Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Olympics: Pleasure & Pain

I've had Olympics fever for the last several nights. Ever since it started, I've been up until 2:30 in the morning gobbling up every moment, from Phelps' golds to the men's gymnastics surprise to the women's gymnastics meltdown. I *love* the Olympics - I always feel so inspired and happy to watch the culmination of so many years of hard work, determination, and perserverance. I feel like it is a time when we can celebrate each other's achievements. I am just as elated to see an American athlete achieve their dreams as any other nation's athletes. After all, people are people and we all want the same things for ourselves, our families, and our children.

So that's why the photo of the Spanish basketball team slanting their eyes in an advertisement hurt me so much. I even commented publicly on a blog about it. This is what I wrote:

"When I saw the photograph of the Spanish basketball team slanting their eyes, I felt extremely hurt and saddened. As a Chinese-American growing up in Georgia and in Pennsylvania, I remember painful moments during childhood when classmates tormented me with this very gesture. They pulled at the corners of their eyes and said, "Me Chinese, me play joke, me put pee pee in your Coke!" I always went right to the bathroom to cry secretly in the stalls, and would do so again later at night before going to sleep. I remember feeling different, less worthy, less good-looking, and certainly like I did not belong. I fully understand and credit that the players were not attempting to offend, insult, or injure, but as we all know, what we think we are saying or intending does not always reflect what others are receiving. The Olympics is supposed to build bridges between cultures and nations, not tear them down. This gesture highlights differences between the Caucasian and Asian races, rather than trying to unify us as a human race."


clarence said...

It is interesting situation. I think there are two points that I am sure you are aware of, but I'd like to point out.

First one is that we are (asian/chinese americans) offended by this only because we grew up in America. We are offended because of our own identity issues. The mainland Chinese have not gone through what we went through as children, and thus do not have any idea .

I showed 3 different coworkers this picture and none of them could figure out what was going on. when I explained it to them, (believe it or not, I used the same example you chinese, my play joke) none of them really cared. It was a shrug of the shoulders, at best.

I think examples of this can be brought over and over again in the States. When Shaquille made fun of Yao Ming, it was the Chinese Americans that were up in arms. NOT the Chinese from the mainland.

When Abercrombie and Fitch copied the "two wongs make it white" slogan, it was again the chinese americans up in arms.

Now I think the Spanish Basketball team has offended much of the Asian Americans out there, they have not offended any of the Chinese from mainland. I don't know if that is relevant or not, but it could just be the fact that we are offended because of our own identity issues.

The chinese people I talked to said this....yes it bothers them, and if they were in fact making fun of us, so be it. we will find another way to show them that we are worthy of their respect. Punishing them or retorting is not worth it. I thought was very intelligent way of looking at it.
the second point is this, they said that they had no intention of any ill will. if you accept this at face value, which you say you do, should we not let it go?

if an african american is in china and here's a chinese person pointing and saying "nei ga, nei ga, nei ga" does he/she have the right to get upset? The chinese person has no ill will and means nothing by the two syllables that is phonetically similar to the racial slur for african americans. Is that a fair analogy?

I think these gestures highlights the differences in european and american cultures, and the fact that Americans are highly sensitive to anything racial, which furthermore highlights the identity issues that still exist very much in chinese americans and American society at large.

Mare said...

I was just telling Charlie this last night! That probably nobody in China even understands this because they've never been tormented for being Chinese (because everyone else in China is Chinese). Your comment just confirms my guess about how they'd react. I'm not offended, was just hurt and reminded of bad times from childhood. Obviously, that is my own filter and I accept that. But my main point still stands - that what one person sends out and another one receives is not under the control of the sender. The receiver will apply their own filters and experiences and react accordingly, which is what I did.