Thursday, August 1, 2013

Do I Have an Asian Fetish? (The Conclusion!)

In Riverdale, Toronto, where I was born and raised: East Chinatown, where I spent most of my days! (That doesn't flow so well.)
All right, so in the last post I mentioned that I often find myself in situations in which I meet many East Asian people on a near-regular basis. Now I did just spend the previous year studying in South Korea, so naturally I met a lot of East Asian people there, but that's not what I mean. The reason for my knowing or being involved in Toronto's various East Asian communities is because, quite frankly, my life has more or less always been like that.

At a very young age (five or six) I developed an acute interest in things East Asian. Toronto has one of the largest East Asian populations in eastern North America. The elementary school I attended had signs in three languages--English, French (the official second language of Canada), and Chinese--because of its close proximity to Toronto's East Chinatown (I lived on the edge of it myself). Not surprisingly, a rather large Chinese-Canadian community lived in the area and the children attended my school. My elementary school was culturally unique in a lot of ways. The school library had a fairly expansive Chinese-language section and an Asian-Canadian/American literature section, after-school Chinese classes were held every day (I did not attend those, obviously), and the lunar New Year was a big deal. It's those New Year celebrations I remember best. 

For lunar New Year the whole school got into it. The classrooms would be decorated with red and gold tchotchkes; there would be performances, lion dances, and special food; the library would exhibit Chinese-Canadian and Chinese-themed children's books (that's how I got my first taste of the Monkey King); and the principal would even come around to each class with lai see (red envelopes containing money--usually just a few coins) for the students. Most of the performances were done by students, but some years the school would hire professional acrobats, dancers, or musical performers for shows in the school auditorium. It was really something. 

In hindsight this was all rather quaint, possibly even superficial, but to a six-year-old child this was AMAZING! Something about the colours, the images of dragons, the lion dancing, the folklore, the food, and the performances just captured my imagination and wouldn't let go. I still have vivid memories of it, but that was only the beginning.

Throughout my elementary school years many of my closest friends (some of whom are still my closest friends) had Chinese backgrounds and were typically second or third generation. I would go to their houses after school fairly often, sometimes eating dinner with their parents, sometimes with their grandparents. It was always interesting to me because, naturally, interacting with one friend's first-generation parents who had actually immigrated from China or Hong Kong and another friend's second-generation parents who were native to Canada was totally different (obviously). That is when I started realizing the profound cultural differences between the generations and the differences between East Asian and Asian-Canadian culture generally. 

By about the age of eight it was fairly obvious that I had an interest in East Asian culture, and my parents were really supportive of it. I was enrolled in martial arts classes; I was bought children's books based on folktales from China and Japan; I loved the Ninja Turtles and collected Ultra Man figurines; Jackie Chan was the coolest guy in movies; I watched every movie with the word ninja in the title that I was allowed to (by the rating system); and my best friend's older brothers had started watching subtitled anime on VHS tapes they bought in Chinatown, which we would take peeks at. At this point I couldn't really tell the difference between nor was I aware of the vast scope of East Asian cultures and their many differences and subsections. But then again, I was a child, so I think some slack can be cut.

This exposure to various East Asian and Asian-Canadian cultural elements and people continued through middle school and into high school. Though my middle school had a similar scene to my elementary school--much of a student body came from my elementary school and was ethnically East Asian--my high school was a different story. It had fewer Asian-Canadian students, but that gave me a chance to meet other non-Asian students who were interested in Asian stuff (anime and Japanese rock music were getting popular online in those days) and also non-Asian students who had no idea why I was so into Asian stuff in the first place. Anyway, my interest continued uninterrupted and culminated in a growing love of East Asian cinema. Also, many of my best friends from elementary and middle school, whom I kept hanging out with, were attending another high school where there was such a concentration of Chinese-Canadian students that the day of lunar New Year was not a mandatory school day (I was really envious of that).            

By my high school days I had become so used to being with ethnically East Asian people that when I met the girl who would become my first girlfriend, the fact that she was Chinese-Canadian was a mere detail. There was no mystery or exoticism or preconceived notion of submissiveness or what-have-you. Ethnically East Asian girls and women had always been around me, as characters in storybooks, as authors of those storybooks, as characters in film and television, as childhood friends, as parental figures, as teachers, as friends of my parents, as role models, as actors, and as inspiring figures in both fiction and real life! When I made the decision to ask out my first girlfriend, it was not because of her "Asian-ness"; it was because she was a girl I liked. It just so happened that she was the child of two ethnically East Asian parents and I didn't have a problem with that. 

This interest in East Asian culture and my comfort level around East Asian people never went away. Even now I regularly find myself at social gatherings in which someone will make a joke about me being the token white guy, something I don't usually give much thought to until someone points it out. And, of course, as I meet more and more East Asian people I tend to come into contact with women who are of that ethnicity and who I find attractive. However, I also have myriad platonic ethnically Asian female friends who for various reasons I do not wish to have romantic relationships with. I respect these women; I understand that they are all unique individuals. Some of them I meet once, some become my friends, and a few of the women I meet have become my partners. I can't say for sure if I'll marry an East Asian woman, because it's not really something I think about all that much. If I meet a girl I find attractive, I'm going to try to date her--simple as that.   

However, my situation is somewhat unusual. Also, Asian fetishists DO exist and they exist big-time. It seems to me that many men who have Asian fetishes fixate on the differences between themselves and the people around them and the women they desire to be with--the physical, the behavioral, the cultural. But the discomfiting thing is that most non-Asian men I've talked to who have Asian fetishes seem to know very little about the reality of contemporary life in Asia or the cultural differences between Asians and Asian-Americans generally. When most of these men look at Asian women, they see a type of people, not individuals, and they often have outdated and straight-up misinformed ideas about how this group is supposed to behave. This has not been the case with me since a long, LONG time ago (basically when I was a child).  

So to conclude, no, I don't think I have an Asian fetish. A fetish is something specific; it's a fixation, an objectification, a reduction, an isolation of an object. I am proud to say that I've never looked at any woman, East Asian or otherwise, as an object (with the possible exception of Barbie). Toronto's East Asian communities, whether they comprise Canadians or members of the international community, ethnically East Asian or otherwise, have always had a major presence in my life. From a very young age that's always the way it's been for me. If you're a person who is dating someone whose ethnicity is other than your own and you love them for WHO they are rather than WHAT they are, then in my opinion you're all good. And if you're a non-Asian male attracted to Asian women specifically, just check yourself for a second and try some introspection; your perceptions could be a bit out of whack or just straight-up wrong. But for the record, if you are non-Asian, there's nothing wrong with liking Asian women. However, there IS something wrong with stereotyping or assuming that Asian women are collectively a certain way because of their ethnicity. If you're going to show an interest in people and their culture, it's your responsibility to actually learn about them and get to understand them. There's no excuse for ignorance.  

So you still might be curious: why have my girlfriends been mostly East Asian up till now? I dunno, I guess I just meet a lot of East Asian people. But you know what? I think that's okay, and they seem to think so as well.           

Here are some interesting websites and editorials I discovered while researching this topic--they're very informative and varied!

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