobody but White friends, or has not left the house since the 1970s, or perhaps all of the above.

The moniker of choice is Asian at the least, Asian American if you’re in the know, and Mr. Asian American if you’re nasty.

My wife asked me if I think the word, Westerner is offensive. And I said, No. She asked, What if White people took offense to that. I said, I don’t really care. She said, You know you have a double standard? I said, Yes. After all the names I’ve been called, I hardly consider Westerner an insult. She said, I don’t think White people know that Oriental, which means Eastern, is offensive. They just don’t know.

And she’s probably right. She usually is. And that’s what I think offends me even more: White people don’t know. It’s like the bully who forgot they pushed you around or the girl who can never remember your name. It’s insulting. It feels even more dehumanizing that they simply don’t know or can’t discern what to say when. When White people justify it by saying, but they use the word Oriental in Hong Kong, or Black people call each other the N-word, it’s even more aggravating. Because the fact of the matter is, Asian and Asian Americans are still trying to self-differentiate, to collect ourselves and forge an identity of our own, and the issues of colonization and wanting to be White without knowing it and emulating all things of the dominant majority are issues that we face. So there is a lot of internal dialogue that needs to happen and a great deal of inconsistency as to what Asians understand as racism vs. self-hatred. And it’s patronizing and annoying to have White people who simply don’t know assume they can continue to define us or label us as they used to when the sun never set on the British Empire. Those days are over.

So when the conversation about the N-word came up on the View, I thought it was obvious. That’s their word. And they are negotiating it when and how it can and should be used by others, if at all. And when they decide that, they’ll let you know. And none of this means that we are less American or less patriotic or less Christian. It simply means that we want to be really who we are, without being defined by the White majority. And as far as I’m concerned, you can’t have “Oriental” back, unless you’re looking for a particular type of rug.

But here are some glimpses into how that internal dialogue and reconstruction takes place.

Julian Curry, a poet on the word

Smokey Robinson, you are a lot badder and harder than your falsetto voice would divulge.

And if you know me by now, you know that I’m a huge fan of Beau Sia, and you can hear how “CHINK” is equally off-limits (his poem, “Hip-Hop” here. So yeah, there’s no chink in your armor, it’s a weak spot.