bigger pond

Archive for the 'Hapa' Category

Tall Girl

Sunday, July 27th, 2008

Dear Random Petite Passerby,

Thank you for informing me of my relative height. Before you press for specifics, I’ll pre-emptively announce that I am five foot nine and a bit. No, I’m not a model, nor am I Michelle Wie. Yep, you guessed it: my dad is tall. Isn’t it funny how genetics work?

Oh, I didn’t realize that these shoes were unnecessary. I must have missed the universal ban on tall women  wearing shoes with heels. I do wish you had been around during my angst-filled childhood and adolescence when I felt intensely self-conscious about my height. You probably would have affirmed my desire to be short and encouraged the wearing of flat slippers to mitigate the rather striking height difference between me and all my peers.

Unfortunately for you and our current disagreement over the height of my footwear, I finally managed to embrace my gangly form while in college and started wearing heels. From your perspective, things took a turn for the worse when I fell in love and married my vertically gifted husband; the six inch gap in our height emboldened me to wear shoes of hitherto towering heights. To be perfectly frank, I’m starting to really like being tall, especially now that jeans manufacturers have caught on to my lengthy inseam needs. Isn’t it strange, though, how old insecurities can so easily reemerge when prompted? I’m starting to get all itchy and uncomfortable, now that you’ve pointed out how I’m teetering a good foot above your head.

six footers

But… sorry, down there, Random Petite Passerby. These fabulous wedges — in all their tall, thin cheekiness — are my new favorite summer shoe. Don’t worry too much. There’s plenty going on up in this stratosphere to keep me entertained. We’ll chat next time I’m sitting down or you’re on a ladder, okay?

Love,

Elissa

In Which We Meet Some Sumo Wrestlers

Thursday, September 6th, 2007

So, some friends from Hawaii, Gavin and Hannah, recently moved to Ames, Iowa so that Gavin could attend vet school. To be perfectly frank, there’s not a whole lot going on in Ames, so the Ganzers took a Labor Day road trip to the Gateway City.

Koi Peek a boo

Now, if you have ever thought, “Self, why would I want to spend Labor Day weekend in St. Louis?” the answer is embarrassingly simple: Japanese Cultural Festival. And as if it wasn’t already a fabulous idea to get thousands of people together to celebrate my ancestral culture, the good folks at the Missouri Botanical Gardens decided to take things one step further.

They added sumo.

Longtime readers will remember that I have a (necessarily large) warm spot in my heart for sumo. Having it at the cultural festival is seriously a stroke of genius.

And so, there we were. Three Hawaii kids and one supportive Oklahoman/Texan, sitting on the lawn at the botanical gardens, watching the Hawaii-born sumotori be introduced to the 800+ crowd. After the wrestlers cracked a few fat jokes, they asked for a brave volunteer from the audience. And, of course, Gavin offered. What followed was, quite possibly, one of the most magical things we’ve experienced since moving to St. Louis. Consider:

The wardrobe The pressTiming The growlThe lift The carry

Thankfully, there was a rematch.

The chase

So, pretty much it was awesome. Make your reservations now if you want to come with us next year. If you promise to wrestle the sumotori, we’ll pay for your entrance fee.
Train Hard, Eat Plenny

Raising Kids Without Race

Wednesday, June 13th, 2007

Towards the end of the semester, discussion in my 1930s class rabbit-trailed to more contemporary debates that left me uneasy and rather at odds with the practical outworkings of contemporary theories on race. At it’s pithiest incarnation, the question was such: should the white, adoptive parents of a Guatemalan child raise that child to know Spanish? The implications may run deeper than you think.

If you teach a dark-haired, almond-eyed child to speak Guatemalan even though she is living in a Caucasian community, what are you saying about race? Do we assume that, simply because of biology, the girl will have some sort of affinity for the language? If she will never live in Guatemala, is it inauthentic to teach her to like Chiles Rellenos when her adoptive parents just eat steak and potatoes? If you teach her Spanish and culture, are you simply caving to the folks who will profile her by appearance and assume that she must speak another tongue? Are you giving in to racism?
Currently, critical race theory is the defacto position of most academics. It posits that race is purely a social construction that people “perform.” In other words, there are no inherent character vices or strengths that accompany the DNA that makes someone’s skin yellow or hair curly. African Americans are not naturally energetic. Japanese Americans are not naturally conscientious. Caucasians are not naturally adventurous. Instead, any shared characteristics in groups of people who share biological race are the results of social conditioning. I mimic those around me. I act “white” — as I have seen it performed — when I want to be perceived as “white.” I act “Japanese-American” when I am expected to do so.

The attraction of this theory is, of course, that it firmly repudiates the dangerous xenophobic and racist logic of, say, the Third Reich. Where I get stuck, however, is in its actual practice.

We are all culture-bound image-bearers. At first consideration, I suppose that statement could fit nicely with critical race theory. Yet, I wonder if part of recognizing our tie to culture is to acknowledge and confront, rather than theoretically deny, the ways that race has shaped our current relationships. I think it’s worth it for a Guatemalan girl — even one raised in Missouri — to know how cultural, historical perceptions of race play into the ‘need’ for her to be adopted in the first place. It’s worth explaining to her why people might speak slowly and loudly to her and why some day she’ll have trouble finding makeup that matches her skin tone. Can you really raise kids without race?

Stop Achieving, Dammit

Wednesday, January 10th, 2007

Excuse me while I whittle at the sushi-shaped chip on my shoulder.

The New York Times ran an article this past Sunday considering the preponderance of Asian students on elite university campuses. It seems that the bounty of Asian students with strong high school records are posing something of a problem for admission departments.

Asian-Americans make up less than 5 percent of the population but typically make up 10 to 30 percent of students at the nation’s best colleges:in 2005, the last year with across-the-board numbers, Asians made up 24 percent of the undergraduate population at Carnegie Mellon and at Stanford, 27 percent at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 14 percent at Yale and 13 percent at Princeton.

Troubled, some schools have reaffirmed a commitment to making their campus demographics closely mirror national demographics, a feat apparently achieved through a kind of selective racial preferencing: (more…)

Elissa’s Great Northern Adventures, part ii, or, “What If Your Great Grandmother Thinks You Married a Pagan?”

Monday, January 8th, 2007

I thought the visit was going so well. G-grandma and I seemed to have bonded; once I located a voice pitch which agreed with her hearing aid, we played gin, discussed Ukranian egg painting, and hashed out assorted family ethnic backgrounds.

And then, then came Christmas Eve.

On Sunday evening we all sat down to a traditional, Ukranian Christmas Eve dinner. Following Russian Orthodox tradition, the multi-course affair was meatless, consisting mostly of soups, perogies, and breads. There was hay under the tablecloth to remind us of the stable, a braided ring of bread to remind us of the Trinity, and a raw clove of garlic chased with honey to remind us of sin’s sting and redemption’s sweetness. G-grandma and I were on opposite ends of the table, but as dinner wound down she called down to me, “So, do the Japanese have any Christmas traditions?”

(more…)