Becoming more Asian and, more American

betty ming liu Art, Inspiration, Writing how-to's 23 Comments

Tell me the truth — do I really have to spend the rest of my life wrestling with ethnic identity issues?

Can’t I just be me?

What the hell does any of this mean anyway?

More than half a century of personal soul searching has not brought much resolution:

  • Decade #1 (Ages 0-10): Hated being called “Betty Liu”/”Betty Lou.”
  • Decade #2 (Ages 11-20): Wished I wasn’t living in Chinatown ghetto.
  • Decade #3 (Ages 21-30): Loved having long hair & Chinese jewelry.
  • Decade #4 (Ages 31-40): Blamed my parents for raising me wrong.
  • Decade #5 (Ages 41-50): Coping with divorce; ethnicity irrelevant.
  • Decade #6 (Ages 51-55): Should I paint pictures of sushi? Or apples?

Thankfully, this next half a century of babbling on the shrink’s couch should be a little more interesting. After all, people of Asian heritage have reached a critical mass in the United States. Please, please, let us truly be at the tipping point, where re-invention is possible and life becomes new.

As for what’s teetering on the brink of celebration….

The other night, my friend Jeannie Park talked me into going Jun Choi's fundraiser. The one-term mayor of Edison, N.J. has his eye on a House seat. If would make him the northeast's first Asian American congressman. The event was held at a super-swanky Manhattan address on Central Park West and had three fundraising essentials: Sen. Ben Bradley, who still has star power from his days playing for the New York Knicks; top quality booze; a team of doting, devoted Korean moms.

If you’re interested in knowing more about Jun Choi, check out his campaign here. I liked his message. He talked about what it was like to take on Edison’s police union, downsized his local government and helped reduce taxes. He ran for re-election but lost by a few hundred votes.

And I’m sorry I cut off the head of the guy in the photo collage above. Here he is:

Jeff Yang has been hired by the Wall Street Journal to write its first-ever column about Asian/American Pop/Culture. This son of Taiwanese immigrants lives in Park Slope, Brooklyn with his wife and their two sons. When he graduated from Harvard, the psych major went on to start an Asian American magazine. He has written books, many articles & passionately explores all things Asian American.

Becoming a Journal columnist means Jeff gets a coveted, hand-drawn hedcut. These pictures are painstakingly drawn dot-by-dot and have become the paper’s artistic signature. Jeff  named his column “Tao Jones.” It will appear every Friday on the Journal’s Speakeasy blog, which covers entertainment and the arts.

I am so dense that he had to explain the column’s title to me. It’s a punny play on “Dow Jones,” the Journal’s parent company. Tao — which is pronounced “dow” — is the marvelous Chinese philosophy about finding “the way.” The column launches tomorrow. Let’s help our boy reach the tipping point by becoming his readers!

And now, a little about my own potential tipping point…

This painting is in the hands of my first collector, Chuck Zoeller. He's head of special projects at The Associated Press and a former photo editor. He hung "cali roll" in his kitchen. He says that it "jumps off the wall and makes me happy every time I walk in the kitchen; even when the Yankees are losing."

Last summer, I made a few paintings of Asian food. Looking at sushi and Chinese dumpling buns as art objects gave me a new way to access my culture issues. Painting forces me to stop thinking and just feel. I can honestly say that with the brush in hand, being Chinese and American wasn’t an emotional debate of “bad” or “good.” It became a matter of light and shadow, color and warmth.

Now, if only I could stay in that head all the time.

Comments 23

  1. Post

    penny, thanks for sharing your timeline; it’s just aching with self-esteem and self-discovery issues. sounds like you are on to finding a good place!

    and fem, i thought some more about this. i think the heart of your points is the whole issue of acceptance. on one level, i really don’t want to care about getting the approval of others. once i can get into that head and stay there, i can be free to be myself! at least, that’s what i’m hoping. xo

  2. Betty,
    I LOVE your struggles with who you are. You are ALIVE. You are present. You are rich and REAL. You haven’t got even a micro-trace of Stepford Wives. It shows in your art, your writing, your teaching… and most of all, in person. FAB-U-LOUS!!!!!! We know you by your struggles to find and be your real self.
    Once-upon-a-time America’s greatness was its identity as a “melting pot.” Today, mercifully, nobody needs to melt-in anymore. It’s far more interesting to just plain flaunt who we are. The more honest identities the better! The more richly articulated they are… the better.
    I hereby commission a Betty Ming Liu painting of Dim Sum or maybe green tea and red bean ice cream scoops. Yuuum!
    Love, Etta

  3. Post

    etta, you did it! you finally commented on my blog!!!! and honey, it takes one to know one. you are an original too. i will see if i can work on a few dim sum paintings for you to choose from — the ice cream won’t hold up as a still life under the lights. :) xoxoxox

  4. Hi Betty and fans of Betty. I’m a lurker here. For a long-time, I’ve been considering a career switch to getting a degree in social work, so that I may work as a therapist specializing in Asian American issues and do one-on-one counseling. I’d really love the chance to work with Asian American women, as this is the demographic I am in, and have watched (and helped) friends and family struggle with similar issues. My greatest fear is a lack of clientele. “Studies” indicate that Asians don’t seek help and for those that do, the attrition rate from therapy is quite high. However, I believe that this may be from a lack of culturally-competent therapists, who “turn off” seekers of help. I am speaking from experience. For anyone who would care to chime in, have you ever sought therapy and did you look specifically for a therapist in your same racial/cultural and gender demographic? if so, how successful was the relationship? Thanks everyone, for all of your help!

    1. Post

      first of all, debra — thank you for going public here! i am always surprised when people tell me that they’ve been lurking. maybe at some point, you’ll totally unlurk and even subscribe to my blog. would love to keep you close in a good way. :)

      as for your question, i originally wished for an asian american therapist or a therapist of color. but both my first therapist and my current one are white. it doesn’t bother me at all anymore. in the end, there are universal themes. and it’s all about clicking with the therapist. but honestly, the asian american community needs more therapists who understand the culture — both american and asian culture. i think that you shouldn’t worry about the client. just decide if this is your passion. my post today is about a speech that steve job gave in 2005. if you watch the video, it might inspire you to just go with your heart and worry about clients later.

  5. Betty, I tried to take myself off of your list, but it states I need a valid key, whatever that means. So, I come here to tell you that, and I have noticed you have deleted my comments to you. Now, I’m DEFINITELY positive that I don’t want to read or participate in your blog. If you don’t like to hear the truths from various people, than no sense of asking for participation. I would appreciate it if I don’t receive anymore notification from you.

  6. I probably agree with many topics and comments on this blog. Many times I comment, sometimes I don’t. There are times I don’t agree with things on this blog (social, personal, spiritual/religious, political) but I know that I can express myself or at least ask questions. What I think or have to say might bother some people but I get that chance to do so.

    I love this blog. If I were more committed or clever, maybe I would have one like this. My blog would butt heads with Betty’s blog and then make up and hug or shake hands. Then she would be a link on my blog and I’d definitely have her as a link on mine.

    Fem’s comment just came to me, notified via e-mail. I understand about sharing truth and different experiences and even heated viewpoints and worldviews. I do not understand the need for hostility.
    There are lots of generalizations made here and I think Betty welcomed a platform for them so long as they were noted as a person’s particular experience instead of labels on a race, ethnicity or even nation.

    Like I said, I love this blog. It has given me useful ideas, good times and for about two years, been there for me through hard times. It is sort of a mini-library, sort of a recipe book, sort of a life coach, talk show and art exhibi. It is a friend to me when I can’t see Betty, and it introduces me to people I have never met. Sure, Fem, your life will go on without this blog, but it won’t ever be the same. Sorry it had to end this way :(

  7. Post

    skye, thank you for the kind words about this blog, which functions as my online living room. people visit here for personal conversation, discussion and hugs. yes, i deleted fem’s last two comments because they made me very uncomfortable.

    that’s when i realized that we are here to share based on our own experiences, about our own lives. making generalizations about people based on race, gender, religion, etc. is not acceptable. i still believe in old-fashioned hospitality. xo

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