Diversity in Contemporary Families
Interview with Ms. Georgia Yuan
Instructor: Georgia can you start off by telling us why you wanted to do this video tape?
Georgia: I’ve lived in Pullman a long time, about 18 years, and it’s a small community, not very racially diverse and I think I’ve always felt a little isolated here in terms of being part of an Asian American community. I’ve always been, before we came here, in much larger cities with active Asian American communities and the support services I think you get used to just because of people being around, a sense of being normal, of just being part of the population, nobody looks at you differently, they don’t pick you out of a crowd and living here for a long time you always feel like you’re unique. People recognize me after they’ve met me once because they remember me as the Chinese person they just met. So part of me wanting to share with your students and with others is a sense of almost obligation to help teach people about what it means to bring diversity to a community like this. We’ve had a lot of discussions, I think, in Pullman and in Moscow of late about making the populations more diverse and I guess I always find the conversations almost funny because I think they miss the key point that it’s not really a very welcoming community to people of color, there’s not enough critical mass, people are singled out, they are looked upon differently. I think there is a lot of questioning of people, which is rude and nobody recognizes that or realizes that what they’re doing is rude. I have to say for as long as I’ve lived here and I’ve never escaped people asking me where I’m from. I remember when I first took my job in Moscow I had been here for eight years and people would ask me where I was from and I thought going to the University they thought I was from someplace else because it’s very common in the university setting to come from another part of the country and I would say, oh, no I’m from Pullman, I’ve lived here for a long time I’m just working here now for the first time.
They would say, oh, but you didn’t grow up in Pullman and the implicit message there is that people who look Chinese don’t grow up in Pullman, or people that look foreign to the average “American” don’t grow up in Pullman and that’s not true and that’s a myth and that’s part of what makes it uncomfortable for people, I think who are part of what we now have come to view as diversity in our community. There was a time that I would tell people that I was from Mars in my more rebellious stage of this whole process, I got really tired of people asking me where I was from. Also, though, as I’ve grown with it I feel an obligation to educate people and if I really sense that someone is interested in being educated, that they’re not just trying to create a link, you know most often when people ask you where you’re from they want to tell you that they’ve been to China, that’s really what’s going on, they don’t want to know about you, they want you to know about them and they’re looking for a common link and so that’s what they’re looking for and I don’t blame them, but race is the first thing that they react to, they don’t talk to you about, did we go to law school together or I have a sister who’s also a lawyer, people don’t look for those commonalities, but when it comes to race and “foreign-ness”, they will ask you commonalities about China and say, I just went to China last month and this is what I did and they want to know if you speak Chinese.
I think it is like water torture. It’s like your whole life you spend answering the same questions and I think they’re constant your whole life. I used to think that they would grow out of them, but they don’t and I don’t think I go by a month in this community that someone doesn’t ask me where I’m from, what I’m doing here, whether I like it and I’ve learned to be pretty honest with the fact that, it’s home to me, I like it and my children were born here, I like my job and I enjoy it, but it’s not what I consider to be a truly multi-cultural community or one that’s prepared to be truly multi-cultural.
Through my work I’m involved with a lot of sort of diversity efforts or defining diversity efforts and I’m very careful to say to people, you know the only reason you’re asking me do to this is because I’m not a white woman, or a white man for that matter and if I was an able white man you wouldn’t ask me to do this, it’s just because I’m another woman that you feel comfortable even asking me to work on diversity issues, you know, I’m the attorney for the University but it has nothing to do with what you want me to do. I also speak up when people want to do what I call coloring committees, they just want to put people who are of different colors on committees, and so all of that for me is part of an educational process for myself as well as others. I think if people really want to learn I’m always willing to share, I think it’s important that we understand each other, but I really don’t like it when people talk to me and part of getting to know me is very much based on their perception of your foreign-ness, I find that really objectionable. I know I probably do it to other people in other contexts, you know I have to recognize that we’re all stuck in that paradigm in many ways, it’s part of our culture as American citizens, but it’s something I think we would really be better off changing.
Instructor: So, Georgia, what kinds of things do you think can be done to sort of make a difference in what you’re saying, to make it a more welcoming environment so people are not asking these kinds of offensive questions without even knowing it, or so we can reach a level of real cultural proficiency where people feel comfortable?
Georgia: Sometimes when I lecture I use a picture that showed up on Sports Illustrated shortly after Kristi Yamaguchi won the gold and it’s a picture of her in her skating outfit and it says American takes the gold and it’s just this picture of Kristi Yamaguchi and I use it to illustrate that it doesn’t say Japanese American wins the gold, it doesn’t even use her name, it just says American and for some people I think it’s hard to perceive of her as American. I remember the sports coverage was all about how she and this other Japanese-Japanese skater were in competition and how unusual this was that this young girl who was Japanese American was having to compete against the country of her ancestry and we don’t begin to recognize in our society and in our culture that we don’t have a facial definition for Americans, we in fact don’t look alike and until we as a society, I think, have the language for, have the experience for, have the conversations about the fact that I am an American and I don’t have to say that I’m a Chinese American, I don’t have to say that I’m Asian American, but I am an American as much as anybody else who looks like a European American, we’ve got a big barrier, because it’s the foreign-ness of people that creates the division and for Black American I think it’s merely race and I think that’s a very separate history, but I think for Asian Americans it’s really the foreign look that causes people to want to explore your foreign-ness as opposed to explore your American-ness or even how you feel about it. I do a lot of work over the phone and I introduce myself and I remember
picking up the phone one day and having the voice on the other end tell me that I mispronounced my name.
She just said, if you’re Chinese, you’re pronouncing your name incorrectly and I didn’t know what to do with it and I finally said, well, you can pronounce it however you want to, but this is how I pronounce it and I thought this woman was so eager to talk about her understanding of my name as a Chinese word that she couldn’t accept it as another American name like we would accept Johnson or Smith or some other name that came from England or Ireland or Germany and it’s those sorts of differences, that like I said, it’s like water torture, over the course of one’s life they hit you in different ways and they erode who you are.
I guess I feel very, very fortunate that my parents don’t suffer from lack of self-esteem, that they came to this country as proud immigrants, they came here for education, to take the best of what there was from the United States and leave, to get their education and go home and through a series of political action in China they never went back but as a result of that they are very self-assured people who know who they are and are very comfortable with who they are and who don’t really pay attention to racism. I think they know it’s inherent in what happens to them, but they also feel like that’s somebody else’s problem it’s not their problem. I think having grown up with parents who have that attitude, it became much easier to process, all of the oddness of the Civil Rights movement of the 60’s as a teenager and to come into my own being as someone who felt confident enough to move in circles that are mostly male and mostly white and not to worry about the things that people ask and say. Again I think it’s the reason why I’m willing to talk to your students on this tape because I think that people need to realize that while actually in the United States today 75% of Asian Americans are in fact foreign born that’s not the first thing that most people are reacting to when they’re presenting themselves. I certainly don’t have a vision of myself all the time in front of me, but I’m very conscious when someone is reacting to me as a foreigner and it is tiring. I think numbers has a lot to do with it.
The place I feel most comfortable is Hawaii, it’s the most for Asian Americans, it is the most Asian without being Asian, it is the most multi-culturally Asian place and it’s western without being European and it’s Asian without being foreign and I think it’s a wonderful blending of cultures, besides the weather of course.
Instructor: You’ve talked a little bit about some of the visual images and the problems that people have with seeing someone that’s foreign born and sort of latching onto that and reacting to that. One of the texts the students are reading talks about having to handle those visual images in advance before you even try to move beyond that in a course of cultural understanding. Do you have any suggestions for how the students might handle those visual images more successfully to make that process more comfortable for everybody involved?
Georgia: Are you talking about just not reacting to what you see in people?
Instructor: Yeah, I’m a little bit concerned that the students might be getting some mixed messages in the sense that on the one hand we’re being confronted with a wave of sort of ethnic re-identification where people are really reclaiming their roots and taking justifiable pride in that and on the other hand there’s this need to look past that and as you said say,
you’re an American and the rest is more secondary and I’m wondering how we balance those two in ways that are productive?
Georgia: For me personally, it’s context. If you and I were to sit down and have dinner together it would not be offensive to me for you to express an interest in my cultural background and I would hope that it wouldn’t be offensive to you if I were to ask you similar questions. Earlier tonight you said you had been here for two years and so I asked you where you had moved from, with no assumptions about anything that you would say and no disappointment either over anything that you would say. So it’s an honest exchange of our interest in each other as human beings. That to me is pure, that’s very comfortable. I think the hard part is when people are not in fact interested in each other, they’re interested in each other as a culture, or as a thing, or as a student. I think we all know it as kids, when we were younger people would always say, what grade are you in, or my how you’ve grown and as a child instantly thinks this adult is not interested in me, this adult is interested in my representation of a child, in my representation of a younger person and you pick up that insincerity. But if an adult had approached you as a child and said, I really like your jeans, tell me where you got them, or I heard that you go to this school and that you’re interested in art, tell me what interests you about art. It would be a way of approaching a relationship with that child that the child would understand that you really are interested in them as individuals and I think that’s where we’re lost in this cultural war, this cross cultural, multi-cultural issue. We have failed to start looking at each other as individuals interested in each other just for the sake of having relationships, real one on one relationships, instead we’re looking at each other as colors, we’re looking at each other as either a woman or a man, we’re looking at each other as representative of something, but not at the person. I think if you’re interactions are all at that level they’re draining and tiresome because after a while I feel like I’m supposed to educate you about something you want to know about, but there’s nothing in it for me because we’re not having a relationship, I’m just here to kind of give you a story and so it’s unsatisfying over the long term.
I still do it, I still put myself in that position where I’m representing something for some people, I still volunteer in fact, to work on diversity issues and
to do these explanations for people because I know that a lot of people have their heart in the right place and they really do want to understand that they really are lost, they really have not had an opportunity to merely meet someone and get to know them one on one without first confronting the race or cultural background of that other person and that’s unfortunate. I think when you grow up as the minority in this country you get over that as a child, as a child you’re constantly reminded that you’re of another culture and you have a different cultural background, you learn about it and you process it and so you’re not as needy about the other.
Sometimes I berate myself as an adult in this community for not being more involved and welcoming foreign students to my home in some kind of friendship program or something and then I look at my life and think I struggle everyday with cross cultural issues in my own family just through the result of being married to someone who’s not Asian American and we confront those things intellectually and emotionally constantly and I think I’m just plain exhausted, I don’t think I really want to go the next step because I’m not prepared to give as much as I think it’s necessary to give to keep that conversation
going. So, it’s hard. This year for the first time we agreed to host a 14 year old student from Pullman’s sister city in Japan and she lived with us for about four or five days. I think when she first met us at home I think she was surprised that I was Asian because that’s not what she was expecting. She was coming to the United States for a cross cultural experience and she was not expecting an Asian person. So, I don’t know how she processed it because we didn’t have enough language to understand how she processed it.
I think that’s part of it, of becoming a multi-cultural nation is us ourselves recognizing that while we constantly embrace new immigrants to our country we have to have a place for those of us who are no longer immigrants but for whom the American experience is who we are and we are as much a part of it as anyone.
Instructor: As the students work through this course and start this process of cultural understanding, can you give them any pieces of advice as they get started?
Georgia: I think the thing that I remember when I was in college and was beginning to process an identity was feeling angry about not being heard. So, I assume that’s a pretty natural reaction. Being spoken for instead of being able to speak oneself and being empowered to speak is difficult. On the other hand I think we need to empower white people to talk about race. I think we have both problems right now where the debate is. We need to be able to learn to let non-white people speak for themselves and their own experience, we’re not very good at listening yet and hearing what is being said and then we’re also not very good at letting white people speak from their perspective about race.
I think that’s a real struggle. I think it takes an honest depth of relationship, one on one, before we achieve real change. A lot is to be said, I mean, I’m a lawyer, a lot is to be said for changes in laws and institutional regulations and for trying to change society through regulation and through policy, but when it comes to internalizing these ideas and when it comes to really eradicating racism from our culture I’m starting to believe, I don’t know if I’m there yet, but I’m starting to believe it really is each individual, one on one has to take responsibility for what you think, what you say, what you do, what you tolerate and if you speak up for a friend, stand up for someone who’s being mistreated because of the color of their skin or because of an assumption that someone makes about them or you don’t listen to a racially biased joke, each one of those acts is an act of kindness and moving in a direction that helps us become a more multi-cultural nation.
Family: Interview with Dr. Aniket Joshi and Dr. Sarita Joshi”
Instructor: Aniket maybe you can start off by telling us under what circumstances you first came to this country and what you’re doing here now?
Aniket: Before coming to the United States, in India I finished my residency in pediatrics, I finished medical school and I really came here to learn something more, basically putting it very simply and the way I went about it was to take an exam and that exam is required of all foreign medical graduates and once you clear that exam and you come to the United States…what I did was, I went through a residency in pediatrics in Chicago. Right now I’m
in Los Angeles doing a fellowship, taking care of very sick kids, the fellowship is called the pediatric critical care fellowship.
Instructor: Do you have any idea at this point whether you’re going to be staying on in this country?
Aniket: That situation is kind of fluid, so I’m not sure about that right now. I still have a year and a half to go and I think I’ll make my decision then.
Instructor: Has that uncertainty about whether or not you’re going to be staying or going back to India caused you any difficulties? I know you’re the parent of an almost three year old and has that sort of uncertainty about whether you’re going to be staying here or going back to India had any impact on the way that you’re raising your son here in this country?
Aniket: Not really. I don’t think that has come up as a factor in raising my son, but the uncertainty of where I will be in one and a half years definitely has forced me to think about a couple of issues as far as making up my mind goes, because I need to make up my mind as soon as possible because I cannot keep on switching back and forth and being in India and the US because that would not make any sense for my son, he would be very confused.
Instructor: Let’s talk a little bit about when you first came to this country, what kind of adjustment process do you think you went through when you first arrived in Chicago?
Aniket: First was the adjustment to the cold, but adjustments by and large that I made when I first came into the US can be broadly divided into just adjustments to daily life and adjustments toward work. The adjustments to daily life are ones which any foreigner would encounter in any land, namely the way you dress, the way you speak, your way of greeting people, that’s also so different. The other adjustment of course is that you lead a really independent life here, you really do everything yourself and you really have to do everything yourself as opposed to in India where there was all family members around and the work kinds of gets distributed. On the work front I think the most important factor which I really had to adjust to was that I really need to change the way I speak in order for my message to get conveyed. Even the way you construct your sentence, the way you use your words goes a long way in really conveying your message. I used to talk very fast and that made problems worse I think because people really didn’t understand what I was talking about, I have an accent is one thing, the diction is different and if I talked fast it was a total mess.
So, I really had to change the way I spoke and also the way I arranged my sentences, and I really understood that when I dealt with people in my workplace they really made things simple when they wanted to convey a message, for example, are you all set, in normal circumstances I would have said are you ready to do something, are you all set was a very different thing, but it conveys a meaning right away, so these are a couple of things I needed to change at the workplace. Also, I had to adjust to what I do and what my profession is because my profession back home is more diagnosis oriented where here it is
more service oriented, so I undertook a lot of change in the way I did that, but these were by and large the more important adjustments I had to make that I can think of right now.
Instructor: Did you find any of that adjustment particularly difficult, any of that that you really struggled with?
Aniket: Mainly the adjustment of understanding people, what they really want from you and how they say it, putting this picture together has taken me some time. The other domestic adjustment is doing everything on your own and getting used to these things and also adjusting your workplace took a little working, but that I had expected.
Instructor: Are there differences that you’ve noticed in your move from Chicago to Los Angeles in the way that people deal with diversity here that’s made it either easier or harder for you?
Aniket: Well, luckily both Los Angeles and Chicago are two very big cities and diversity is easily accepted, so I really have no way of comparing it to a small town. But, people in Los Angeles have much more of a relaxed lifestyle I would say and it’s less hierarchical, I think. Also, three years in Chicago had prepared me a lot as to going about things in the United States and hence it was easier for me in Los Angeles than it had been in Chicago. Now that I think back retrospectively I probably shouldn’t have done a few things here and there, said a couple of things here and there, which I’ve adjusted to.
Instructor: You have a three year old who is sitting here now, and he was born in this country. Has having a child in this country, have you thought about any of the differences in the way that maybe you parent him here then if he had been born in India, have there been differences that you’ve noticed?
Aniket: Yeah. Well, I haven’t had a child in India, so it’s very difficult to compare. But, if I had to kind of think about the problem as to how I would have brought him up in India it would have been a little different. Right now, I think I have a major part to play in the day to day activities in taking care of him, for example dropping him off at daycare, bringing him back, feeding him, giving him a bath, reading to him, explaining things. I really need to take the time out, I have to because there is no other solution. In India, it would have been different because these things would have been taken care of because there would have been family around and other relatives around. So, this is the most important way, I think, he would have been brought up in India as opposed to here.
Instructor: If you stay in this country, as he gets older do you think that will become more of an issue for you as a parent, the differences that might happen in parenting in India versus here?
Aniket: Well, I think that I will have to continue contributing a certain amount of time every day, so that he gets the best out of what I can give. That’s why I think I need to be more creative, if I stay back, I need to be more creative in how I can challenge his thoughts and energies, and it’s really a big responsibility, which might not have that much of a role in
India because there are so many people who are doing it for you, but here you have to do it on your own. Not that I wouldn’t have done that in India, I definitely would have done that, but I would have been sort of relieved, okay fine some things are on autopilot, some things are taken care of and I don’t have to worry about it. Here I think that apart from doing my job and my work responsibilities I would definitely have to make an active effort of taking some time and doing these things for him.
Instructor: On a more general note, what do you think the biggest difference between living in India and living in this country is for you?
Aniket: I think living here you are really more aware of your senses than back home. Here because of the intense competition demands from your work are very high, to have a high level of comfort you really have to be aware of the things around you to get the most out of them. I think that’s one of the most important differences between living here and living in India. Not that you take many things for granted in India, you do sometimes, but you do that here sometimes too, but the pressures are lower in India because it’s your home country, here you want to prove something, like I said the accountability, the demands are different. I think you kind of tune yourself up to a higher level.
Instructor: On a personal level have you experienced any discrimination in this country based on you culture?
Aniket: There have been occasions you can say where certain preferences…if I were to be compared with an American probably I was not given a preference, but that was an afterthought and I think that is to be expected frankly because people from the same country are more comfortable with each other, unless they have already established a report. Personally though, I did not experience any gross over discrimination, I think on the contrary, everybody has been extremely nice to me and I have had equal opportunities probably as many as Americans. One thing that is distinctly different than what I was used to back home is the lack of news on a worldwide scale. When I first came here it was all local news all the time and I did not really know how to get information on a more worldwide basis and that’s really one of the things that I was really used to until of course I found public television and the internet, which is a source of great news, but when I came I kind of had a problem adjusting to that. Also, I was really used to talking to a lot of my friends and colleagues about their political views and what they thought about what was going on in different parts of the world, but as I understood later political views of a person in the United States might be his or her own very private affair and you cannot discuss them as freely as I could back home, so that was one of the important differences and an adjustment I had to make.
Video clip of Aniket & Sarita’s son with his grandmother
Sarita: I came here to acquire a higher education. I’m a trained physician in India and I decided to specialize in hematology for children and that prompted me to come here. I had to take a lot of exams en route, but it was well worth it.
Instructor: Can you tell us a little bit about what it was like when you first arrived here?
Sarita: It was everything I thought it would be, but there were a lot of surprises too. What struck me about the United States was the space on the roads; there were so few people I didn’t have to knock elbows to get around. It was difficult trying to fit in yet retain my identity.
Instructor: Can you talk about some of those difficulties that you had when you first arrived?
Sarita: I think I had to deal with a lot more regimental surroundings. For example, you could only cross the road when the pedestrian sign lit up and for me to acquire the discipline to wait for cars to pass by was different, but difficulties were more…this was just one of the mundane aspects of it. I think the loneliness…the feeling that there was crime just around the corner, I think those things were a little difficult to overcome.
Instructor: You talked a little bit about the struggle to retain your identity. Can you clarify that a little bit for the students, what kinds of things went on with that struggle? How you dealt with it maybe?
Sarita: Part of it was just superficial, having to be a physician in a society where there was a different decorum, a different style of dress, a different demeanor that one had to portray, that was difficult to overcome because I grew up to be an adult in India, where I acquired most of my traits and I had to shed some of those…it wasn’t so much difficulty in the process of doing it, but it was more difficult to realize that there were so many differences that I had to smooth out.
Instructor: You have a son that was born in this country. Has his birth caused you to look at your identity in new ways as far as raising him in this country?
Sarita: I think so. So far it’s been issues with daycare and issues with having someone look after him and making sure he gets the kind of food I want him to get. But, it’s not been too difficult in that respect. There have been advantages that I have seen in this society which I think I’m very glad to have, such as having a structured daycare situation, which does not really exist as much in India. In India the daycare situation is pretty much at home, families, grandparents and stuff and that’s wonderful because you acquire so much love and affection en route, but I think in a formal daycare setting there’s things we gained in that way too.
Instructor: Would you say the challenges of motherhood are different in this country than in India?
Sarita: It’s a very complicated answer. Being a working woman I have to deal with the guilt and with realizing the fact that in India I would have had many more options in terms of taking time off. The work ethic here is much different. It’s more amenable to taking time off
for a sick child versus not enough time to take off to be with a well child, so that’s been difficult.
Instructor: Has it been hard for you raising him so far away from your family and the country where you grew up in?
Sarita: I think so, I really miss…we had neighbors would come in, not ring the doorbell, just come in. We had friends out on the streets, my grandparents were always around, I think he definitely loses out in not having his grandparents around and his aunts and uncles, that has been different.
Instructor: Is it an issue for you that your son is being raised in the US instead of India; is that an issue for you in any way?
Sarita: No, I don’t think so. I think being raised here versus India would not be too different. I would still want him to be a citizen of the world. There are some things that I identify with “Indian-ness”, which I find to be easily hacked at, those are good qualities that exist in societies all over the world, so I don’t think it’s different. Yes, he might not know his language, he might not know his ancient history, which I can read to him at bedtime, but I think of terms of being a person it doesn’t matter where you’re brought up if you have good strong values.
Instructor: Does he speak the language at all?
Sarita: He understands, but he doesn’t speak, a few words here and there. He could speak a little more when he was younger, but I think in daycare he was feeling left out, or being left out because the teachers just couldn’t comprehend what he was saying and therefore we encouraged ourselves to speak English to him so that he would understand and they would understand him.
Instructor: Is it an issue for you that he’s not speaking the language?
Sarita: No. I’m sure it’s an issue for a lot of first generation immigrants or foreigners, and it’s an issue for my parents, I’m sure, and my aunts and uncles and I’m sure it’s an issue for my husband’s
Diversity in Contemporary Families
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