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Archive for April 8th, 2008

Sum Ting Wong

A guy I’ve known since high school who I keep in touch with on occasion e-mailed me a forward meant to be humorous. Here it is:

Su Wong marries Lee Wong. The next year, the Wongs have a new baby. The nurse brings over a lovely, healthy, bouncy, but definitely a Caucasian, White baby boy.
‘Congratulations,’ says the nurse to the new parents. ‘Well Mr. Wong, what will you and Mrs. Wong name the baby?’
The puzzled father looks at his new baby boy and says, ‘Well, two Wong’s don’t make a white, so I think we will name him…
Sum Ting Wong

I can’t articulate exactly why it bothers me that a white guy, from a small hick town whose only tie to the Asian American culture is, well, me and he’s never tried to expand that diversity, is sending this forward as opposed to an Asian friend. What further bothers me is that he included the names and e-mail addresses of everyone he was forwarding it to and other than me and an Indian guy, everybody else on the list was white.

And because life has a funny way of having everything happen all at once, just recently I had a conversation with a girl from my hometown which didn’t bother me per se, but in light of the e-mail forward I received, I couldn’t help but recall the conversation:

Small Town Girl: “Wow, so you’re in the Bay Area now. I hear there’s a lot of your people out there.”

Me: “Um…yes. You could say that.”

STG: “You’re so brave! I don’t know how I could live in a place like that, where everybody on the streets speak foreign languages. When I’m in America, I like to hear English. You know what I mean? Hey, so like when you meet Asian people in California, do you speak Asian to them or English?”

Me: “We speak Quechua.”

STG: “Really!”

Me: “No.”

With high speed Internet at our fingertips, variegated media outlets, and books, I wonder how it is so many people can still be utterly tabula rasa when it comes to other cultures. Granted I’m not informed enough about, say, Latino, Persian, Bengali, Black, or other ethnic enclaves, but I’d like to think I know enough to avoid putting my foot in my own mouth. It’s sad when people aren’t interested in learning about anything that’s too-different from them and instead wind up asking me inane questions like “When you meet Asian people in California, do you speak Asian to them or English?”

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