Friday, February 18, 2011

Nicknames and Mashups

Overheard at a Chinese New Year's party last weekend: "I feel sorry for her. She only has one culture: Malaysian. She's not even mixed." (4th grader to friend.)

Such is the ubiquity of mixed race kids around here that the poor single race kids are objects of pity - what could they possibly have to talk about on "My Heritage" day at school?

The children of the hosts were Japanese-Chinese-American. There were also two Whapa kids - Whapa is a term I learned from my older daughter, meaning kids with one white parent and one Asian parent (Hapa being the Hawaiian blanket term for part Asian.) My kids were the token Quapas, a word Andrew read somewhere meaning quarter Asian. Elsewhere, my friend's new baby nephew, Alejandro Sol, is Jexican - Jewish Mexican. My oldest daughter's best friends call themselves Blasian - African American mom, Whapa dad.

Even many of the same-race married couples I know have a mixed component, with Jewish-Christian unions outnumbering the more homogeneous pairing about 2:1 in my unscientific survey. (Is there a term for that besides Jew-ish?)

All these mashups raise up some interesting questions about racial identity. Last Saturday night the girls who call themselves Blasian were over for dinner and relayed tales of their Asian friends at school who call their parents FOBs (Fresh off the Boats.) I took offense, and so did their father who is half Japanese. "That is totally inappropriate," we told them. "What if someone of another race called their parents FOB - it would start a fight."

My husband, on the other hand, thought it was perfectly fine since the kids using the term are Asian. His own dad, who indeed sailed on a boat from Asia to America by way of Europe, often referred to people as FOBs. In our marriage, the appropriate deployment of terms like these tops the list of "Topics About Which We Agree to Disagree," followed closely by how to make perfect bacon.

Our youngest daughter, the blue-eyed Quapa, asked whether people would think she was Chinese if she ever went to visit China. "No," I told her, "and I better never hear you use the term FOB around anyone either." Later that night while our family played the word game "You've Been Sentenced" she used her randomly assigned cards to construct a sentence that went something along the lines of "Hand me some strawberries, whitey," which I didn't find offensive at all, merely hilarious.

Does appropriating racial nicknames for self-referential usage deflate the negativity associated with them, or does it perpetuate stereotypes? And what if the person using the term isn't easily identifiable as a member of the race to which they can claim heritage? I don't really know the answer to those questions.

All I know is that more and more people are going to have to wrestle with it over time. When I was searching online for a baby present for Alejandro Sol, I came across a onesie that said "Jew-Pino," the wearer of which is bound to grow up feeling conflicted about Pork Adobo. Just this week a far-flung relative of mine was featured on Good Morning America as a "real-life counterpart" to the TV comedy Modern Family, specifically to the May December reunion of Jay and Gloria. Her husband is 30 years older than her, but the fact that he is Asian and she is white barely rated a mention.

Another thing I know is that a mashup can be more powerful than the sum of its individual parts - like this genius bit combining the Glee version of "Teenage Dream" with Swedish singer Robyn's "Dancing on My Own" (thanks to Judith Powell for the find.) I know, Katy Perry two weeks in a row, annoying, but anytime I can share more Robyn, I will.

Here's to a weekend full of acceptance and mutual respect, friends -


  1. "And what if the person using the term isn't easily identifiable as a member of the race to which they can claim heritage?"

    This brings to mind an old, very heated debate about Lisa See. Remember that one?

  2. I always stumble when trying to explain why it's sort of okay for my kids to refer to each other as "Jew" but why it's derogatory when a non-Jew addresses them as such...except when that person is me (honorary Jew, I guess). I think the answer to whether self-referential racial nicknames perpetuate stereotypes or deflate negativity is - yes to both. Perhaps it depends on the nickname being used...? And I cringe a bit when my one kid talks about his "Jew-fro" around people who wouldn't suspect he's Jewish because he's not easily identifiable as such, worrying that they'll assume he's being racist (instead of just joking around, as a member of the tribe).
    Avenue Q - "Everyone's a little bit ra-cist...some-ti-i-i-imes..."

  3. ooohhh. so Juliet would be Czameroztralian! Today is her birthday party and there will Whapas, Ozilanders, Chzilean, Lebozeans, Jewoz, and a few Aussies there too! Did I mention we are going bowling..

  4. Who in America is single race anymore? Maybe we should just teach our kids to call themselves (and everyone else) "people."

  5. Love the clip - and love how our kids don't even think about all of these amazing differences. They just accept it for face value. Signed, a Jewatholic.

  6. I love all the conversations that these mashups have inspired in your family.

    My kids would love to have a more colorful family history...English/Scottish and 1/32 Native American apparently doesn't carry a lot of clout on the playground.

  7. I am a pastor and remember preparing a couple for an interracial wedding, perhaps 20 years ago. I gathered many interracially married couples and the daughter of my interracially married next door neighbors together to talk with the engaged couple about issues they were stressing over. We asked my neighbor if she thought about marrying someone like her Dad or her Mom. She said, "Anybody I would marry would be an interracial marriage. How many Afro-Lithuanians can you introduce me to?"


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...