About jp 吉平

john patrick | 吉平 is a former superhero from seattle | usa

Americans Eat Monkey Brains!

chilled-monkey-brain_1xWhen I was growing up on Tumwater Hill, a neighbor kid SWORE to me that his grandfather or his uncle or something was stationed in the Philippines and everybody was eating monkey brains. I can’t remember if that kid held me responsible for this or not, but I asked my mama later if Filipinos ate monkey brains, and she was pissed.

Nowadays, I realize that white superiority has to be inflated with imagined exotic fears. They make stuff up, or exaggerate something… it doesn’t matter; once they repeat it they believe it. Maybe it’s based on something true. I’m sure the Emperor of China or somebody was once served some crazy extravagant delicacy; maybe it’s delicious; I don’t know. I’m sure some people somewhere has eaten a monkey brain, but McMonkey Brain operations seem to be an urban legend

But let’s think for a second… What economy do you imagine where some Filipinos eat monkey brains, and no other part of the monkey? The ocean is full of fish, the town is full of chickens and pigs, the fields are full of rice, . . . but for some reason we gotta hunt monkeys, eat only their brains, and serve them to American GIs? Why aren’t there stories of monkey adobo? Monkey chicharrón? Monkey organ stew?  Where does the rest of that monkey go?  

Somebody’s going to read this post, and find an image of Lea Salonga wearing a Philippine flag t-shirt excitedly putting a grapefruit spoon into a screaming monkey’s exposed cortex. It doesn’t matter that I, a Filipino person, tell you that it’s not part of our culture. Someone’s going to find a video of Manny Pacquiao, that bigot, opening a monkey brain restaurant in Quiapo. I’m sure there’s video. And for racist people it will be enough proof that Filipinos eat monkey brains. Similarly, if someone mentions Jeffery Dahmer in conversation, YOU KNOW that someone in the back of the room has leaned in to their neighbor and whispered, “Jeffery Dahmer, that’s some white people.”

Listen, I can’t negate the possibility that there’s never in history of time has there been a T.G.I.Monkey’s somewhere in the Philippine Islands.  I can only say that it’s not part of our culture; it sounds much more like the imagination of racist Americans.  

But let me just say, that there is exactly on scenario where I can imagine a Filipino serving monkey brains to an American: if Americans ask for it something, Filipinos will find a way to serve it to you. They want monkey brains?! Fine, whatever, put it on the menu. Send your nephew and his friends into the forest to hunt for monkeys tomorrow; Americans eat monkey brains.

Language Learning: They Talk Too Fast

giphySo I’ve been a teacher for 23 years at this point, and a casual multilingual for a similar amount of time. I’ve been thinking about the following topic since the 90s, but have been afraid to try to explain it, since monolinguals are often such babies.

Second language learners and monolinguals often accuse people speaking other languages of talking too fast.  “Slow down! Please! You talk too fast!” How inconsiderate of you, to not speak at a pace that I dictate. You people (of a different culture) have a problem, and my needs, as the outsider, must be placed at the center of this exchange.

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Listen, these cross-linguistic studies about words per minute, and syllables per minute were done years ago. There’s a ton of them but I’ll just link to publications with the most authoritative sounding title; so here’s Scientific American and Psychology Today.  Both articles explain that all over the world, different languages exchange information at about the same rate; nobody is actually giving information faster or slower than anyone else. Spanish and Japanese might have slightly more syllables per minute, and Mandarin and German might have fewer syllables per minute, but if you look at Mandarin and German syllables they are denser with information; in the end, no one culture is exchanging information faster than the other.

Yes, there are exceptions; excited teenagers, coke heads, etc. But the remarks I hear are rarely about a coke head; instead they are about entire cultures. I’ve heard: Spanish speakers talk too fast! French people talk too fast! Chinese people TALK TOO FAST (um, Scientific American just said they have the fewest syllables per minute…).

My students regularly tell me I’m talking too fast. I’m not. I’m talking normal speed.  When I show a video, they throw themselves on the floor and say OMG WHY ARE THEY TALKING SO FAST. I can hear with my own freaking ears that they’re not talking fast at all.

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Get up off the floor.  They are not talking too fast.  You don’t understand anything due to the fact that you have THROWN YOURSELF ON THE FLOOR. You stopped listening. You. You did that. You stopped listening, and now you’re complaining about them.

Here’s what’s happening:

  1. giphy1They’re not talking fast; you are understanding slow. You are at a stage where you cannot process normal speed human communication. That’s normal, it’s not your fault. But it is YOUR problem to deal with, not theirs; stop accusing them of being abnormal. They are treating you they way they treat everyone else.  You want them to baby talk you? The least you can do is ask politely.  Could you please baby talk me? Can you please stop treating me like the adult you think I am, and instead infantilize me?  Go ahead and use all your baby stereotypes, I love that.
  2. They’re not talking fast; they are talking in paragraphs. It feels fast to you, because you’re slow to process, but you’ll notice that even when they baby talk you in paragraphs, you still get lost.

But I need it, you say, I need slow speech! That would be a great argument… Actually, no;  it’s not, restating that you need something is a terrible argument.  When you actually get people to slow talk you, one of two things happens:  a) they baby talk you and it’s condescending and they stop taking your seriously as a person, or b) they slow motion talk to you, which DOESN’T HELP YOU UNDERSTAND.  If you don’t speak Chinese, no amount of slow Chinese is going to help you understand.  If you don’t know the words, hearing them at half speed doesn’t help you; no amount of slowing or shouting or repeating the same word at them excitedly is going to connect the dots in your brain.

So just go home and give up.

Or you can try to negotiate for meaning.

  • Interrupt politely and ask a question, hear the answer and repeat it.
  • Interrupt and try to repeat what they said; check for confirmation.
  • Interrupt and try to paraphrase them, check for confirmation.
  • Interrupt and request clarification, “what was that word?” Hear it and repeat it.
  • Interrupt and ask them to repeat what they said. Hear it and repeat it.

These are all communication strategies that forgo you accusing them of being abnormal that don’t require slow motion or condescending baby talk.  You’ll notice that they are all appropriate strategies in a regular conversation in your native language. People talk to you in paragraphs all the time in your native language; you already have the strategies to disrupt the stream of information a little so that you can manage it.

What if you’re in a conversation where interrupting would be impolite?  Oooh that’s a tough one. Let me suggest this; if you’re in a situation so formal that interrupting would be rude, then accusing that person of talking too fast is also rude. Maybe be a different kind of rude. Or maybe stick to familiar register social interactions for the time being; stick with allies who know you better and are familiar with how you fast you process information, and can comfortably adjust for your level. Maybe just smile and survive it, and keep your coke-head accusations to yourself.

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Pronoun posters in Spanish

Poster Complementos directosPoster Complementos indirectosPoster Complementos reflexivos y recírpocosPoster Los pronombres sujetos

Here are my pronoun posters. I leave them up on the wall all year, even when there’s a pronoun quiz.  Here’s are the reasons I use these.

  1. Because of the way I interact with these posters, the students get the idea that there are distinct sets of pronouns, that they’re not all just random mix-and-match like buttons in a box.  So when someone pulls out an *Él se gusta frijoles or *Yo doy tú una flor I don’t have to clear the board and launch into a huge pronoun tangent which they will ignore; I can just write their sentence on the board, circle the wrong pronoun, and walk to the four posters and ask which role (perpetrador, víctima, beneficiario, etc.)
  2. My students couldn’t identify a complemento directo to save their lives; they don’t ever bother to learn what it is even when I teach it explicitly.  Forget it!  They know what a victim is; so if I give them a sample sentence like “Juan se comió toda una pizza,” they can identify that pizza is the victim of eating, the pizza got eaten.  That’s good enough. Plenty of people speak Spanish without ever thinking about complementos directos e indirectos; if I can get them to know them implicitly I can skip teaching them explicitly.
  3. The color coding helps students remember; a trick I learned from teaching Prof. Dummit’s tone colors in Chinese.  Red is the color for victim, as it’s the color of blood.  Green is the color of money, and the beneficiary gets the money.  They can remember that /g/ for green corresponds with /g/ for gustar.  Mirror gray symbolizes the color of a mirror, which symbolizes reflexives/reciprocals.
  4. Won’t students just look at the wall instead of learning their damn pronouns?  That’s the fear of keeping content on the walls, right?  Well, I’m currently working in a culture where:
    • students would rather guess wrong than make an effort to be right; I think they’re used to their teachers just giving them the right answer so it’s more efficient for them to guess wrong and await correction, than actually learn the content.  I know it’s bleak; it’s the culture of where I’m teaching.
    • my students literally do not believe in the whole process of using a reference to find the right answer.  I’m TEACHING them this skill.  They need this skill in college: keep using reference until the information is internalized.
  5. I can always just pull the poster off the wall during an exam. I’ve found it unnecessary, however, since my exams are not usually about pronouns.

Please let the record show that I am HORRIFIED by my students’ habit of just guessing wrong.  It’s bad. When they guess right, they’re so surprised by it that it becomes a nervous distraction. It’s BAD.

Anyway, that’s why the pronouns are on my wall.  If you’d like to use my posters, find them here and print them out yourself!  The only thing I ask is that you send me a picture of them on your wall, and you let me know how it’s going. If these don’t work for you, I’d love to hear suggestions.

If you’re looking for interrogatives and immediate needs posters in Spanish and Chinese, find them on this post.

JP’s Asian SoCal Adventure Packages

Good morning from Koreatown, LA. If you ever wonder why I disappear for the weekend and return with a spring in my step and no grading done, here’s a list of the places I go. Notice that all of these adventure packages include a trip to an Asian supermarket, a Daiso, and some other kind of adventure, such as a trip to the beach. All of the adventure packages require a two-hour drive, except for the Rancho Run, which is only an hour. They are all designed to be a day trip; leave in the morning after breakfast in the desert, and then return before sundown.

1) The Koreatown Haircut: Central Los Ángeles. This package happens once every month or two, and features me getting a haircut in Koreatown, because Kelly makes me look like a movie star… or feel like one, at least. Features include: Koreatown H-Mart and/or Little Tokyo Market place, Daiso, Café Vita, BCD Tofu. Optional excursions include anywhere in LA; Little Ethiopia on Fairfax, Original Farmers Market. Any of the West LA beaches; Redondo is a favorite because of the food. DTLA (LACMA, Cathedral) Chinatown, East LA, whatever. This trip must occur on a Saturday because Fridays and Sundays are Kelly’s day off.  It is possible to do this on a Sunday, without a haircut, and see more of LA.

2) The Tea Run: San Gabriel Valley Tour, a Chinese Adventure. Destinations include 99 Ranch, Daiso, Wing Hop Fung (Chinese tea supermarket), H.O.T. Spicy Kitchen.

3) Kearny Mesa Tour. Destinations include Marukai Market, Daiso, Mitsuwa Market. Optional excursions include anywhere in San Diego (Old Town, Gaslamp, Pacific Beach). Scenic trip through the mountains.

4) TheRancho Run: Rancho Cucamonga. This is a shortest round trip from where I live now in the desert. Destinations include 99 Ranch, Daiso. Optional excursions include Seafood City, Zait Bistro.

5) Orange County: Anaheim to the Beach, a Vietnamese Adventure. Destinations include: Daiso, H-Mart, 99 Ranch, beach (either Newport or Huntington), bánh mì or pho somewhere. Optional excursions: Disneyland, Angels Stadium, Westminster. Shout out to JC who joined me on the original discovery.

6) North County Beaches. Any and all of the beaches between Laguna Beach and Del Mar. Island Market (Temecula), Daiso, Kyoto’s Japanese Market, Lita’s Fish Market (Oceanside).

7) West LA (A Japanese Adventure) (still under development). Marukai Market, Daiso, Boulevard Music, Joxer Daly’s. Any beach from the Palisades to Redondo Beach.

8) A Filipino Adventure (still under development). Eagle Rock? Carson? Not sure how to do this yet, but it will include a Seafood City, a Daiso, and some kind of grilled fish and vegetables.

I know how to get bagels, Ethiopian food, mariscos, izakaya, South Indian food, hipster tacos, “Mediterranean food” (mostly Armenians). I have excursions planned to Little Central America.

I don’t much now how to eat Peruvian, Brazilian, Eastern Europe, or Central Asian food; maybe if I ever go back to being a meat eater I will put those cuisines on my list.

As far as adventures farther afield, I’d like to do a Santa Barbara to Big Sur adventure. I’ve also been contemplating a drive to the former Japanese Internment camps, or a UFW pilgrimage.

México trips are less Asian but always fun, and usually equally as food-oriented. They tend to be overnight and include the hours it takes to cross back into the United States of América. I’ve done Tijuana Beaches and Tecate; looking forward to discovering Mexicali someday. Mexicali will be an Asian adventure as well, as the city has had a sizable Chinese population ever since the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

For the record, I’m open to other SoCal adventures that don’t revolve around Asian groceries or Daiso, but for the record I’m not a fan of hiking.

A Desert Summer

I turned in my grades in early June. It was a great day!

The next day I went to see Amber, who was visiting the desert with her family, staying in a groovy mid-century modern casita with painted concrete floors and swimming pool  colors that make the desert seem fancy.  She had a good pep talk with me about my writing career.

Those few weeks I was baking a lot of bread, following this no-knead bread recipe that is so ridiculously easy; mix the ingredients at night, wake up in the morning and put it in the oven.  Here’s another version, by Vincent. When you take a fresh loaf of bread to work, people think it’s a miracle.  I even started making baguettes. I followed this video for the shaping, to the point where I even hum the music from the video.  Practice practice.

So that Saturday I delivered a baguette to Amber and then crossed the Mojave to Las Vegas, to see my folks.  It was a short visit; the following day I was in Seattle with H and my cuñado.  I made a few loaves of bread for them. I also visited Seattle Prep for the first time in years, hung out with C and J.  XF made me sing into her karaoke app.  It was fun to be back there.  The following day was the last day of school, so I attended some of our old last-day-of-school rituals.

One of the big surprises is that Syntax-S was there in Seattle!  Of course she had told me but I was unable to retain that information due to grading hell (is there a clinical term?).  So she, H and I did fun Seattle things like dimsum and Daiso and oysters in the park.  SUPER FUN. So good to see Syntax-S.

I flew back to to Vegas, and then next day crossed back to the Coachella Valley, and then that Monday I started my ASL class, which is a fun way to spend three hours MTWTH.  I am a little ahead of the game due to my previous ASL experience.  I got a 98% on the exam; I’m still a little puzzled by the one I missed, but ni modo.

What else?  There has been Movie Club, Bowling Club, and Asian Adventures with R.  So I took R to Rancho Cucamonga for Daiso, Chinese food, and Ranch 99.  The following weekend, I was planning to meet Coffee Break Mark in Anaheim, and I decided to make it a beach day.  R texted me just as I was leaving and so we decided to have a SoCal adventure on the spur of the moment.  Huntington Beach, Daiso, bánh mì (his first, my first in hella).  Then we went to meet Coffee Break Mark, who was as kind in person as he sounds.  We talked jazz piano, and the old days of podcasting, and a glimpse of the Radio Lingua empire.  R had his first bubble tea.  Then back in the desert before sundown.

So now I’m back in the desert.  Taking an ASL summer intensive, trying to eat healthy and get to the gym.  There will be more movies, more bowling, more trips to Vegas, one more trip to Seattle. At least one more trip to the beach.

Recipe: Spaghettini al Pesto

Spaghettini al pestoStart by putting a pot of water on the stove to boil.

Toast a handful of pine nuts in a dry pan over medium.  Make them look golden; don’t burn them.  Shake the pan to them toast evenly on both sides.

Smash some garlic cloves to peel them and throw them in your small food processor (one clove if you want to smell raw garlic; two cloves if you want to taste raw garlic; three cloves if you’re trying to test your garlic limits.  Throw in fresh ground black pepper, salt, a little bit of marjoram or oregano, a little squeeze of lime or lemon (to keep the green color), a big bunch of basil leaves. Throw in most (but not all) of the pine nuts, and then whiz it up with a chug of your best olive oil.

Try not to overdo the oil, you’re making a paste (pesto means “paste”), not a sauce.  It should be thick enough to stand up on a plate without spreading too much.  Don’t over whiz it, grind it up without liquifying it.  You might have to scrape down the sides with a spoon to keep it moving without adding too much oil.

By now your water is boiling, so go around the house and tell everyone to stop what they’re doing, wash their hands, and sit the hell down at the table.  When they are moving toward the table, then throw in a fistful of salt and a small fistful of spaghetti for each eater.

While the pasta is boiling, grate a cup of your parmesan with a microplane into your mixing bowl. Incorporate the pesto with the grated parmesan. Your guests should now be sitting and if they’re not, don’t make this for them again. Especially if they tell you to calm down or make some excuse about how they’re doing something important; to hell with that. They don’t deserve this recipe; they can eat grocery store pesto. They probably won’t even taste the difference. Smart people know to sit the hell down when you’re making this pesto.

Cook your pasta all the way or almost all the way; once it gets tossed with pesto it doesn’t finish cooking. At the very second that it’s no longer al dente, pull it out with kitchen tongs and mix it HOT into the pesto. It’s ok if a little pasta water drips into the bowl; the pesto and pasta will absorb that water when you toss it.  Toss that pasta in the cheesy pesto for a good minute before twisting it onto serving plates.

Top with more cheese, more toasted pine nuts; garnish with a chiffonade of basil and maybe a little drizzle of oil if you want. Don’t get too fancy, serving it hot is more important than making it look good for Instagram.  If somebody complains that it’s too hot to eat right away and they have to wait for it to cool down, then good, you win.

When I was in Rome, I realized that the servings of pasta were small; smaller than Americans are used to.  That’s because there’s going to be vegetables, a grilled chicken, later salad a bunch of wine, and then dessert.  It doesn’t matter, your mouth gets used to that shiny bright taste of hot pesto rather quickly; you don’t want to waste your pesto on a mouth that’s numb to it.

Last thing; I told my Italian host family that Americans think pesto is very special; they were a little baffled that we would assign value to something as simple as pesto.  I told them about the Seinfeld episode where George Costanza called Seattle “The Pesto of Cities,” which they found nonsensical.  I tried to explain that Seattle is green and fancy… they laughed and told me that pesto is not fancy.  Meh, I guess neither is Seattle.

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I have more spaghetti stories here.  Here’s a recipe for spaghetti with a can of clams. Here’s one for spaghetti with a can of tuna.

What’s the Lazy Language?

A few years ago I blogged about how to choose which language to study.  Part I dealt with vision; who are you trying to be, which language are you speaking in the future?  Part II was about which language is the most practical language, since people seem to be extremely horny for whatever is practical.  In Part III I try to address the easy language, for those people who just want to skip to “the end,” fluency, free sodas, and recreational drugs.  I am being sarcastic.

The thing that sucks the joy out of me is that many people aren’t looking for the easy language, or the practical language, or the language they can see themselves speaking in the best, most adventurous versions of themselves.  Instead, they’re looking for the lazy language.  The root of that is the ridiculous assumption that language learning is both painful and impossible, which seems like a strange thing, I don’t know why people keep choosing it.

By the way, should we just say it?  Should we just say, “Spanish is the easy language for Americans!” Great. Listen, if I open up my Chinese textbook to a vocabulary list of any particular chapter, I find a list of about a dozen or so vocabulary words for the chapter, more or less. When I open my Spanish textbook to a vocabulary page for a chapter, I find six dozen vocabulary words. Which language is easy; which language is lazy?  Is learning 15 unfamiliar things harder than learning 72 less unfamiliar things?  Why does that question even make sense to you?

Which is easy which is lazy

Here are a couple of videos I’ve made to help recruit students into my programs.  The first one, I made in 2015 when I was trying to get students to sign up for Mandarin at Seattle Prep.  Here’s the higher quality version.  If that’s not working for some reason, here’s a youtube copy:

Now it’s 2018, and I’m at Xavier College Prep, and we made one for the whole language department.  Here’s the original link, but the youtube version is here:

Doing the video in the target languages wasn’t my idea, but I thought we’d try it out.  I was a little worried that it would spook the monolinguals, but so far it seems ok.  The next one I do will be even better.

Gee Your Dog Tastes Delicious

This post is for people who have to endure people from the dominant culture taunting them about eating dogs, cats, cuy, frogs; any animal they get squeamish about and try to paint onto you. People from dominant cultures, this is not your space, I will delete your comments. You’re free to listen quietly.

Recently, a friend and fellow Asian American (shout out to D!) shared that she still feels the particular sting when white folks, which is the dominant culture that we grew up around, ask her why Asians eat dogs, if she eats dogs, why she eats dogs… How does dog taste? I used to hear it as well, and I used to feel a sting.

When we ask our immigrant parents if we are dog eaters, the is often “meh” or “some people do” or “yah, so what?” It has taken me well into adulthood to realize that is EXACTLY the correct response.

When we’re growing up and we desperately want the dominant culture to like and accept us, we don’t feel comfortable shrugging it off like our parents do. In fact, shrugging it off will just encourage further taunting. Instead, we try defensive strategies; I have been known to bring up celebrated dog-eaters Lewis and Clark. They can’t really deny that it’s white folks eating Rocky Mountain Oysters; wow, it even says so in National Geographic! (thanks K)

But face it: the dog and cat comments always stung. They paint you with that broad brush; you, your parents, your grand parents, you little cousins, everyone that loves you and is kind to you, they’re coming for all of you. You don’t belong here.

So now I have a new strategy nowadays: terrify them. Terrify the dominant culture. I look at their pets with wistfully and talk recipes. Scare the junk out of precious hearts. It doesn’t matter that I don’t even eat meat anymore; I tell them their dog looks delicious. If they want to stick a stereotype to us, use it to terrify them. Of course it’s not true, that’s irrelevant at this point. Rattle their cage.

Them: “I’m not saying I saw them do it, all I’m saying is that they moved in and suddenly everyone’s pets disappeared!”

Me: “I still have some in the freezer if you wanted to say goodbye.”

Maybe some of them are doing it out of real fears; real, ethnocentric fears that they cultivate inside their hard candy shell. The rest of them are doing it to torment you; they’re doing to hate you. THEY HATE YOU. What is the point of letting them torment you?  Traumatize them back, harder. Ask them to pass you the sriracha. They think you stew cats, why assuage their fears? Nah. Shake a bag of pork rinds at them, with the label covered, and ask, “look familiar?”

Yes, I once used to go down the road of trying to make them relate. French people ate rats during the war, Romans ate cats; war and poverty are a not a joke. Europeans eat horses without flinching when they’re not at war, do dominant culture white Americans torment Europeans over horse eating? No, kid. That’s race.

We’re talking about people who eat nothing but fried potatoes and boneless skinless chicken breast. They’ll just be all “how dare you” because they are the center of the universe, and everything they do is right and normal, and everything that we do exists for them to taunt us. Ask them how much their pets weigh, say things like, mmm tender. Or, how old? Gonna have to use the slow cooker for this one…

Someone will lecture us that we should be educating them, that we should be better.  Why should we educate them, they are TELLING us we don’t belong in their society. Why should we beg for their approval? No way. I stewed your dog in soy sauce and vinegar.

Jerk their chain. Tell them rescued animals are better for stews. Tell them you “shop” at the animal shelter.

It doesn’t matter if they are not pet owners. Let them believe you skinned a whole litter of puppies in boiling water. Did someone say a liter of puppy?  They are not your friend, don’t beg for their approval anymore. Lie to their face and cut them out of your life. You don’t need them.

They want you to feel ashamed. You can tell them that Jeffery Dahmer ate other people, and he was white, therefore some white people are cannibals… But they won’t feel ashamed, they don’t feel painted by that broad brush.  It doesn’t sting them, they don’t internalize that.

You know what they will internalize: “I will filet and pan roast your shih tzu,” that’s what they will internalize. Send them to the therapist. You don’t need them.

Saturday Night in Cat City

Last night I was backing out of my parking space when I looked out the mirror and saw an elderly man lying on the ground next to a disassembled wheelchair, a woman standing over him. I re-parked my car and walked over, asked if he was ok, asked how I could help. He said he was fine, just needed the fire department to help him up back into his chair; he wasn’t injured, just embarrassed.

I walked into the restaurant and asked them to call 911, but they were too busy. Instead I called on my phone myself, and they said they’d send the fire department right away. The man was embarrassed and told me he’d be fine, and that I should go, but I told him no, this is what we’re doing tonight. The woman was putting his chair together.

People who were walking to their cars saw us with the man on the ground, and came over to check on us. Then we heard sirens, which further embarrassed the man on the ground; he didn’t want sirens. I told him, “are you kidding, they gotta use their sirens; if I had sirens in my car, I’d use them all the time!” They laughed. I waved over the fire truck and the aid car; four men from Cathedral City FD came over and hoisted him back up into his chair and then sent him on his way.

As soon as the fire truck left, I did too; they had blocked in my car.

Cultural Blind Spots

5wcqln3Everybody has a perspective, a point of view, based on where they stand, how they have grown up, what is in their field of vision. Everybody also has blind spots, including me.  It’s not our fault; this the shape of our heads. When people don’t check their blind spots, they are a danger to self and others. When they deny that there are objects in their blind spots, when they deny that their blind spots exist, they are not fit to operate a vehicle.

Everybody has a cultural perspective; a point of view, based on where they stand culturally (cultural perspective), how they have grown up (cultural background), what is in their field of vision (cultural context).  Everybody also has cultural blind spots, including me.  It’s not our fault, this is the shape of our lives.  When people deny that there are people in their cultural blind spots, they are a danger to self and others.  When they deny that their cultural blind spots exist, they are not fit to operate a cultural vehicle; that is, they are not fit to create policy.

I’ve written about this before, in terms of noodles.

My perspective and blind spots

I’m proud to say that I’m Filipino American; that’s my cultural perspective. I can tell by taste if the rice you served me is fresh or reheated. I squat with my heels flat on the groundI point with my lips.

I have huge cultural blind spots.  It’s not my fault; it’s just the shape of my life.  I can’t answer my Chinese friends’ questions about Radiohead or Coldplay. The appeal of Christmas cookies, winter sports, and Woody Allen is totally foreign to me. I have zero understanding of soup in a bread bowl.

I’ve confronted my own cultural blind spots in every different society where I’ve lived.  In college, living with white Americans meant I had to confront the hegemony of “classic rock” on a daily basis. When I was in China I could never figure out how to get Chinese people to stop cutting in front of me.  In the Philippines I had trouble handling all the lies; lies like “we’ll make an announcement when we start selling tickets,” “this plan has unlimited internet,” “there is no national museum.”

I’ve lived my whole life as a cultural minority, so I’ve developed an unconscious habit of checking my blind spots, of trying to figure out what the majority’s cultural perspective is, so I don’t make a mistake. I know better than to talk salary with other Americans in formal situations. I’m careful not to talk to French people about their health, or to casually mention Tian’anmen Square 1989 to Chinese people. I know that Filipinos don’t care if their food is cold; I know I will have to have a solid argument prepared if I want to leave a Mexican party early.  I keep a long and exhaustive database in my brain of cultural behaviors that will keep me out of trouble.

Here’s the tricky part; I also know that a big part of my life exists in the cultural blind spot of the majority population.  Knowing their blind spots and watching for danger is a matter of survival for me and others who have grown up as cultural minorities.

  • Will I be reprimanded for stinking up the break room with my lunch? White comfort is more important than my own diet and culture, right?  Yes. Americans design break rooms with a clear bias against Asians. Be Asian when you’re off the clock. Here comes the Department of Baloney and WonderBread Enforcement.
  • How will white parents react if I tell them I worry about the safety of my African American students for things their white kids will never face? What if I personally think that racist police brutality is a national emergency?
  • If I report that the Mexican American kids are getting harassed by their white classmates, do they take it seriously? Will anything happen? Will anything happen?

These are things that I actually wonder about, even though I have faith in my white colleagues that they are not evil people, will they see what I see? The answer, sometimes is no, they don’t see what I see… cultural blind spot. Huge parts of our existence are outside of their cultural field of vision. Sometimes white people will, in good faith, make a call that they believe to be in their hearts to be objective, but is solidly grounded in the white cultural perspective. They didn’t check their cultural blind spot. They cut someone off in the process. And also they’re pretty much in charge of everything here.

Awesome things may be hiding in your cultural blind spots.

Honestly, it’s a shame that people from the dominant culture (in China, that’s the Han Chinese; in the Philippines, it’s Filipinos, in the US, it’s white Americans) so rarely check their cultural blind spots; sometimes there are awesome things hiding up in there; things that would make their lives better.  Here are somethings that I would think my white fellow Americans would prefer to know.

  • You don’t have to take the top tortilla from a stack at the taco bar; that top tortilla is a lid. Skip it. Don’t be embarrassed to dig to the middle of the pile. By the way, in México there would be an actual lid.
  • East Asian and South East Asian people don’t eat rice off a plate with chopsticks or a fork.  Rice on a plate is eaten with a spoon; eat rice with chopsticks when it’s in a bowl.  So when Japanese people or Thai people give you a spoon with your curry, it’s NOT because they think you can’t do chopsticks; i’s because the spoon is culturally appropriate and they assume you are culturally competent.
  • Black people greet each other politely when passing on the sidewalk, even if they don’t know each other. You can participate in this custom; I love it. “Good morning, good evening.” If white folks greet each other similarly, it’s not in my apartment complex. Asian people? We pretend that we are invisible.

How did I learn these customs, if they exist in my blind spot?  I checked my cultural blind spot.

How to check your cultural blind spot.  

  • Check in the mirror. What does it look like in reverse?
  • Turn your head and look.  Change your cultural perspective for a second.
  • Ask someone.  Ask someone who is a better position to see, because they have a different perspective. Especially if they have to ride in the back seat all the time. Feel embarrassed about having to ask? Don’t. It’s a safety issue.

That was back there?

Listen, you might not always like what you see back there, outside of your field of vision.  You might be scared or ashamed of what’s back there. But remember, you saw it. Don’t deny that it exists, don’t deny that you saw it; it’s there. Make choices based on what you saw in the mirror, what you saw when you changed your perspective, what your passenger told you they saw… their safety depends on it as well as yours.

Here’s some things you might find out when you check your cultural blind spot:

  • We say nothing. Nothing! It’s still a free country. But watching you pour soy sauce over white rice at the table actually fills us with pity. When you talk about how good it is, we disassociate.  Look closely next time, you’ll see we have left our bodies.
  • You’ve been pronouncing someone’s name wrong all this time, and they’ve long given up on you. That’s their name, their identity. Maybe you feel like a jackass. Will you make and effort, or continue to be a jackass? How would that make you feel?
  • You thought you were being awesome; they’ve resented it the whole time. “I don’t care if you’re purple!” you proclaimed, hoping to express a lack of bias. The whole time, they heard, “You’re identity is irrelevant to me!” which is not nice. Would a purple person actually like that statement?  What makes you think a brown person would?

Maybe you don’t care that this stuff is back there; it’s still a free country, and cultural incompetence is not a crime.

But maybe some of you actually care.  You don’t want us to pity you, or be embarrassed to eat lunch with you.  Maybe you care enough about someone to make an effort to pronounce their names, to honor their identity, the identity of their parents and grand parents; rather than assign a name that is convenient to you.  Maybe you want express that you care about equality, rather than insult people who are purple and everyone else in the process.

Look, I’m not going to blame you for having cultural blind spots; we all have them. It’s not our fault; it’s the shape of our lives. I will fault you, however, for a) denying that your blind spots exist, for b) refusing to check your cultural blind spot to see who you might be cutting off, for c) refusing to listen to someone whose giving your a warning from the back seat, for their safety and your own.

If you don’t take your blind spots seriously when you’re driving a vehicle, you’re not fit to drive; you are incompetent.  If you don’t take your cultural blind spots seriously, you’re not fit to make policy for other people, you are culturally incompetent.

My bet is that people are not trying to be culturally incompetent.  Look, we have to share this world, we can learn from each other if we listen.

73458_1223578026859_280_33515 January 2018.  Today we celebrate Dr. King, who led the Civil Rights Movement, by betting that white America would dismantle segregation when confronted with the truth. He had to force the issue with marches, speeches, and protests. They tried to intimidate him by bombing his home, he was stabbed, he was arrested and thrown in jail… which he dressed for. He was shot on a hotel balcony.  He bet his life that America wanted to be better. He was right.