My Ethnical Dilemma

Before Eden was born, I looked TJ in the eyes and told her in all seriousness that I hoped our daughter would look white because her life would be easier. Her response will always be with me. There was no shock. No laughter. Just sadness in her eyes because she knew. She knew I was serious and she knew that my comment came from a place of suffering and past experience.

Fast forward a year and wouldn’t you know it, my daughter is indeed very white looking. I am both amused and shocked by how much she resembles me and that she reflects a completely different ethnicity too. But despite her appearance fulfilling a wish of mine, I’m not oblivious to the fact that she’ll still face some hardships over her ethnicity.

Back in college, when I was dating my former girlfriend, her father directed a comment about me that I’ll never forget. We were both 20, still a few years off from graduating and marriage wasn’t even a remote possibility. He sat his daughter down and told her his concerns about any future children we might have. How they’ll be half. How they’ll grow up with identity issues because of it. When we broke up, she relayed that information to me but I was too young and naive to realize what had really happened.

When my friends heard about it, they were immediately outraged, horrified and even stunned by what he had said about me for they saw what I couldn’t see. I cannot even imagine how my parents felt when I told them what happened and their sense of confusion when I wasn’t angry about it.

My parents met in England, spending over a decade of their lives away from Hong Kong, trying to make a better living out there. I recently learned that they moved back to Hong Kong before I was born because my father’s career as a doctor had reached a dead end. He had been passed over for several jobs. Jobs which he was well qualified for, but wasn’t even considered because he was Chinese. The jobs all went to Caucasians, most of them didn’t even have the proper credentials. The final straw was when he was filling in for a friend and a patient refused his service because of his “black hair”.

Being a parent myself, I can imagine the horrible feeling of hearing my child face a racist situation. The recent Jeremy Lin and “Chink in the Armor” incident has surfaced for me all the times I had been called a “Chink”. I can recall the many times I had someone reference my “squinty” eyes, even though my eyes are actually pretty round. The one that hurt the most was when someone in a mocking accent tried to converse with me with “Ching Chong Ling Long Ting Tong”. The act of making fun of my language wasn’t entirely that hurtful, but that it mostly happened in the company of people and nobody would come to my defense. Nobody would say anything. The most recent episode occurred when I had dinner at a friend’s house. Even after conversing with his family for over two hours at this point, my friend’s step elementary age brother blurted out “Wait, what’s your name again? Ching Chong Wong Wang?” My friend stepped in as much as he could, but his parents just sat there, silent and slowly kept eating.

The message from these stories is clear to me: it’s better to be white. You get the job even if you didn’t work for it. You are marriage material. You don’t get called names. So when I told TJ my hope for our daughter’s appearance, I was wishing she wouldn’t experience the same pains I did growing up.

Eden is unique. She comes from two cultures and two worlds. It has started to become more and more evident as I begin to show pictures of her deceased grandparents and teach her how to address them in Cantonese. Eden is not half. She is fully Chinese and she is fully American. But despite her outward appearance, she will not have that “easy” life that I wish for, partly because I won’t allow it.

Eden cannot grow up in this world turning a cold shoulder to my, no… her story. To the best of my abilities, I will raise her to know her Chinese heritage and her American heritage too. She will know of the plight towards her people as immigrants in this country. As TJ put it, we cannot allow her to grow up with apathy. Because she is both Chinese and American, she has a unique opportunity in bridging two worlds together bringing forth healing, reconciliation and understanding. But to do that she needs to have empathy for both cultures and that cannot happen without some pain and suffering in her life.

It pains me to say that, and while my role as her father is to protect her, I cannot shelter her from certain experiences in life even if it means it’ll hurt her. My natural instinct is to keep her from harm, but I would rob her of far more if I did.

About Jason

On a journey towards minimalism and crafting the perfect cup of coffee. View all posts by Jason

22 responses to “My Ethnical Dilemma

  • Gena Hopper

    I think your daughter’s problems will come more from her physical beauty than her Chinese background. Really, I refer you to the 30 Rock episode about The Bubble.

    I really like how you say that she is both fully Chinese and fully American. As half mix myself, I think I would have benefited from this mentality rather than thinking I was half of something. This is probably the reason why I never felt fully “at home” in neither chinese or latino circles.

    But as you note, sadly racism against the Chinese is not just in America but the world over. Our children need to understand that comes from a small and ignorant place. A teaching from my mother that helped protect me against prejudices/rejection was that she always said that if a door did not open, that was not the door God had for us; he has a bigger and better one. I understand that sometime things don’t resolve so easily, but when you feel God is on your side, you tell me what kind of life that leads too…

    Gah– I’m sad the chinese is fading in my children! I was already questionable myself, but I do feel compel to maximise that quarter in Hannah.

    • Jason

      Thanks Gena. I loved that episode on 30 Rock! Well, if Eden ends up in a “bubble” I suppose there are worse things. But speak for yourself! Hannah! So cute!

      Our Epic National Director Tommy Dyo mentioned the fully Chinese and fully American concept to us some years ago. TJ was particularly taken by it because we thinking about starting a family at that point and his words fully resonated with us. “How can 1+1= half? It doesn’t.”

      It seems like a small thing but as you mentioned, the switch from I’m half of this and half of that to I’m both this and that can be huge. I hope our children and yours too will grow up knowing that. That they are in no way incomplete or just half of something.

  • adrianpei

    Loved your post, Jason. And thanks for sharing. Eden will be an even stronger woman because of her being both American and Chinese… though as you shared, it doesn’t mean that will be easy for her, or for you as parents. I’d love to hear more about your background you hinted at, and look forward to seeing Eden grow up to be a strong woman and leader!

  • chris

    loved this post and hearing your heart. with morgans cp i know there will come a day when she gets made fun of or picked on and i know i can not protect her from that which is hard. but i pray brian and i have the relationship with her that she will process her pain with us and we can walk through it with her. Greatful to serve with you and learn more and understand more of your journey. really like u and your fam.

    • Jason

      Thanks Christine. I pray for that too. I suspect that Colin will have a huge role to play when the bullying starts. It is no accident that he is so empathetic and I cannot wait to see how he’ll embrace that role and how it’ll not only bring healing to Morgan but also draw you guys even closer as a family.

  • Jake Carlson

    Jason, thanks for sharing. I am so sorry that recent Jeremy Lin / ESPN brought up such painful memories for you. I hope that my opinion on the outcome and the way it happened does not make you think that I condone racism. Far from it.

    • Jason

      Thanks for reading Jake. It was difficult to relive some of my past. Most of the things I wrote about I had long forgotten. Probably as a defense mechanism to save myself from pain.

      I know you have a differing opinion about the situation, but I never thought you condone racism. In fact, I believe the overwhelming majority is completely against racism. The problem lies in that it is hard to see.

      Soccer – one of our common threads – is a place where we can see this played out. Here’s an article about Russia’s battle with racism in soccer:

      The case that relates to this is Odemwingie and his transfer to West Brom and that banner. This is an extreme example, but Sorokin’s response that “there’s nothing racial in it” is exactly the problem. He cannot see the racism (or is just denying it).

  • Angela Barraza

    This post really touches my heart – thank you for sharing! I fully resonate with your desire for Eden to be fully Chinese and fully American. I pray that Elena and Alejandro can fully embrace their Salvadoran side as well as their American side. I think it’s awesome that our children are part of both cultures, even with any discrimination they might experience in their life. Like you said, it’s better than the alternative for sure.

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  • fgutz12

    Thanks for sharing this Jason. I’m Mexican American and only came to terms with my Hispanic side a couple of years ago. For a long time I ignored being Mexican because of the stereotypes. When I became a believer I realized I couldn’t really embrace God’s love until I embraced who he made me, both Mexican and American. There has definitely been a tension living out both cultures, but its been good tension. I think Eden would benefit with y’all choosing to address this early in life, I know I would have.

    • Jason

      I love how you describe the situation of being bi-cultural as how there is a tension, but a good one. But mostly I love how you’ve realized how God made you. It was certainly not an accident but instead very intentional. You are who you are for a very specific reason and purpose and until we fully grasp that do we really start living our lives for His glory.

  • Lawrence

    i’ve been called chink for my chinese heritage and i’ve been called worse for confessing Christ. time and time again God brings me back to the realization that i’m forgiven and that if i find my identity in Christ instead of as a father, a husband, an asian, a male, etc etc i have no choice and will indeed be compelled to forgive as Christ forgave. i’ve not experienced much fuller joy as when i feel God at work in me transforming me into Jesus’s likeness- and it’s not through anything i do but through the grace of God by Jesus’s obedience that i am transformed.

    • Jason

      Beautiful words Lawrence. Thanks for sharing those and for the eternal perspective. And I’m sorry for the verbal abuse you’ve received for the way you look and for your faith. Truthfully it’s a little shocking because we are in the Bible belt where you’re more likely to be persecuted for not believing in Jesus, although Austin is a little different from the rest of the state.

  • 1loyalskeptic

    Jason, a very thought-provoking post. I actually had the opposite conversation with Brian before we were married. As a bi-racial individual myself, I have struggled with my identity as both Japanese and White American and my name causes further confusion upon meeting new people. Because in most people’s eyes I was a confusing paradox that needed explanation (brown skin, brown eyes, unidentifiable race, ‘exotic’ name that doesn’t seem to ‘match’ my face), people couldn’t really make hurtful, stereotypical comments to me, however I still find that I have to explain myself over and over again why I look the way I do and have the name I have. It’s annoying and exhausting to never have anyone take you at face value. But I have always loved my heritage and embrace it fully, maybe even cling onto it because I am hapa. My son will only be a quarter Japanese but I hope that he will resemble me in some ways. I want to be able to relate to him in the rich experience it is to identify with another culture. I want him to love his Japanese relatives and his Japanese history and feel connected to the samurai line he descends from. I struggled significantly in the decision to marry a caucasian man because I feared my children would not look like me or identify as a minority and that scared me. I am at peace with it now and know that however my son and future children look or choose to embrace their culture, or not, that I will love them and teach them all I can about where they come from.

    • Jason

      Thanks for sharing Miyuki. I loved hearing about your hopes for your son and mostly, how you cling to your Japanese heritage because you are hapa rather than reject it for the inconvenience it has caused you to explain yourself over and over and over again. I cannot wait to meet your son!

  • Shawn Marie Gendron

    Jason, I don’t even know what to say. I’ve have never judged people by their race. That is pure prejudice. I am so sorry that you have been hurt. It doesn’t matter what race you are, it’s your heart. I knew you had to be a wonderful man when T.J. introduced us.It seems like I have loved T.J. forever. She is one of a kind and one of the most loving people I have had had the privilege to know. I never even considered for an instance your race. It is so sad that people are so ignorant and mean. I hope your beautiful daughter will not have to bear any hurt or pain because her parents are not of the same race. I know that she will be beautiful both inside and out because she has wonderful, loving Christian parents – she couldn’t be blessed with better parents. I live in an apartment complex in Corpus Christi that is about 2 miles from Texas A&M. Our apartment is filled with Asian students who are so friendly, talkative, sweet and great to have as neighbors. Your precious little Eden will have the very best of both worlds and that is awesome. I’m just so sorry that I never even considered what you and so many others go through at the hands of total ignorance. I will keep you, T.J. and Eden in my thoughts and prayers. God’s got this and he will keep you all in His perfect peace and never let you do this alone..not ever. My love to you and your beautiful girls.
    Hugs, Shawn.

    • Jason

      Thank you Shawn for your comment. It was very thoughtful, considerate and encouraging. To be honest, when I first started making trips to Rockdale I made jokes on how the citizens of that lovely town would receive me. Part of that is from my own fear of being in a predominantly Caucasian environment and how my ethnicity would stick out, but another part was my own prejudice towards the majority culture’s ignorance. I’m not proud of the latter, even more so as I’ve been greeted so warmly with incredible hospitality for many, many years by the citizens of Rockdale.

      I loved our meeting many years ago. I love and am quite envious that you knew so many stories about TJ that I still don’t know to this day. Thank you for loving her so well during those years.

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