Last Sunday, Nancy Gohata of our San Fernando Valley JACL Chapter got a group of us together to see “Christmas in Hanoi” at East West Players. The play had won a prestigious Asian American playwriting award and was well presented. It dealt with interactions between members of a family whose American father had a son and daughter with a Vietnamese mother shortly after the Vietnam War.
The play’s story is woven around a Vietnamese ghost theme, which while interesting, was hard for me to connect with.
After the performance the playwright, Eddie Borey, along with members of the cast appeared on stage and discussed the making of the play, as well as some of the intricacies of biracial relationships. This latter part I could relate to, as I am sure, considering the high rate of intermarriage in our community, many of the readers of this column could as well.
Our older daughter, Laurie, is an attorney living in San Francisco. She is married to a Chinese American, whose late father was second-generation and mother first-generation Taiwanese. Laurie and her husband have a son, who is a high school sophomore. They proudly watch him run in cross-country meets.
My favorite cross-cultural story took place when Laurie and her husband became engaged and invited us to meet his parents at a Chinese restaurant. The dinner was going well, when halfway through, Marion started kicking me under the table. Thinking it was the way Chinese did things, I was taking the food from the dishes on the server in the middle of the table without turning my chopsticks.
Marion could see Stan’s parents were turning their chopsticks. I quickly caught on and started reversing my chopsticks in getting the food from the serving plates.
The following day in talking about the dinner, we asked Laurie’s husband about the chopstick incident. He replied, “All day long I warned my parents about needing to turn their chopsticks when getting food from the serving dishes. This is the way the Japanese do things.” And here, I was trying my best to be culturally sensitive by not turning my chopsticks!
My experience with Chinese people is limited, but let me share with you another observation:
Laurie’s husband’s aunt had a birthday picnic at a park outside of the city. A number of people freely participated by getting up and singing, individually, and in groups. In my experience with Japanese picnics, if anyone or any group sings, you can be sure it is not impromptu, but is well rehearsed. I wondered about why the Chinese seemed so much more spontaneous.
Our other daughter, Julie, lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico and has three daughters. I would truly love to tell you about their family, but she and her husband choose to keep their family matters private.
Being proud of both of my daughter’s families, not being able to play the long-winded grandparent is difficult, but I have to respect their wishes.
Suffice to say for Marion and I to have inter-ethnic and inter-racial families have expanded our outlook and given greater meaning to living in this country.
Phil Shigekuni writes from San Fernando Valley and can be contacted at email@example.com. The opinions expressed are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.