Sunday, August 22, 2010

Bui-Doi (from Miss Saigon)

[A conversation between myself (T) and one of my fourth grade student (J)]

J: Mr. Tang, are you married?
T: Yes I am
J: What’s your wife’s name?
T: Diana
J: Is she Asian?
T: No, actually she’s Caucasian, white like you
J: hmm . . . so when you have kids are they going to be Asian or normal?
T: [sigh], no actually. . . well, our kids aren't going to be either, they will be a mix of Asian and Caucasian
J: ohhhhhhh . . .

Most people are mixed race. My wife for example is 1/4 British, 1/4 Polish and 1/2 um. . . white. Keep in mind that once upon a time Polish, Jewish as well as Italians were perceived to be a different race and not "white."

As American culture has developed being "white" has taken on many groups that used to be minorities with the influx of other minorities including, Hispanics, Asians and African-Americans. The only difference between a mixed-race person who is Polish, English and Jewish and someone who is African-American and Asian is that the latter person is visually more apparent to be a mixed race because of the fact that there simply are fewer of that "mixture" in our country.

Diana and I are going to have children that are mixed and I'm glad that we live in a society that in general speaks highly of mixed race kids. Many people both Asian and Caucasian have commented that kids who are half-Asian and half-white are very attractive (i.e. Keanu Reeves, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Jennifer Tilly).  In a way, our children represent the American dream of racial harmony however that’s not necessarily the case for all children of mixed race.

There were many things left behind by the American military when we left at the end of the Vietnam war, devastated cities, unexploded bombs that littered the countryside and mixed raced children created by members of the American military. In no way am I implying that the American are completely at fault for this. Vietnamese woman had a role in this in many different ways but regardless of who’s to blame for these children the bottom line is that they exist as “Bui-Doi,” the dust of life, outcasts from society.

In the middle of the brilliant musical “Mrs. Saigon” a remake of the opera, Madam Butterfly, a Vietnam Veteran makes an impassionate speech to raise money to aid these children.

Starting with an a capella men’s choir coming out of the darkness, this songs unfolds into a solo voice. There is passion and desperation built into the songs which while framed as a persuasive speech making us reconsider the role that we played in these children’s lives.

I don’t think anyone would disagree with the tragedy and the sentiment in this song. These really are “all our children too.” While I’m glad that my children will not be viewed as “half-breeds” I can’t but think that we all have the potential to view children in our country as “Bui-Doi” to a degree.

No matter how much my children try to be “American” they will always be perceived byr the mainstream as a minority. Some of this may be positive stereotypes like that they are good at math, or more disturbing negative stereotypes like that they are North Koreans who want to blow up America. I’m not saying we are there right now but it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to picture people getting there.

“Bui-Doi” is reminder not only a plea crisis that we must take responsibility for but it’s also a reminder of the danger of projecting our fears, insecurities and anger upon children punishing them for our own failures.

They are all our children too.

1 comment:

  1. I can relate, of course.

    I hope we'll both be pleasantly surprised in the future by how well-appreciated mixed-race children will be for their potential to inherit the best qualities of both cultures to which they are exposed.

    From watching my colleagues go through this, I've been shocked by how modern parents seem to accept their children marrying outside of race, while they can paradoxically be intolerant of the partner's different religion, which is equal nonsense.

    When will people see that it's not the color or the creed that makes any person a good person.