Friday, October 9, 2020

Thoughts on culture

My upcoming novella, "The Guy From The Internet", draws from growing up as a first-generation migrant in Perth. It's not true to life, though many of the culturally charged events and exchanges were inspired by real human moments I've experienced, heard about or witnessed.

We're in this dynamic and exciting period where media representation of Asian culture is being called into question (sometimes with vitriol). Admittedly, I struggle even when writing my own culture because of how much Western culture I consumed throughout my formative years... and how much I continue to consume in adulthood.

The casual through politically incorrect label for someone like me is "ABC" (Australian-born Chinese or American-born Chinese), but since I was actually born in Asia, it's also highly inaccurate.

Of course, there's always the charmingly offensive though somewhat more accurate label of "banana" — yellow on the outside, white on the inside. (I don't recommend using this unless you're a close friend!) (I think I've heard "coconut" used before too, since some of us have darker skin than others.)

When we're not splitting hairs, though, ABC/banana refers to a Chinese person who has become Westernised. We speak fluent-enough English with Westernised accents, adopt Westernised values, etc. That's me to a T, even before my family moved to Australia. And we have the media and a Westernised primary school to thank for that.

Growing up, I was never "Asian enough" for the Asian half of my life, while never "Western enough" for the Australian half. This doesn't bother me so much for what other people think, but I do feel a little sad that I never held on more tightly to my Asian roots. Learning language is hard now that I'm not surrounded by it. Learning food feels less personal when it's not my Mum and Grandma teaching me.

My biggest challenge when writing "The Guy From The Internet" was the cultural stuff. Will I represent us right? Am I doing a disservice to "my countrymen", to my fellow bananas, to other racial groups who've had equally frustrating yet very different upbringings?

The truth is, I could never represent the total Asian-Australian experience. I could Google facts til I'm blue in the face, but anything I read online will come with a fair serve of Someone Else's Experiences. And those experiences could be wildly different to mine, which was already so different even to those of my other first-gen migrant friends.

Well, "The Guy From The Internet" is my little contribution to the media mix. It was never meant to be a family culture novella, just a simple online romance. But I guess this is the story that wanted to be told.

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