Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Young Japanese Women Vie for a Once-Scorned Job

Young Japanese Women Vie for a Once-Scorned Job : article from the NYTimes - July 28, 2009
Watch the video link here.

Reading this article, I find myself in an interesting dilemma. Do I applaud Japanese women for becoming independent, economically self-sufficient women, not relying on marriage as their only means for financial security? Or do I feel disappointed that a young Japanese woman's perecption is that the only jobs with decent money and job stability are hostessing jobs?

As someone who lived there for twelve years, Japanese culture seems antiquated at times. I often tell my friends "Do you remember the movie, Back To The Future, when Marty finds himself in the 1950s? That's how it feels sometimes when you set foot in Japan." Japanese service is unparalleled. You never tip anyone in jobs of service (hair salons, taxis, restaurants). When you get gas in your car, a whole team DOES run out to check your oil, clean your windows and fill your tank. At the end, they guide you and make sure you can enter onto the street safely, saying "Thank you" loudly as you pull away.

The Japanese gender gap can tend to have the same "old-fashioned" appearance. When I worked in a large corporation, our office was mostly women (with only one man). Even though I had a female manager, I still felt the tension when women were expected to serve tea to the men (or should I say "man"). I received little or no sympathy from my female boss when I was dragging myself to work everyday with morning sickness on crowded Tokyo commuter trains (with an occasional pit stop to empty my breakfast into a platform trashcan). I know that the Japanese women in the corporation were paid less and treated differently. A female observer from the U.S. would have been outraged, comparing their situation to women back in North America.

Does this NYT story signify a change in Japanese women's independence? Or is it a wake-up call to create labor laws in Japan that provide equality in larger corporations?

Readers, I'd be interested to hear your thoughts on this.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Hooray for John Raible

Recently, I joined a new online social networking group called Adoption Voices. Yes, I know there are SO many social networking sites out, why should I join ANOTHER one?

Luckily, this one has led me to a wonderful blog by John Raible (pictured) and a great article about "Same Story, Different Decade." John shares about his experience hearing a teen transracial adoptee (who happens to be Latino adopted into a White family) and the adoptee's experiences with racism and isolation being the only person of color in their neighborhood, school, etc.

It took me a moment to get into reading this lengthy post, but I'm so glad I did. He and I agree with a simple point in this day and age: adoptive parents need to be well-informed about transracial adoption.

"...We cannot afford to let white parents go on thinking naively that love is enough, or that it is color-blind, while the rest of society continues to react to our children of color as inferior deviants and as potentially threatening competitors in the high-stakes game of life. It’s not about providing loving, color-blind homes, it’s about facing racism squarely, and preparing children to function—and thrive—in hostile environments.

For parents who are still in denial about racism in 2009, and who think that just because a President Obama occupies the White House that our society has somehow transcended race and racism, the remarks of this recent teen panelist come as a stark reminder of how far we have yet to go. It does not matter what decade adopted children go through adolescence. It does not matter what country they were adopted from. What matters is the social context. If transracial adoptees experience adolescence as the lonely kid of color in oppressive, overwhelmingly white environments, then they are having the same experience as children adopted in the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s.

The point is, WE KNOW BETTER. And knowing better, we have an obligation to do better. Adopted children of color deserve no less."

My thoughts exactly.

I am pro-adoption, but I am also pro-education. It hurts adoptees (and our society-at-large) if adoptive families go into a transracial adoption with "color-blind blinders" on. Or with their overwhelmingly strong desire for their "own child" clouding their idea of the big picture.

Whether your child is born biologically or you are adopting, all responsible parents should think about the big-picture, 18-year plan (however long the child will be with you until they are an adult). Responsible parents must consider how to provide for their child physically, mentally and a parent, I think about such things. In light of these parental concerns, the adoptive family of a transracial adoption must also consider "What racial environment am I providing for my child?" Even if your adopted child NEVER talks about race, believe me, it IS the elephant in the room.

I applaud my parents for raising me in a racially diverse neighborhood and sending me to a Quaker school. I also lift up my friends: the adoptive parents of transracial/transnational children who are constantly taking the initiative to learn more about how to support their child in this race-conscious America we live in. They give me hope for the future of adoptive families everywhere.

I am confident that this is the beginning of change.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Finding a Perfect Match

OK - as I sat watching a re-run of NCIS (yes, I am a fan), I couldn't help but notice Cote de Pablo (pictured above) - the actress who plays Officer Ziva David. The interesting thing about her is that she is of Chilean descent, raised in Miami...and she is portraying an ex-Mossad agent from Israel.

It just makes me wonder: Is there a shortage of good actors and actresses who actually MATCH the nationality/ethnicity of the character they portray?

I can think of so many examples of this - where do I begin?

How about in the movie portrayal of Memoirs of a Geisha - Chinese actress ZiYi Zhang was cast as the main character, Chiyo/Sayuri. As someone who lived in Kyoto, and is of Japanese descent, this was infuriating to me! It was a fine example of market-driven decision making. Even though I knew that the producers thought, "Hmmm...who's a popular East Asian actress who we can cast in the role...who's going to bring in the big bucks?", it still didn't make me feel any better. In fact, it made me feel worse that the integrity of the story was compromised in this way. I know that the commentary from the director and producers deny this, claiming "artistic license" in how they represented Arthur Golden's story. But, seriously, let's evolve a little in our perceptions of certain ethnic groups, especially Asian women. We do not all "look alike." There are distinct differences between Chinese, Japanese and Koreans (all of whom were cast in this movie). And with the myth of geisha = prostitute...the production team missed a great opportunity to shed light on this topic and dispel the myth ("geisha" literally means "artist" because of their training in music and dance to entertain). Please, if you watch this movie, take it for what it is: an artistic interpretation of historic fiction.

So, really, does the movie/TV industry think that we are blind to these mismatched castings? Or perhaps I should challenge the actors/actresses themselves to think twice before accepting a mismatched or stereotypical role?

I'm reading a book called The Asian Mystique by Sheridan Prasso. She references Lucy Liu stating that she "felt that she has no choice except to play stereotypical roles (for Asian women)." Well now that you've made some big money, Lucy, I hope you can afford to be more choosy in your future roles.

I know that my post has a cynical edge to it...but, really, I am not trying to slam any of these actresses' skills. I enjoy watching Cote de Pablo (NCIS), Lucy Liu (Charlie's Angels) and Zhang Ziyi (Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon). I also like Michelle Yeoh who was in both Crouching Tiger AND Memoirs of a Geisha. I'm just wondering when the media industry will leave their tiresome ways of casting and start showing some ethics and social justice in their decisions.

I hope it's soon.

Note: Two other things that I'd like to mention:
1) In Kung Fu Panda, why is it that the main characters of this movie (set in China) were not Chinese? And why were the secondary characters Chinese? Shouldn't it have been the other way around? Similar parallels can be drawn to Memoirs of a Geisha.
2) Despite my initial impressions of Kung Fu Panda, it wasn't as filled with demeaning stereotypes as I thought it would be. I actually enjoyed the movie for entertainment:-)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

The Ultimate Separation

My good friend at the Meltingpot blog wrote a recent post titled "Death be not proud..." in which she addressed our customs/traditions around death and mourning. She posed the questions, "How do the people in your family and/or culture deal with death? What are your rituals and do they help you process your grief?"

I posted my brief response on her blog - because for an adoptee (or is it just for me personally?), death is a extremely difficult thing to process. She asked me to elaborate - so here it is: death is the ultimate separation.

Let me take you into the world of an adopted baby. Imagine spending forty weeks in a warm, comfortable womb (if you are lucky) and then having to come into the world in an indescribably intense birth (whether it's natural or c-section...). That birth is an experience that you must process: from one whole unit into two individuals. Quite a heady thing for an infant. Now add the separation that comes as you are handed into another person's arms - somehow, instinctively, you know that this is not your mother. You realize that this is not the same heartbeat you heard every day for forty weeks. The voice, too, is different. Where is that familiar voice and those familiar sounds that you grew used to in your first weeks of life? Where's my mother? As an infant, you must grapple to overcome this feeling of loss and separation. You somehow deal with this grief by "picking yourself up by your emotional bootstraps." In that "fight or flight" instinct, you decide to flee the emotional pain and a part of your emotional self shuts down...even dies.

Now fast forward about twenty years. Or thirty. Or forty. Whenever you experience the first death of someone close to you. All of those latent, subconscious coping mechanisms are awakened: you experience the same separation, pain and grief all over again. That's what it can be like for an adoptee to experience death. It's that profound. The closer the relationship with the adoptee, the greater the separation and grief.

I fully understood this when my father passed away about ten years ago. What made this separation even more shocking was the fact that I had just seen him a few days before his passing. Yet I was half way around the world when he died. The months following his death were incredibly surreal. I was in a daze. I don't think that I even truly registered the DATE of his death until about six months later, when I called my mother on his birthday. She noted that he passed on Groundhog Day. It was an extremely challenging grieving process - one that took at least a full year or more. I constantly questioned myself, "Why is this so hard? Am I the only one who's feeling this way? Is this a normal way to grieve?" What made it especially difficult is that I was also physically separated from my family, as we all lived in different countries at that time.

The good news is once I realized that death forces me to relive my primal adoption separation, I was able to process grief in a more "normal" way. Or at least I understand better what's going on for me emotionally, and I don't have to shut down or shut people out. My father's death brought a lot of self-awareness into my life and for that, I thank him.

With my job, I actually attend memorial services often. Perhaps it's an alum of the school or a former teacher. But one thing is for sure: whether it's someone I knew personally or not, I will always feel the pain of separation as I contemplate how the individual is no longer with us in this world. It brings a tear to my eye every time.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Life on the Color Line

I'm determined to blog at LEAST once a keep an eye out for new posts on Sundays.

I dove into my summer reading, "Life on the Color Line", wondering if I would identify with the author on any points of similarity. Instead, I was amazed at the life experiences of Gregory Williams, before the age of TEN! Now I see why he thanks his wife in the book dedication for "giving him the courage to tell his story." I don't want to give anything away, but this book is truly a must-read (so far). It's intense and fascinating all at the same time.

I also follow a blog called Color Online. They are having a Summer Book Giveaway: visit their site for more information. The last book they offer is about an adopted daughter whose father is running for president. Publicity tries to accentuate her "American-ness" and downplay her international identity. Needless to say, it piqued my interest.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

My Summer Journey

Oh my! Did June go by without a single post? *sigh*

Well, I've been quite busy with being a mother, and with my full-time job. But now that summer has started, it allows me time to work on some personal evaluation and growth. Here's where my summer journey has taken me so far:

I have been able to nurture and explore a little more into my own adoption journey. I started to read "Journey of the Adopted Self" by Betty Jean Lifton. Her writing helped me to discover myself at a key point in my life, however I just could not bring myself to finish this book. Perhaps another time.

I am also taking part in a writing workshop, "Voices of Adoption" that is occurring about once every other month. It's led by Andrea - who also has a blog: The Sought-After. My hope is that between that workshop, blogging and writing on my own, I will be able to continue my journey into my adopted self.

Top on my summer reading list is "Life on the Color Line: The True Story of a White Boy Who Discovered He Was Black" by Gregory Howard Williams. The main motivation for reading this at this time is that Dr. Gregory Williams will visit my workplace (Abington Friends School) on October 22, 2009. However, I look forward to reading his story about being biracial...and wonder what levels I will connect with him as a multiracial adoptee.

Oh, and I think I've discovered a new heroine in diversity work. Her name is Carmen Van Kerckhove (pronounced Van Kurr-Cove), president of the diversity education firm, New Demographic. Her approach to diversity work is exactly what I have been looking for - and to promote - and, she is an Asian mixie, too! Woo-hoo!

Where is your summer journey taking you?