America is a nation of contradiction. We saw a nation, which while desperately wanting to establish freedom, systematically pushed-aside this land’s indigenous people. We celebrate a constitution which has “all men are created equal” penned by the hands of leaders and a society that treated women as second class and most non-European men like property. We have moved on from this place in history, but contradiction persists. We talk about our diversity, but still live in segregated cities and neighborhoods.
This past Friday, Alexandra Wallace, a student at UCLA, posted a YouTube video blog about the Asian/Asian-American students who were also in the library while she was studying (video below):
“I’ll be in like deep into my studying, into my political science theories and arguments and all that stuff, getting it all down, like typing away furiously, blah blah, blah, and then all of a sudden when I’m about to like reach an epiphany… Over here from somewhere, “Ooooh Ching Chong Ling Long Ting Tong, Ooohhhhh.”
But Wallace does not stop with the students in the library, she expands it to all Asian/Asian-American individuals.
“I swear they’re going through their whole families, just checking on everybody from the tsunami thing. I mean I know, okay, that sounds horrible like I feel bad for all the people affected by the tsunami, but if you’re gonna go call your address book like you might as well go outside because if something is wrong you might really freak out if you’re in the library and everybody’s quiet like you seriously should go outside if you’re gonna do that. “
Wallace is getting a ton of negative response. Unfortunately people have threatened her with violence (including death threats), and have been hammering her over and over on the internet. Wallace was wrong, and she is wrong for having that long lasting perspective of Asian-Americans. But I don’t think Wallace is expressing a much different sentiments than many other Americans. In many ways this blonde-haired, push-up bra-ed, college student embodies the popular and prolific likeness of entitled, image driven, individualistic American-ness. (to be fair to Wallace, she is a college student and will be growing and developing a great deal in her upcoming years, it is wrong to label her as a non-dynamic being).
Again, we are a people of contradiction. For all of our conversation and ideation about diversity and multiculturalism the actual way we interact with each other – in real relationships not just having a “black friend” – our nation is pretty divided amongst racial lines (socio-economically, politically, geographically, wealth, entertainment, you name it). Moreover, I have heard and confronted people using a faux, generic Asian accident in an effort to retell a story or make fun of a certain run in with someone of Asian decent. Many of us have heard people in line complain about the group of Asian patrons because they are “loud”, in a “big group”, or “funny”. Many people either descriptively or jokingly use this language disregarding the real pain that it can inflict on those connected to and within the Asian/Asian-American community and the wall that it fortifies between ethnic backgrounds, Wallace simply said it on youtube instead of to her friends or under her breath.
What I believe is most troubling and characteristic of an American response is what she says about the changing of American culture.
“these hordes of Asian people that UCLA accepts into our school every year”
Wallace doesn’t know if the individuals she speaks of are from the United States or not, she doesn’t know their background and even if she did she doesn’t give any room to appreciate the perspectives and ways of doing things from an “other”.
We don’t need to look much further than our current issue of Latin-American immigration to examine how defensive we are of our view of “American” (though we could talk about the lack of multiracial communities, the dominance and cultural power hoarding of White leadership, the fear we have over Arab Americans, etc.). Just recently I saw a commercial that reminded me that not everyone is concerned with the policing of illegal immigration, many are worried about immigrants – as a whole – “taking jobs” and changing culture. California is constantly debating about English and Spanish within the K-12 educational system. Many of us don’t like that our language is being passed over for Spanish. Teaching in Spanish for many seems “un-American”. Some of our lips state that immigrants should “become more American” 30 seconds after we eat a Taco.
But America, much like Alexandra Wallace, is an adolescent. We are xenophobic. The identity that we thought we were and that we propagate in much our culture is neither who we are becoming nor who we are. Like any young adult we need to examine ourselves, who we are, and the image we project, and we need to reject contradiction (not paradox) and seek congruence (not uniformity). In which individuals respect one another and culture reflects the complexities of the American personality.