Note: Making Paper Cranes is a weekly engagement with Mihee Kim Kort’s New book . . . uh, . . . Making Paper Cranes: Towards An Asian American Feminist Theology. Mihee handles complicated things gently. Also, she’s not afraid to turn upfield after the catch to gain extra yards. Seriously. That’s not a metaphor.
” . . . for the most part I will use the phrase ‘Asian American,’ which will potentially include people of East Asia (China, Hong Kong, Japan, Mongolia, Korea, and Taiwan), Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, Vietnam, and Malaysia), South Asia (Bhutan, India, Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka), and the Pacific Islands (Polynesia, Melanesia, and Micronesia), though not all stories will include all groups.”
“I choose to identify myself and this endeavor as ‘Asian American’ rather than as Korean American, though that is my specific ethnicity . . . I make this move intentionally to be as inclusive as possible, so I might address the basic issues that impact the group(s) of people who are lumped together in this category; how people in the United States view Koreans affects how they view those of Japanese, Chinese, Indian, and Vietnamese descent.”
The diversity of experience among “Asian Americans,” as Mihee deftly describes it, is staggering. As an Anglo American, I have almost no relationship to that diversity. Actually, that condition is only influenced by my own ethnicity, not conditioned by it, as the phrase “As an Anglo American” wishes to suggest. I’ve had opportunities. Doors have been open. Afraid, though, I’ve mostly stayed put and so stayed in the dark.
Last year I participated in the ordination of a Korean American pastor. The worship service was entirely in Korean; my English recitations were foreign. It felt so wrong to me that the experience was so novel and that, as a minister in a presbytery where almost half the churches worship in a non-English language, being the only mono-lingual person in the room jarred me.
Mihee’s identification of herself as “Asian American” for the purpose of inclusion makes this project more personal. It’s helping me to appreciate the wide array of Christians–Presbyterians at that– in my own patch of turf who share some aspect of what she’s describing.
Take just one aspect of that experience: being labelled a “foreigner.” “I have always endured the question of whether or not I am a foreigner,” Mihee writes, even though she was born and raised in the United States. There are remedies available to soothe the discomfort of that question, but they come at a cost.
The “model minority” myth, for example, flatters Asian Americans by marveling at their academic and business success, as well as their family values and deference to the rule of law. Yet in doing so the dominant culture merely praises what it values most about itself. And not everyone appreciates it, as many grieved white college applicants will attest. Here’s where that leads: “Asian Americans have become pawns, a ‘teacher’s pet’ community, a group resented for their success, who are also targets of violence and hatred by other groups, yet still not even accepted by the dominant culture.”
Keep talkin’ Mihee.
This is hard reading, mostly because I’m not sure what to do with what Mihee’s saying. Perhaps she will have some counsel to offer later. For now I’m grabbing on to her exposition of the way American media stereotypes Asians, an expositions that leans heavily on the work of Franklin Wu. This is something I can pay attention to and work on.
What about you?