To prom isn’t cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion

China Daily European Weekly - - Comment - Qi­paos qi­pao qi­pao qi­pao The au­thor is a US-based in­struc­tional de­signer, lit­er­ary trans­la­tor and colum­nist writ­ing on cross-cul­tural is­sues.

(1644-1911) — as they do today — but to­ward the later stages of the Qing rule, the Hans adopted the dress tra­di­tion of the Manchuri­ans, a mi­nor­ity group. If that’s not cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion, it should not be an is­sue for an Amer­i­can to wear a to prom either.

Many of the crit­ics of Daum are Asian Amer­i­cans, who are very likely mi­nor­ity groups in their own com­mu­ni­ties. I can partly un­der­stand their frus­tra­tion. When they wear dresses like to events, they may be laughed at as ex­otic, or frowned upon as chal­leng­ing the lo­cal cul­ture, in­stead of as­sim­i­lat­ing into it.

So why is it fine for an Amer­i­can to wear such dresses? The dif­fer­en­ti­ated cul­tural treat­ment has white priv­i­lege writ­ten all over it.

Hav­ing two kids grow­ing up in the United States, I can un­der­stand the strug­gles of Chi­nese stu­dents in US schools. Chi­nese Amer­i­cans, even if they are born and raised in the US, of­ten feel like aliens.

Some prej­u­dices and dis­crim­i­na­tions are real and hurt­ful.

For in­stance, in col­lege ad­mis­sions, stu­dents of Chi­nese de­scent may have to work against af­fir­ma­tive ac­tion-based prac­tices that put them at a dis­ad­van­tage. They of­ten have to score much higher in Amer­i­can Col­lege Test or SAT (for­merly Scholas­tic As­sess­ment Test) to have the same op­por­tu­ni­ties as other Amer­i­cans. Now, even in mat­ters of dresses, it seems other groups are try­ing to take their place.

Daum later ex­plained that she wore a to show her ap­pre­ci­a­tion for Chi­nese cul­ture. Since she claimed to have in­tended no of­fense, none should be taken. Is­sues like this are sub­ject to highly sub­jec­tive in­ter­pre­ta­tions that are not based on en­trenched com­mon cul­tural un­der­stand­ing. How­ever, Daum should not have pep­pered her re­sponses with swear words, even if she is frus­trated with the un­fair back­lash.

For the Chi­nese-Amer­i­can youths who took of­fense, I would ad­vise them to look be­yond the nar­ra­tive of cul­tural ap­pro­pri­a­tion. Chi­nese cul­tural her­itage is lit­tle known be­yond the con­fines of Chi­nese com­mu­ni­ties. Go to Net­flix and find the cat­e­gory for Chi­nese movies, and you will see the ma­jor­ity of them are kung fu movies. Chi­nese el­e­ments in a non-Chi­nese environment are pa­thet­i­cally few, and those that get to stick in pop­u­lar cul­ture are be­ing abused into cliches.

If some­one finds to add to the list of Chi­nese el­e­ments, it should be cel­e­brated, not re­sented. If some­one catches you off guard by us­ing your her­itage, treat it as a wake-up call for you to rep­re­sent it bet­ter your­self. Where there is ig­no­rance, en­hance un­der­stand­ing. If you see oth­ers as dis­re­spect­ing your her­itage, ask if you have re­spected it your­self.

You, too, can dis­play ar­ti­facts that show pride in your par­ents’ or grand­par­ents’ ori­gins. Peo­ple may laugh at you, but be per­sis­tent and proud.

Who says it is easy to shape an iden­tity that is both unique and non­con­fronta­tional?

It is my ex­pe­ri­ence that the United States is not ex­actly a melt­ing pot. It is a hot­pot siz­zling with the same soup into which ev­ery­one can throw in his or her own fa­vorite veg­gie or meat.

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