Race Issues In A Marriage
Oy luck is good for me!
In my life, I've had Joy Luck (dated a Chinese man), Goy Luck (a non-Jewish man), Boy Luck (a younger man) and even Poi Luck (Hawaiian man). But to my deep dismay, I've never had Bok Choy Luck (a nice Korean man -- Bok Choy is the main ingredient in kimchee, the national dish).
For some inexplicable reason, no Korean man would touch me with a 10-foot chopstick. Yet when I met my husband Teddy, I knew I would have Oy Luck (a nice Jewish man) the rest of my life. All kidding and profuse apologies to Amy Tan aside, race or ethnic differences were never an issue when Teddy and I got married. Teddy comes from hardy Eastern European Jewish stock -- German, Russian and Polish to be more precise, while I'm 100 percent Korean. Physically we couldn't look more different yet be more compatible -- he is the yin to my yang. Although we may be blissfully colorblind with each other, the rest of the world is not. And ever since our son Jonah was born, I find this truer than ever.
We can't help but wonder how Jonah is going to be perceived by others within and without our respective groups. We struggle with the esoteric issues of striking a delicate balance between our respective backgrounds and deciding how to integrate them both into his life. How he will identify himself or be identified? I think that ultimately this question will be answered with another burning question that everybody else seems to be preoccupied with: Who does he look like? In other words, does he look more white or Asian? And everybody has a different opinion on which of us won the genetic lottery. Personally, I thought Jonah looked vaguely Hispanic when he was born. I was convinced that he bore a startling resemblance to little Ricky from "I Love Lucy." Then again, I was also on heavy pain medication at the time.
When we're out together as a family, strangers stop in their tracks and stare searchingly at Jonah before giving me and Teddy the once-over. And I know it isn't because we're just so goshdarn cute. Just to make people work for it, my husband is fond of obscuring Jonah's face with the stroller canopy. And work for it they do. Determined lookie-loos will smush their faces against glass partitions dividing restaurant booths, crane their necks and sometimes even shove aside the stroller canopy just to satisfy their curiosity.
I guess I shouldn't be surprised because this rampant curiosity and speculation began way before we got married and reached a fever pitch while I was pregnant. When Teddy and I were just dating, I lived in West Hollywood with my best friend. Since this part of town is predominately populated by old Jewish people and young gay men, my roommate and I were the only straight Christians living on the entire block. Our next door neighbor was an elderly, eccentric German Jewish man whose two hobbies were gardening in his torn underwear and peeping in our apartment. Somehow he managed to do both at the same time.
This old busybody was beyond scandalized that both my roommate and I were defiling the purity of the chosen people by having Jewish boyfriends. Every time he saw them, he would scream out his window, "Don't let the shiksas(disparaging Yiddish slang for a gentile female) feed you any ham!" In his fevered imaginings, all sorts of frenzied food orgies revolving around pork products were taking place in our unit because, well, I guess that's what we shiksas do. We are stealthy sirens who lure innocent Jewish men to their ultimate doom by lurking around synagogues and seducing them and then force feeding them ham! Never mind that my roommate was a vegetarian and that I rarely eat red meat.
One day he even stopped Teddy in the driveway and warned him that since "the Korean blood was stronger" our children could never be really Jewish. Similarly, I've been scolded by other Koreans for not speaking the language and for marrying outside my culture. Young Asian men often give us hard, hostile stares when we're out together. I'm fully aware that I'm viewed as a sell out to my own race while poor Teddy is categorized as one of those sleazy white guys with yellow fever. Even though the truth is, I'm the first Asian woman he's ever been with and Asian men rarely asked me out when I was single.
While I was pregnant, I constantly heard, "Your baby is going to be beautiful because Eurasian children are always beautiful." Talk about pressure! It isn't enough that he should be healthy or has all his fingers and toes, he has to be beautiful too? Once Jonah was born the compliments on his looks continued and like any proud parent, I heartily agreed. Yet these compliments were followed up with the same explanation that could be used by breeders of champion show dogs: "Whites and Asians are the best mix." Why can't my son be beautiful because he just is? Why does race have to be a factor? Of course I realize that most people mean well and are genuinely mystified at how I could possibly be annoyed by such a benign generalization.
As a card carrying member of the so-called "model minority," a stereotype, no matter how favorable is still a stereotype. I'm the first to admit there's more than a grain of truth to some stereotypes. I swear that I'm the only Asian who sucks at math and is totally lazy. And even though I happen to be a good driver, I'm fairly certain that other Asians are the worst drivers on the planet. Although I try to keep my sense of humor, I've experienced firsthand how stereotypes preclude the individual by discouraging us from seeing a person for who they truly are, apart from the racial group. I'll leave it up to Jonah's father to illuminate him on the top ten Jewish stereotypes he may have to contend with.
Meanwhile, it'll be my job to dispense sensible maternal advice on how to deal with some common Asian stereotypes when he is older. For example, my dear boy, how should you respond when someone compliments you on your English? People are often so surprised and amazed that I speak perfect English without a trace of an accent that they stammer, "Wow, you speak good English!" The only response worth making is to correct their grammar, "Actually, it's, "You speak English well.'"
But conversely, this can work in your favor by pretending you don't speak any English at all when trying to get out of a sticky situation. Maybe this only comes in handy for women, but I have fended off unwanted advances by pretending not to speak English. However this can backfire badly if dealing with a creep with a major Asian fetish, in which case, he will only become all the more interested. Unfortunately, this type thinks that my third world sensibilities will be easily impressed with the promise of a Hershey bar and a green card. I wish I was exaggerating, but type in "Asian girl" into any search engine and it will turn up 99.9 percent porn and you will see what I mean.
Always pretend you know martial arts even if you don't. Everyone assumes you do anyhow and this isn't necessarily a bad thing. In fact, most will think twice before messing with you for fear that you will go Hong Kong Fooey all over their ass. When in doubt, just watch "The Karate Kid" and remember to "wax on and wax off." Repeat as necessary.
What about racial slurs? If anybody calls you a Chink or Jap or Nip, politely point out that since you are of Korean ancestry, technically that makes you a Gook. After all, if they're serious about their racist terminology, the least they can do is get it right.
And finally, when someone asks you where you're from, I guarantee you'll only get a blank stare if you reply "Los Angeles." I get asked this question all the time because people don't make the distinction between race and nationality. Ethnically, I'm Korean, but I'm American by nationality and for some reason, it really stumps some people that I can be both.
Yet, your father and I want to emphasize that you are both
Korean and Jewish, rather than half of each. Maybe it's just
semantics, but we never want you to believe you are less of
anything, which is what "half" implies. If anything, since you
can claim two ethnic identities you are so much more than either
of us. And what could be more American than that?