My son and I had a very interesting conversation today. It all revolved around chopsticks.
I asked him to set the table tonight. We were having Asian-style noodles (and I mean that – there was fish sauce and soya sauce and oyster-flavour sauce and sesame seed oil in them) and I asked him if he wanted chopsticks or a fork. He chose the fork, and I chose chopsticks.
“Mommy, are you using chopsticks because you’re Japanese?”
The question coming from him makes sense. You see, my brother-in-law, who shares my last name, married a woman of Japanese descent, so his sons are half-Japanese and also share my last name. Plus, I eat sushi and know bits and pieces about various animes (thanks in part to my twenty- and thirty-something male friends). In his nine-year-old mind, this is Spockean-style logic.
“No, I’m using them because I’m part Chinese.”
“Wait a minute.”
My son stands boldly in the kitchen. “You’re part Chinese? But you don’t even speak Chinese.”
He’s got a point. The five Chinese words I know I learned from watching episodes of Ni Hao Kai Lan and listening to actress Shoshana Sperling in her Chinese clown character speak rapid Mandarin when we were in Clown Through Mask class together.
“Yes, I am part Chinese from my grandfather, and so that makes you part Chinese.”
“Hang on.” He puts on a serious voice. “But you told me I was part Irish. My name is Irish.”
“Yes,” I said, handing him the cheap blue China bowl with the noodles and siu mai meatballs piled high. “You are part Irish. Your name is Irish. You got that from your father. You got Chinese from me.”
“Whoa whoa whoa,” he said, setting the bowl down on the counter. “So I am Irish and Chinese?”
I smiled at him.
“My son, let me tell you something. You are made up of every single person on this planet. You have parts from every country in the world. You are a very special boy. I mean, I have a lot in me, because my parents had a lot in them. But then I met your dad, and he added to the mix. You have African (“What?!!”), Asian, Caribbean (“It’s Carib-BEE-an, Mommy!”), South European, North European, and Aboriginal blood in your veins. So you are unique because you are everybody. You can be whatever you want to be. And if someone tries to tell you you’re only one thing, don’t listen to them. You are everything. You cannot be labelled down to one thing. Other than unique.”
“Cool!” With that, he bounded across the kitchen and gave me a hug that almost knocked me over. Then he took his plate of noodles, sat at the table, refused to eat the coriander because they’re leaves, and ate dinner.
And that, people, is why I am loathe to ever “identify” with any one side or one affiliation. When you “identify”, you give people a label to paste on you. You may recall what happened the last time the world posted labels on things. They started to put the word “NO” before those labels or the word “ONLY” after them. We cannot go back there again, yet in times of economic hardship and social unrest, society tends to devolve into labelling others so that they can blame one group or several different groups for the problems they face. Oh, except you, of course. You’re not like “the rest of them”. You’re okay for a [insert label here].
So there is the ammunition I have given my son to fight against all of the hatred coming out of the woodwork. I don’t make him identify with one group. And I’m sure he’s going to go through the same stuff that I did. “What are you, anyway?” “But you don’t look Irish.” “Oh wait, I see it, yeah, in your nose.” (yes someone said that to me once)
He’s going to be all of them. People will have to deal with it. He will be able to move through groups, and even bring groups together. That’s what we should all be able to do. So don’t put up barriers by succumbing to labels. Hang out with people. Find out what they’re about. And learn about yourself. Because we all came from the same amoeba, and that’s how we should all end up just before the sun takes over the earth.