Belated Chinese New Year (#275)

My husband is Chinese-American.

I’m so white looking, I make a point of assuring any new neighbors of color that I did not vote for Trump.

Our son took after me.

Occasionally, an Asian-American woman would ask me if Baby D’s father was Asian, but no one ever appeared to be surprised that I was his mom.

It was different for my husband. He took Baby D to the grocery store when Baby D was about 2. An old white man got in Andy’s face and asked, “Is that your son?”

Andy said, “Yes.”

The old white man snorted and said, “He don’t look a thing like his daddy!”

Andy replied, “That’s because his white mama traded up races.”

(Okay, no, he didn’t really say that. Or even think it. That’s just what I wish he’d said. Maybe the guy would have had a heart attack and there would be one less racist in America. Andy, of course, just wishes he’d decked the guy.)

Like many first generation Americans, Andy turned his back on all things from the old world. He wouldn’t speak Cantonese. He cooked American/ European cuisines, only buying his first Chinese cookbook after we got together (when he learned I loved hot and sour soup).

Between Andy’s disinterest in Chinese culture and the fact that Baby D was raised by an uptight, white, stay-at-home mom, it’s probably not surprising that Baby D grew up feeling “white”—even though his last name ended in Wong.

In preschool, when Baby D’s diverse class discussed heritage, Baby D’s best mate Nate said, “And you’re Chinese.”

“No, I’m not!” Baby D replied. On the way home, Baby D told me how funny it was that Nate thought he was Chinese.

“But you are,” I told him. “You’re actually genetically more Chinese than white.”

“What?” exclaimed Baby D. “I’m Chinese?”

I sighed. “Yes. And I am a parental failure.”

*****

Now, you can argue that Andy should have been the one to teach his son about his Chinese side of the family, but that’s asking a lot from someone who learned early that survival depends on assimilation. Plus, Andy never cared about American holidays, let alone Chinese ones.

If Baby D was going to learn anything about China, it was gonna be up to me.

Well, me and all the AMWF bloggers in Asia–Jocelyn Eikenburg, Marta, Mary, Susan Blumberg-Kason, and many others who no longer post. They taught me about Chinese traditions like Chinese New Year and the Mid-Autumn festival.

I found and bought mooncakes in September. We ate them by moonlight on the patio and I told Baby D (and Andy) the different versions of the story of Chang’e.

A selection of red envelopes.

I ordered red envelopes for Chinese New Year and stuffed them with crisp bills. (This began Baby D’s love affair with cash, but that’s another post.)

I persuaded Andy to make nian gao, the one dish he remembered form his childhood.

We found a dim sum place within a few miles that Andy grudgingly pronounced “acceptable.” Baby D discovered nai wong bao and pronounced it “awesome.”

I showed my son lion dances. He loved them.

I got him training chopsticks. He hated them.

Last year, I ordered a few decorations for Chinese New Year: a red tablecloth, some double happiness trivets, a lantern, and a flag. Hopefully the characters on the flag and lantern don’t say, “Ha! Stupid white people will buy anything!”

I told Baby D stories about his great-grandmother, fleeing the communists with her lead-lined teapot.

I tried to get Baby D’s Nai-nai to tell him more about the ghost festival and other superstitions, but she protested that their family was Christian and didn’t do any of that nonsense.

Some parents put their kids in Chinese school on the weekend, but my kid threw a fit at the idea of school instead of sports.

He did eventually announce that Mandarin would be his elective in public school.

I hugged him and exclaimed, “It’s so awesome that you want to learn more about your heritage!”

“Uh-huh. The older kids told me that the teacher has parties for all the holidays! With treats!”

Not exactly the rationale I was hoping for, but I’ll take it.

Perhaps someday he’ll be able to tell me what the characters on my lantern mean.

Published by

Autumn Ashbough

WF writing about the humorous perils of life with Chinese-American significant other.

53 thoughts on “Belated Chinese New Year (#275)”

  1. Has he read Bridge of Birds yet? I know it’s by a White American and it’s probably packed full of horrible unconscious anti-Chinese stereotypes, but, but, but… it’s Bridge of Birds.

  2. Funny what motivates a kid to take a language class. 🙂

    I’m not sure what makes your hubby so disinterested in being Chinese-American. Not Chinese….Chinese-American. The history, slang is different for those growing up in North America. Yes, assimilation is real and tough….but in adulthood that should be less of a problem..to even enjoy cooking and eating Chinese home dishes.. not restaurant style..but what people actually cook at home.

    I was born and raised in a German- Mennonit historic city in Ontario. So I’m probably very close to your hubby in “assimilation”. My parents also didn’t know folk tales, etc. But really it was the language retention (even though I lost a lot) with my mother. Father became bilingual.

    And it has been food heritage and naturally cooking this way 60% of all meals…which does keep one connected in a skeletal way. It shows in my good health. https://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com/2015/11/22/judge-not-the-poor-eating-healthy/

    I am with a German-CAnadian guy.

    If your hubby doesn’t care, just carry on. As for the chopsticks skill, takes time. Kid will master….and he will be grateful to you. Just make it an ordinary experience, like learning to go to washroom. I know someone (Russian) who wants to learn to use them as an adult and feel embarrassed to eat with fork, knife in an Asian restaurant.

    1. I am always embarrassed when the dim sum staff hand me a fork! I’m not remotely as dextrous as my husband, but I’m gonna make an effort. We shall see if Baby D requests a fork today or not.

      I think since my husband grew up in Hawaii, he learned more Japanese and Hawaiian slang/ culture than Chinese-American. He doesn’t mind learning about it now, but I think he just doesn’t care as much about old holidays and traditions as I do. On the other hand, he laughed pretty hard at “Fresh Off the Boat,” Ali Wong’s stand up routines, and Ronny Chieng.

      And nowadays, he’s an amazing cook of Chinese dishes. Especially pot stickers, which my son loves. (I, on the other hand, am banned from making Chinese food since I burned the pan fried tofu.)

      Wow, your experience must have been interesting growing up. I’ll check it out.

    2. I concur with Jean. Perhaps if Andy know how widespread Chinese culture has been all around the world, he would feel more comfortable with his own Chinese heritage.

      Perhaps you could say to Baby D that being wrong doesn’t make one right, and being Wong doesn’t make one White. 😉

      You have a very nice blog here and I have become your new follower. Please kindly allow me to wish you a belated Happy Chinese New Year with my new post at https://soundeagle.wordpress.com/2020/02/02/soundeagle-in-chinese-new-year-celebration-spring-festival-lion-dance-food-ornaments-traditional-culture-and-architecture/

      1. I think he’s enjoying seeing everyone from Ronny Chieng to Ali Wong suddenly go mainstream. Representation is something he didn’t have in books, TV, or film growing up. And it’s important.

        1. I see. Thank you, Autumn. 🙂

          Please be informed that my blog will benefit from being viewed on a large screen of a desktop or laptop computer, because many of the multimedia posts published on my blog could be too powerful and feature-rich for iPad, iPhone, tablet or other portable devices to handle properly or adequately.

          I would love to know what you think of my post about Chinese New Year there.

          By the way, I am also following the blogs of Jocelyn Eikenburg, Marta, Mary, Susan Blumberg-Kason and at least half a dozen others.

          1. Yes, I had a heck of time loading your website on my laptop. I haven’t been able to load the post on Chinese New Year, though I did look at some of your other pages that loaded more easily. There is a tremendous amount to see and listen to.

            1. Dear Autumn,

              I look forward to reading your comments on my posts and/or pages when you figure out the best ways to view my blog.

              Although some of my posts and pages are very long or even encyclopaedic, they have navigational menus with clickable headings to allow you to jump to any section of the post instantly so that you can resume reading at any point of the post over multiple sessions in your own time.

      1. I’m conflicted about this. There’s the argument you shouldn’t expose your children to conflict, especially at an early age. However I also think it’s good for children to see their parent stand up for themselves and his family.

  3. Your fear about what those lanterns say is just what mine would be! I’m surprised – just based on your posts – that Andy’s parents wouldn’t want to teach Baby D more about Chinese culture. But maybe I’m missing something. Good for you for trying!

    1. It is surprising. But again, his grandmother’s family had converted to Christianity before WWII. One of the issues with colonialism is that it teaches non-westerners than whiter is better–the ultimate aspiration.

  4. I kind of get it. My grandparents emigrated from Austria and they never spoke anything but German. Growing up, I wanted to be so American (except for the wonderful Austrian food!). Now I’m researching my ancestry wishing I would have asked my mom a lot of questions. I love Chinese food but never mastered chopsticks. (And I know it’s really Americanized Chinese food.) I don’t mind asking for a fork but most Chinese restaurants here don’t give you chopsticks unless you ask.

    1. Yes, you understand Andy’s desire to be “American” and fit in. It surprises me how many people don’t.

      Went to dim sum and we had to ask for chopsticks today! At a restaurant where the staff is more likely to speak Cantonese than American.

      1. Our favorite Chinese restaurant’s servers are all fairly recent from China at least that’s what I think based on their English skills. Sometimes it takes a while to order! 🙂 Still not a chopstick in sight. Our area doesn’t have a large Asian population so maybe that’s it.

  5. I once knew an African American woman, who was married to a white British journalist, living here in Joburg. Her first child looked typically “mixed race” while her second child had very pale skin and bright red hair (which was interesting because the white husband had dark brown hair). People constantly assumed she was her daughter’s nanny, not her mother, which I imagine made her feel very similar to the way And must feel.

    Anyway I enjoyed this post. Why is Baby D more genetically Chinese than white?

    1. Oh, there are a lot of moms of color in Los Angeles who get the same reaction as the woman you know in Joburg. So aggravating, especially considering the diversity here.

      I think Andy felt lumped in with a white- blond mom I knew who had a mixed race son–and got accused of trying to abduct her own child once.

      Baby D and I have Cherokee ancestors. Real ones, not Elizabeth Warren ones, highly documented. I have cousins that are enrolled in the Cherokee Nation, in fact. So Baby D is genetically more Chinese than any other race. Let’s hope the U.S. doesn’t get to the point where my kid has to start hiding any non-white ancestors before being deported or put in a camp.

  6. It’s sad that Andy felt that he had to be more ‘American’ in Hawaii of all places! I grew up in Utah in the previous century and yes I definitely tried to be more ‘American’ due to the lack of Asian population at the time.

    Thankfully due to some life experiences, I’ve overcome that fallacy and accept my heritage with no reservations. I have even enrolled my children in Chinese dual immersion school here in Utah. I’m quite honest with them that they currently speak more Chinese than I did at their age. I hope they will never feel the way I did as a kid, and work to that end.

    1. Well, I think Andy watched too much TV and that kind of made him long for the idealized American upbringing.

      He’s embraced his heritage a little bit more recently. So there’s hope.

      Good for you and good for your kids. And hopefully good that our society in more inclusive these days, even though certain Orange Idiots and their White Supremacist Legions are attempting to deny progress.

    2. Yay! Fellow Utahn here! I am half-Asian and grew up in the middle of nowhere Utah (southeast Utah near green river). I know the feeling.

      I can’t believe there is dual immersion Chinese school in Utah, now! That’s awesome. I hope your kids will continue to accept and embrace Chinese culture and language.

  7. Really, Americans are still so far behind when it comes to accepting people of mixed parentage? Here, in third world countries, we are so sick of them. They dominate every fucking modelling and entertainment industry. Do check out Mandy Lieu, the famous mistress in Hong Kong recently compensated 300 million as breakup fee.

  8. My grandma was born in French-speaking Quebec Province. She moved across the border when she was about 5 or 6. The kids teased her and called her a “little frog.” So she quickly forgot every French word she knew. My mom so wanted to learn French, but I think they weren’t teaching it in her school at the time.

    My kids didn’t do too well in the after-school Chinese classes. Most of their fellow students spoke Mandarin at home. Eventually my oldest studied some Chinese in college, and her kids studied in high school. Luckily they’re a lot smarter than I am, so their Chinese is pretty good. Of course, the grandkids don’t look Chinese at all.

    Since our kids spent most of their schooling at the Manila International School and we had lots of Chinese friends and some relatives, they know all about Chinese customs and festivals. Manila has a huge Chinese community, most of them from southern Fujian.

    1. Yes, there are a ton of kids in our area who are bilingual, usually in Korean or Japanese, although there are a few Mandarin speakers as well. It takes a long time for other kids to catch up. Not entirely sure they ever do.

      The local schools have all the Asian languages that weren’t available on the East Coast when I was on high school. Korean is pretty popular because of K-Pop and K-dramas right now!

  9. Thanks for the shout out! Glad my ramblings were of help, haha. Although now you will have to endure mooncakes for the rest of your life.

    I wonder if Baby A will feel more Spanish or more Chinese. He looks more Spanish, so if he goes to school in China I’m fairly sure he will be reminded of his “foreigness” on a daily basis. Al least usually people don’t mean anything negative with that comment, but it must be pretty annoying to have everybody singling you out and even talking to you in English when you are actually Chinese.

  10. I like how you’ve tried to instill a bit of culture into your children. It seems to me that regardless of how well a child learns any language there’s something good to be gleaned from the experience. Sure, someday you may find out what your lantern really says, but if you don’t… it’s still pretty.

  11. My son still believes he’s either a t rex or a kitten and when I mentioned that he is a nephew to my sister, he got upset. Last year we did sort of celebrate Mid Autumn festival, but i think he was clueless about what was going on. I don’t think he sees himself as having a concrete identity yet. He knows his dad is from Asia and his mom from Russia. He knows and is familiar with Jewish holidays and traditions, and he is also a little bit familiar with American ones and a Russian one in terms of New Years. Some people are able to tell he has Asian ancestry. ( I had two women ask me on separate occasions. One was Chinese and another was married to an Asian man.) In my opinion, he is also starting to look a lot his father.

    1. I don’t know whether to hope your son goes with T-rex or kitten; both seem like they would be rough on household furniture and involving a lot of biting. 🙂

      What’s the Russian New Year’s tradition you follow, if you don’t mind me asking?

  12. My daughter looks a lot like me, but because she has dark hair and eyes people still notice that more than my features somehow and say she looks like her Chinese dad… Well, I am as white as it gets, so maybe the contrast is big. No one ever doubted that I am her mom though.

    My husband is mainland Chinese, so learning Mandarin and cultural stuff is of course natural. He is already teaching our daughter to read Chinese characters, which is quite ambitious considering she is 2 years old now. But the mindset for good education is quite deep in Chinese people 😀

    1. I think if Andy had spoken Mandarin fluently, I might have insisted that he speak only Mandarin to our son. It’s a great skill to have. There are tons of bilingual kids in Los Angeles and I am envious.

  13. Awww thanks for the shout out!!

    You’re amazing Autumn, especially for introducing so much Chinese culture to your kid(s)?. Without you, I feel like your house would be very lonely during *all* holidays, haha. I had a similar role to you this year as ringleader to celebrate Chinese New Year. I encouraged husband to go to the Chinese New Year festival and make dumplings with me.

    My mom never did this for me, which is crazy, because Chinese New Year is a big big big deal to the Vietnamese. If my mom would have done for me what you did for baby D, I would have been so grateful and happy as an adult.

    I think like you mentioned in a comment above, back in the 70s immigrants just wanted to fit in. I can only assume my mom hid Asian culture from us because she didn’t want us to ‘stick out’ more than we already did. It was a huge detriment to her, because I can tell she has no one to share her culture with (even within her own immediate family). Luckily for her I caught Asia travel bug and learned all these Chinese customs (identical to Vietnamese almost) and now we can bond over food and shared holidays. She could have just taught me all this from the start, but oh well, lol.

    And good on Baby D studying Chinese. I hope he kept up with it!

    1. Goof for you for bringing some traditions back to your mom. That is really cool and heartwarming.

      Modern parenting is a new discipline–we’re all just trying to follow new studies while learning enough psychology and child development to not damage our kids too much. At least, decent parents are, anyway. (I do know plenty who don’t give much thought to it at all.)

      And yeah, my house would be boring and lonely for everything if I didn’t insist on holiday stuff. Andy has started to get into the spirit when it comes to making food, though. 🙂

      Thanks for the nice words and your input as a third culture kid.

  14. Hopefully the characters on the flag and lantern don’t say, “Ha! Stupid white people will buy anything!”

    This made me laugh! I’ve always wondered the same thing about people who get tattoos with foreign writing that they can’t read. If I ever get inked up, you’d better believe I’m going to know exactly what my tattoo says!

    Thank you for not voting for Trump!!

    1. I don’t know that my vote counted for much here in California, but you are welcome. Some day I want to live in NH, where I can meet all the candidates and have a disproportionate impact on the primaries.

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