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Thursday, April 21, 2016

Racial Identity En Mass--Of Course, I Do Understand

Was she Jewish?
I wrote recently about my class, pondering how different individuals are within the mass of a category--African-American, Asian-American, Native-American. Heck, if I had a nickel for every time someone had asked me to tell them "what Jews believe," --which can cover a wide spectrum--or "what Jews think" about something, or the times I have heard, "but all Jews are rich," or "Jews secretly control the world," or, "Jew me down," or my favorite--"But All Jews Go On Cruises--" I might even be one of those rich Jews who supposedly control the world. 

But there is a political reason for the teacher's stressing Asian-American or African-American. And he is very clear about that his motive is political. Asian-Americans can wield more political power than Japanese-Americans because there are more of them. My friend, the biologist, can gain political power as an Asian-American Muslim that she would never have as the brown mom who everybody thought was the nanny of her children, whose family is Pakistani, though she was born in Malaysia and raised in Long Beach, CA. and married a Mexican-Japanese-American man (yes, this was a Muslim/Catholic/Buddhist mixed marriage. And try to find that lobbying group.) (I should also mention, when we're talking about specifics, that she's a reformed Muslim who named her children Mary and Matthew, pretty much over her mother's protrate body.) 
Malaysian supporters of Pakistani soccer team--Pakistani immigrants are a large minority ethnic groups there.
The same lobbying power rules are true for my Filipino-American Catholic friend, who is now part of an Asian-American film organization, though I find it more interesting that she's happily married to a Persian Muslim. (In our mom's group, we ran the gamut of religion and ethnicity: Buddhist, Hindu, Catholic, Muslim, Protestant and Jew, only missing Bahai, Yazidi, Zoroastrian, Mormon and followers of the Satmar Rebbe.) 
Still from K'na, the Dreamweaver, a Filipino film.
Plus, obviously the less than 2% that represents the Jewish vote matters because a) we are slightly larger minorities in key electoral college states--New York, Florida, Pennsylvania, Ohio--squeaking up to almost 4% in Florida. Also, Jew have been organized, though not unified in our votes for a very long time. Plus, we tend to Vote with a capital V. In municipal elections in off years. In one of those off-years, our vote means a lot more than in a year when many people are voting. 

As a writer, I lean toward the specific while trying to be aware of the general. I would never write historical fiction about how unemployment changes a character's life without mentioning the Great Depression--if I were writing about 1934. 

I would not write about a white woman fighting her husband's alcoholism without acknowledging property law stating that this woman, her income, her children and everything she owned legally belonged to her husband--if this were 1858. (Hence the rise of Carrie Nation rather than trying to change the property laws.)

Just so, I hope that our class writes of the particular while addressing the general--college quotas against Asian-Americans, the expectation that minority women (including Jews) are "exotic" and thus "more sexual;" negative assumptions about people with names like Latikqua, and Jayquan; pressure on Asians to be the model minority; the need to reassure nice white people that they are, in fact, nice white people; being forced to behave as an ambassador of  "our" people--I can still hear my mother say, "Remember, honey, you're the only Jew they will ever meet. However you behave, that's what people will think *we* all are."

It's that specific within the general that puts us right into the even more general of humanity, which I hope is where we most of us want to be.  

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