Do You Speak
Do you speak? As Asian Americans, we hear that a lot, don't we? I know I do! And it's a double edged sword too! Sometimes I get the feeling that we, as AA's, are suppose to maintain dual identities due only to our physical appearances.

Here's what I mean:

During our winter 1996 touring season, the 18 Mighty Mountain Warriors were fortunate enough to go to Hong Kong to perform at the Annual Fringe Festival. I thought: "Wow! This is great! We're going some place where WE are the majority!" (Although I must confess, the feeling wasn't too different from being in Chinatown). The trip was fun and rewarding, but one thing stood out for me: At the Hong Kong Fringe Club everyone, including Chinese, came up to us and automatically communicated in English. After a few minutes the local Hong Kong citizens would ask "Do you speak?"

"Do I speak?" ... I was speaking to them right there, wasn't I? Did it matter that I was Chinese American and they were Chinese British and that we were conversing in English? Was there something so fundamentally wrong with that picture that one Chinese would be prompted to ask another "Do you speak?"

It suddenly dawned on me that being Chinese American you're expected to speak not only English, but at least enough of your native tongue to get by with a National. I have been very lucky because my parents were so strict when I was growing up. I had to speak English when I was with "White" Americans at school or in society, and speak Mandarin & Taiwanese when I got home. As if that wasn't enough, my mother made me study Chinese school books up to the 6th grade even though I had graduated from the 3rd grade when we immigrated to the U.S.! Yeah, so that means I can still read and write a little. But being able to speak was automatically assumed!

AND if you WERE able to speak your own language, there was an automatic sense of good up-bringing attached to your personal family background and an immediate sense of "closeness." The pride of passing on one's culture and heritage to the next generation was somehow achieved and preserved. BUT if you DIDN'T speak, you were considered below standard because you were perceived as "going to become just like a Guai Lou (Whitey)."

Some of the 18MMW's Chinese American members did not speak (they were just like Whitey), and were "brushed off" by comments (in Cantonese) like: "You should learn to speak so that you don't forget your culture!" or "He/She is just a Tao Ju (a negative slang meaning a Chinese born overseas)!" or "Let's charge them more money! They'll never know!"

I am lucky in the sense that I can be considered both a FOB and an American born since I immigrated to the U.S. before I reached my teenage years. But my fellow actors who are American born and don't speak Chinese faced a subtle type of discrimination of which they weren't even aware.

It's difficult enough to deal with the real ugly issues, such as racial discrimination, but us Asians also have to deal with intra-racial discrimination: you get the FOB's against the Tao Ju's and the Taiwanese against the Hong Kong-ese. In this example, aren't Taiwanese and Hong Kong-ese all Chinese?

So, to make a long story short, when we got back to the States, I invited some of my White co-workers to come see our next 18MMW show. Their first response was "Do you speak?"

"Of course we speak English in the show! Would I invite you if we didn't??"
Arrrrgggghhhh!!!!





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