Wow, our very first post! My (Christine) verging-on-perfectionist behavior makes starting something new very difficult. I can trap myself at the starting line “until I can envision everything from start to end”. It’s also why I have trouble making decisions, because each decision is like a chess move to me…I have to visualize what outcomes may occur not only from my decision, but the branching possible outcomes from the outcome of my decision…So! What can I do about it? I tell myself: Self, this doesn’t have to be the perfect first blog post. That’s subjective, anyway! Just go for it. So here we go!
Since one of the main focuses (foci?) of this blog is to explore the joining of two cultures, we thought a good topic to explore is our initial preconceptions or ideas were about each others’ cultures. As readers, maybe you can ask yourself: What do I think embodies Eastern culture? Western? What do I think describes an Asian person? A European? An American? To be clear, neither of us claim to embody either culture in its entirety–no one could! Neither do we feel we are stereotypical, however one wants to define stereotypical Singaporean or American…
Before coming to the U.S., my (Junwen’s) perceptions of Americans were influenced by Hollywood, as well as my own personal interactions with Americans in Singapore and during my travels. I remember meeting Americans in youth hostels when I was traveling in Europe, and even recall jamming with an American bass player in a pub in Singapore. I found the American accent really cool (actually any accent that is not Singaporean seemed to be “exotic” to me) and really liked how friendly Americans were (those I’ve met at least).
I (Christine) am pretty embarrassed to share my preconceptions because they show just how ignorant I really was (er, was or am…it’s a continual learning process). I am hoping that by being vulnerable, I can help shed light for others who are as inexperienced as I was. You see, growing up in a small Wisconsin city meant the extent of my interaction with Asians was limited to (1) my adopted friends, who were just as Dutch as I am, and (2) the Hmong population that has grown in the area since the Vietnam War. (This would make for an excellent future post, but I shan’t digress.) The extent of Asian cuisine I had sampled was limited to Chinese Buffets and the Hmong eggroll served at “Lakefest”, an annual festival that housed a smorgasbord of foods and live entertainment. The rest of my foundation of “knowledge” was built on the media, good or bad (e.g., Sesame Street – Big Bird In Japan, Sesame Street – Big Bird in China, and all the WWII movies my Dad is so fond of) and books (e.g.,
which I do recommend).
Although one can read about a thing, nothing beats actual experience. Good thing I had the chance to not only move to a city chock-full of diversity, but I got to marry someone from a beautifully different culture! In addition, by marrying someone from across the world, I also gained insight into some misconceptions about my own culture that are held by family and friends I met in Singapore. So much of how people picture Americans is based on whatever Hollywood spews out! But, actually, it was not just in Singapore that I met misconceptions…even my Asian American friends will make comments like, “Oh that’s so Asian!” about something that I also grew up with, that is also part of “my culture”. Clearly, there are preconceptions and misconceptions everywhere you look.
There are no Cookie Cutter People
The above is a bit of introduction to future posts about preconceptions, but maybe I should break the ice with the most embarrassing, shallow, and perhaps most typical erroneous misconception, which is the physical: I thought that all Asians were short with slender builds and straight black hair. I suppose this error was fed by the fact that the few Asians I knew growing up typically fit this bill, especially compared to the very tall Dutch community I grew up in (at 5’6”, I was on the short end). In fact, when I watched The Last Samurai [Blu-ray] (starring Tom Cruise) I couldn’t wrap my mind around the fact that the Japanese characters were all tall or average height, and the soldiers were of muscular build. Moving to Los Angeles and attending UCLA where ~50% of the student population is Asian, my preconception was quickly annihilated as I met new friends of all shapes and sizes, with straight hair and curly hair, tall and short. I know that anyone in Los Angeles who reads this probably cannot fathom how I could have been so awfully ignorant, but I hope by sharing, any other small town folks who read this can avoid my embarrassment. All of my Asian friends are incredibly unique, so if any reader incorrectly thinks that “all Asians look the same”, let me fully and completely shatter that misconception as well.
As for me (Junwen), I had assumed that most if not all European-looking Americans were “natives.” In other words, I erroneously believed that if an American person was Caucasian, he or she didn’t have an immigrant background. As such, I was pleasantly surprised to learn about my wife’s Dutch background, since before I knew her well enough I had always seen her as “Caucasian-American” (for a lack of a better term) versus as a Dutch-American. So, getting to know my wife’s heritage helped to shed my misconceptions. Another one of my main misconceptions of Americans was the assumption that the American culture is homogenous, which obviously isn’t true. My erroneous assumption was probably due to the fact that my idea of what an American is like was largely influenced by Hollywood. For instance, when one speaks of an “American accent”, it’s probably referring to what one normally hears in American TV shows and movies. After traveling to the Midwest (where my in-laws are from), it was a nice eye-opener for me to hear the Midwestern accent, which still sounds “American” to me but yet noticeably different from what I was used to hearing in the media when I was in Singapore.
Can you relate? Have you formed similar incorrect stereotypes, or been on the receiving end of such misconceptions?
Since there is a broad range of misconceptions we’ve encountered, this is a topic we’ll be revisiting often and more deeply than we did today.