Monday, September 16, 2013

Miss Asian America

Nina Davuluri shows off her pearly whites as the new Miss America!
This isn't strictly speaking an article about East Asia, but it does relate to issues surrounding Asian America and Asian Americans, which I do like to discuss a lot on this blog, and so . . .

Nina Davuluri, a woman of Indian descent, has won the Miss America pageant!!! OMG, WHAT!?

I'm generally not all that big on pageants. I think they're kind of silly and people take them WAY too seriously. However, this situation has brought up a lot of issues that I'm sensitive about and I want to blog about it.

So, not surprisingly, an Indian American winning Miss America is surprising to a lot of people. Since the decision, Twitter has gone wild with all manner of angry folks criticizing the decision and attempting to justify their criticisms with racism and all sorts of twisted and outdated logic (also known as ignorance). Click here for a collection of samples to see what I'm talking about.

So let me put this in no uncertain terms. If you have a problem with or are incapable of understanding why an American woman of Indian descent has been chosen as Miss America, then you're probably racist. Is it written in the American constitution that only white people can be considered Americans? I very much doubt it. Now, I'm not a citizen of the United States; I don't know what it's like to live there and as such don't know the various realities of American life aside from what I see in Canadian and American media. Despite the fact that Canada and America are very similar in a lot of ways, we are also different in a lot of other ways, and I'm not really into America-bashing. However, I do know that, like my home country of Canada, the U.S.A. has relied and continues to rely heavily on immigration to sustain their national economy. Over the years, I've seen comments on the Net and overheard people voicing thoughts such as that non-white immigrants and their American and Canadian descendants "should go back to where they came from." To the specifically white people in North America who share this view, let me remind you of a few things.

1. Forcing all non-white immigrants to leave North America would destroy our countries. Over 50% of our workforce -- that is, people who put money into the economy, support our infrastructure, and pay taxes, etc. -- are non-white. Yeah, good luck trying to sustain our countries at half capacity, people. These people put their time in, so how about some accounting for that, eh?

2. We are all descendants of immigrants. White people were never native to North America.

3. READ A DAMN BOOK!

Therefore, an Asian-American person is just as American as apple pie. Why is this? Because "American" is not an ethnicity, it's a culture! There is a popular theory that even Native Americans came from somewhere else, but to their credit they stayed in North America long enough for their physical appearance to actually have been affected by the environment. By that logic I'd certainly feel inclined to believe that Native Americans could be considered "ethnically" American, but us white people sure as hell aren't. When the Europeans arrived to settle in what we now know as North America, they ran into all sorts of diseases, dietary problems, unfamiliar weather and environments, and lots of culture clash, to put it mildly. Now, why is that? 'Cause they were foreigners in the purest sense of the word, and that was only a few hundred years ago. But wait! Who colonized and built these great nations? Generations of us white people, right? I suppose you could say that, but if it's all a matter of perspective, you could also look at it another way.

Let's do something fun. Suppose you believe that non-white Americans are a bunch of "guests," or foreigners who come over here, multiply, and invade our beloved countries and institutions. In that case, should we not look upon the founding of our proud nations in a similar context? That would probably sound something like this . . . "A bunch of Europeans built a bunch of stuff and made a bunch of laws in another country and then got pissed off when others tried to join them."

Sounds pretty silly when explained this way, doesn't it? I can't deny that white Europeans did much (though not all) of the early nation building in North America, but if that's what makes you a proper North American then I'm not a proper one myself. My ancestors weren't even in Canada until the very late 1800s and thus they did not have a direct impact on the formation of the nation. If it's simply a matter of families being here for a certain period of time? Well, San Francisco's and Vancouver's respective Chinatowns are each over a hundred years old! So how do we decide who's American and who isn't?        

Well, you don't. The truth is, Canada and the United States are young, ever-changing nations. While the U.S. does have a much stronger national identity than Canada, the truth is our perceptions of being "American" or "Canadian" often don't take into account the changing nature and flexibility of these distinctions. If I marry another white Canadian and we move to China and have a child, can that child be considered Canadian? This sort of thing is happening all the time and constantly shaking up our perceptions. In other words, what it means to be American now will probably be pretty different a hundred years from now. The bottom line is that things are changing on a global scale, as they always have.

So what can you do? You have two options: you can either embrace it or be very, very uncomfortable and miserable, but you sure as hell can't stop it. Oh, you can try, but you will fail. Once upon a time, white people came from Europe and myriad ethnicities came from Asia and Africa. Now things are different. This is America, and either we are all Americans or none of us are.   

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