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Eric Liu, through a collection of seven memoirs and essays wrote the Accidental Asian. Having worked for former president, Bill Clinton, as a speechwriter, Liu narrates his personal and cultural identities through the book Accidental Asian.
Largely, he criticizes the notion of ethnicity and racial categorizations by implying that these notions are falsified by the fact that they misrepresent the true essence of our humanity (Liu 2). Being a second generation Asian-American, Liu ponders on the extent that his Asian identity influences his personality and life as an American citizen.
In the first chapter of the book, Liu recounts his father’s death and his family’s discovery of a collection of memoirs and texts from his father. Though Liu is able to speak fluent Chinese, he cannot comprehend these memoirs and texts because he cannot read Chinese.
This observation is narrated as an ironic observation considering Liu is Chinese and cannot read Chinese text (Liu 2). The titular chapter of the book forms the framework for criticizing the idea of an Asian-American identity in America because Liu does not agree with the notion that there is a common base of interest for Asian-Americans (Liu 52).
To strengthen his argument, Liu refers to the fact that half of Asian male adults are not married to women from their race. He is also a victim of this fact because he acknowledges that he is also married to a white woman. In the same breadth, he knows that he is going to have children of mixed ancestry but interestingly, this fact stands out as a problem for Liu. Though Liu perceives racial categorizations to be an American invention, he is worried of the fact that his children may lose their cultural and ethnic identities.
He acknowledges that there is a need to know ones heritage, and though America is a cultural melt point, people should be able to tell where they came from (Liu 59). Liu however draws a thin line between this observation and racial prejudice. Therefore, Liu is confronted with a problem of striking a balance between cultural identities and racial prejudices. In the same argument, Liu draws a link between the Asian community and the Jews by identifying that Asians are the new “Jew” minority in America.
Comprehensively, we can affirm that the book Accidental Asian invests in the dream that racial prejudice will disappear and people will move beyond the narrow lens of perceiving certain people in a particular way.
However, the book also expresses some nostalgia in the fact that people will eventually lose their cultural and heritage identities if racial stereotypes become obsolete. Somewhat, the book also expresses the view that cultural ties to one parent should not be extensively severed. However, striking a balance between the two points of view seems to be Liu’s biggest aspiration.
The Accidental Asian narrates different themes, but considering Liu is an American-born Asian, it is impossible to ignore the theme of acclimation. This observation stems from the fact that most of Liu’s views are informed by his racial identity within the American context.
Therefore, there is a clash between the two backgrounds (Asian and American) but his personal recollection of the social problem (what is the purpose of race?) stems from his assimilation into the American culture. From this background, this paper discusses the theme of acclimation from the point of view of Liu’s disagreement with the notion of Asian-American identity and his narration of the hypocrisy of race.
Disagreement with the Notion of Asian Americans
Liu acknowledges that our view of the world is not common to all of us (Liu 55). We have different perspectives regarding the way we comprehend world issues. Our view on racial stereotypes and identities are equally diverse but we cannot run away from the reality that lives with us every day.
This reality is a reflection of our daily lives and not a mythical argument regarding our superficial selves. In this argument, the superficial self is nothing more than a theoretical (but true argument) about our nature. For instance, if we are branded Asian-American, white, African-American or any other racial profile, it represents our superficial (but true) nature of our being.
The superficial nature of our being is true because we may truly have an Asian, white or African racial identity but these identities may have little to do with the reality we face in our daily lives (hence the superficial nature of our being). This is the argument voiced by Liu when he disagrees with the notion of being branded and Asian-American.
Liu disagrees with the racial notion because he acknowledges that it has little to do with his everyday reality. For instance, he hails from a Chinese ancestry but he cannot read Chinese. This is his reality. His reality is based on the theme of acclimation because Liu is based in America where it does not matter which racial identity one comes from, life is the same for everybody.
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Everyone is faced with the same challenges and the same opportunities. It does not therefore help if someone strongly identifies with one racial identity because this action would not necessarily resonate with one’s reality.
This is the same argument used by Liu in questioning the extent that his racial identity affects his behaviors (Liu 59). This dilemma stems from the fact that Liu has adapted to his new American environment and his character is shaped by his American experiences. Therefore, Liu’s environment is American though he has an Asian heritage.
Moreover, it is implicitly stated that people cannot let go the Asian-American identity when referring to Liu’s identity. This action poses the dilemma of ascertaining the degree that Liu’s racial identity affects his life or his behaviors. However, Liu’s reality has little to do with his Asian ancestry. This is the reason that prompts him to disagree with the notion of racial identities.
Specifically, he does not agree with the notion of Asian-American identities because it is a creation of the American society (Liu 60). The disagreement with concept of an Asian-American identity can be attributed to the theme of acclimation because it is an adaptation to Liu’s new environment.
Liu explains the above scenario by giving an example of a Korean national whose primary environment is mainly Korean.
“Imagine that you speak the Korean language, eat Korean food, read Korean newspapers, see only Korean faces; now time passes and realize that you can now see other faces (apart from Korean). The order of life changes – what was initially purely Korean is not Korean anymore. Your speech is now interspersed with English Spanish and other dialects, your newspaper stand does not only stock Korean newspapers and it stocks other newspapers as well. You are becoming a Korean-American” (Liu 60).
This narration shows Liu’s reality. Here, he suggests that, as time goes by, there is little emphasis on his Asian identity and there is more emphasis on his multiracial surrounding. This is the true manifestation of acclimation.
Hypocrisy of Race
Liu’s understanding of the racial dynamics that exist in an environment that is highly dynamic stems from his first-hand experiences with a society that is highly multiethnic. America is the home to different racial groups. Indeed, Liu establishes that these racial groups represent different cultural heritages but he finds that the entire notion of racial profiling is hypocritical (Liu 60).
His views on racial profiling emanates from his adaptation to an environment, which is highly multiethnic. It would probably be difficult for Liu to share his views on the hypocrisy of race if he did not live in an environment that is highly segmented. His first-hand experiences of life in America and the role that race plays in defining people’s lives inform his opinion regarding the obsolete nature of race in predicting people’s behaviors.
Liu is able to give an example of how the society strives to brand people in different racial cocoons even though a person may believe otherwise. Indeed, Liu gives the example of how Tiger Woods was branded black though he insisted that he was Cablinasian (Liu 60).
The media insisted he was black because of his physical manifestation thereby disregarding the true ancestry of the golf player. Therefore, Liu agrees that race is a creation of the society but some of his greatest views on race come from his assimilation and understanding of the American society.
Liu observes that the concept of nationality in America is a very sophisticated aspect of nationhood because of the different racial connotations that underlie the perception of the American people. Liu explains that, “the concept of nationality in America is far-flung and often contradictory. It is often reliant on myth and paradox than many other national identities” (Liu 62).
Liu’s understanding of the American society exposes his assimilation into the American culture because he can dissect it from within. It would be virtually impossible for a person to do so if one does not completely immerse his thoughts into how the America social system works. For instance, it would be difficult for an American who has not acclimated to the Asian culture to critic the Asian social fabric in the manner Liu does the American notion of race.
However, in the same context, Liu acknowledges that the American concept of nationhood is not empty of meaning because American nationality is vital to the understanding of cultural dynamics. The analogy of American culture manifests Liu’s understanding of the American view, based on his assimilation into the American culture. This observation manifests the theme of acclimation.
Liu’s Accidental Asian is a racial protest on the way people are branded into different racial cocoons. The mere understanding of the racial rhetoric existing in America is a manifestation of the theme of acclimation because through Liu’s assimilation into the American culture, he is able to critic the American notion of racial identities from an inside-out perspective.
Moreover, Liu’s disagreement with the notion of Asian American manifests the theme of acclimation because his adaptation to the American culture has diluted his Asian influences for a liberal view on race. Therefore, Liu’s acclimation to the American society forms the ideology of his arguments.
Liu, Eric. The Accidental Asian. May. 1998. Web. <http://www.faculty.umb.edu/lawrence_blum/courses/232_12/readings/liu_accidental_asian.pdf>.