[LETTERS to the editor]Pigeonholing people
I often ponder a question that haunts biracial and ethnic minorities in America: Who can be considered American and what exactly does it entail?
Being Chinese-American, I have always been torn by pressure to align with either my nationality or my ethnicity. I consider myself American. Although my facial features are distinctly East Asian, my mentality, demeanor, values and way of thinking are entirely “American.” Let’s consider the old adage, “as American as apple pie.”
In the multicultural, interconnected world which we inhabit, if the apple pie, a staple of American Thanksgiving tables, was made in a different country, is it still American? If the apples were grown in Argentina, and then processed and baked in China, will it be considered un-American? If IBM earns most of its revenue from abroad and the majority of its employees come from outside the United States, should it still be allowed to register as an American corporation? These questions are rooted in the definition of nationality, which is under constant scrutiny.
I recently read an article in The New York Times that explored the prestige of Italian cooking in Italy and questioned whether “Italian” cooks are necessary in order to label a cuisine as authentically “Italian.” If you are ethnically Mongolian, but schooled and trained in the best kitchens in Florence, will your culinary masterpieces be less “Italian” than someone with Italian parents? Any individual who answers in the affirmative is seriously delusional and ensnared in the antiquated geopolitics of national identity.
On a personal note, when I worked as a store manager at Panda Express, a Chinese fast-food chain in Gilroy, California, my staff were all Latinos. Of course, the initial question did come to mind: Can Latinos make quality Chinese food without being ethnically Chinese? After monitoring my staff for a week and periodically tasting the orange chicken and beef and broccoli, (customers’ favorites) I came to the obvious conclusion that one’s nationality does not determine one’s merits. Moreover, it seems to me that nationality is used as a method of categorization in a hierarchical system that exalts some while relegating the rest to obscurity.
So why do we continue to doubt each other’s patriotism? And why do we pigeonhole citizens of the world into their particular locations on the map? Does the United Nations implicitly promote disintegration of member states as it operates under the principle of national sovereignty? Do the Olympics, with its emphasis on state-based competition and the message of tolerance actually reinforce divisions and preserving political, economic and social gulfs? Although I do not have a concrete answer to these questions, I can tell you that excessive national, regional, tribal and local pride is a perilous path to instability, war and relentless confrontation between otherwise equal members of the human race.
Dennis Yang, English teacher, Gimhae Foreign Language High School