November 6, 2014

Appreciate Yourself So You Can Appreciate Others

The other day, I heard someone say in a very defensive tone that she “hates eating the ethnic food that her parents eat” and she only eats “normal food like pasta, pizza, and burgers”. She made it pretty clear that she separates herself from her ethnic background and is very “American”. Now I don’t know what made her say these things in such a defensive tone, but I got the impression that she wasn’t exactly proud of her ethnicity. Now I may be wrong about that, but regardless of her intentions, what she said got me thinking.

First of all, two out of the foods she mentioned don’t originate from the US. Pizza was first created in Naples and supposedly pasta truly originated from Asia. So these “American” foods are in fact international foods that may have been “Americanized”. But isn’t that what the United States is all about? We’re not some melting pot where we come together to forget where we come from and assimilate to some witch’s brew of cultures, but we’re like a salad. We all bring something to the salad bowl, and while we retain the integrity of our composition, like how a carrot remains a carrot and how a tomato remains a tomato, we all compose a whole “salad”. So being an American doesn’t mean that we should shun our backgrounds and adopt the popular trend, but it means that we should retain our culture while being open to the cultures of other people.

Second of all, the reason why what she said resonated with me so much is because I used to try to assimilate to the popular American trends. I hate that I wasn’t proud of where I came from, and I think the reason why I wasn’t proud was because of all the stereotypes floating around about Chinese people. I guess stereotypes at first glance might seem like funny jokes that comedians employ, but when they’re thrown around so much, they really tint our perspective like the tint on a pair of sunglasses. We begin to see each other with bias, and we expect each other to fit into these categories. I felt embarrassed about myself when people did Chinese accents or when people complained that “Chinese women suck at driving”. Which, by the way, is not true because home girl over here is a pretty decent driver. I had to take the test twice, but that is another story for another time. Anyways, the stereotypes make people either feel like they have to fit into that restriction or they have to try their hardest to make it obvious that they don’t fit into that restriction and that they’re like everyone else. Individuality is no longer something that we acknowledge because we think that people should it into our expectations generated by stereotypes. But guess what? Maybe a majority of people in an ethnic group have a common characteristic, but everyone is still different. The FungBros on YouTube did a few videos, one called “The 15 Types of Asian Guys”, and the meaning behind the video is really true: even people within an ethnic group who share a lot of similarities are also very different simply because each person is unique.

The other night, I was performing at a Kristallnacht remembrance ceremony, and I’m not Jewish, but I don’t think you have to be to understand that everything that Hitler did towards the Jews, the gypsies, the gays and lesbians, all these people, was out of his inability to accept others. He wanted to create the “Aryan race”, but how on earth is that perfect? When I think of a world where everyone looks alike, I just think of some kind of apocalyptic, futuristic place where everyone is basically a robot. The rabbi who was speaking joking said that he looks into the mirror and admires how beautiful he looks, but at the same time, he’ll accept that not everyone has his beautiful hair and his sideburns, because that would just be boring! To me, the perfect world is a place where everyone’s individuality is celebrated, not only accepted.

I think that the world “accepted” is synonymous to “tolerated”, but tolerated actually has a much more negative connotation. To me, tolerating another  means that I’ll survive with the existence of that person, but appreciating is different, because that means that I’ll understand the importance of that person’s differences and be glad that they are different. Honestly, with this attitude, I think that a lot of the problems going on right now would be reduced in severity.

But remember, we can’t start appreciating other’s differences until we start to appreciate our own. So let’s start by celebrating where we come from and who we are.

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