by Tosh Chiang
I was given a more ethnic name to seem more Asian. Rather than blur diversity, my name shouts it.
But first off, I'm really a bit more than Japanese and Chinese and certainly not just "hapa." The list goes as such: Japanese, Chinese, Hawaiian, Phillipino, Spanish, Shoshone Indian and even a bit French Canadian. Yet roughly translated by looks and my cultural exposures, I'm simply Asian. My parents grew up in a San Francisco mottle of communities bound by economic insufficiency-everyone struggled together so everyone knew each other. Culture and ethnicity was more so an aspect of identification then it was hard-lined tradition. Furthermore, they were born and raised within the 50's and 60's; they spoke and dressed like the hip city-loving kids that they were. And, themselves being culturally mixed, my parents could and did attend a variety of multicultural affairs; they constructed identities which were loyal to more than one ethnic clique, identities which could cross boundaries and still "pass" for proper. This freedom allowed them to integrate aspects of culture that they weren't wholly connected to, but that they simply enjoyed. Traditions were assumed through friendships. Identity was an independent creation; it used culture less as a base and more as a stylistic flair-an affirmation without the complete indebtedness to it.
But perhaps the largest affect of being multicultural as they where/are, is the sense of individuality and self-reliance that they have. My parents are very rugged, elastic individuals who have gone more against the grain than with it; they have an intense perception of the self, a perception that never crumbles and is always self-guided. But somehow, a general sense of being Asian was always held with this. A conception that they were more a part of the other than part of the I of America-- yet still, somehow American too.
Now my name, Toshiro Chiang, is a projection of all of this. The same type of freeform cultural identity was cultivated within me. However, with the addition of private schools and a few years transplanted in Arizona, my identity is less rooted in being Asian than it is in being a musician and a student, a writer and a good friend. I define myself within the worlds which I immerse myself-music, art, books, whatnot-and never really think about who I am. Who I am is never an issue, never something with which I seek affirmation of; when I see cross-cultural Asian events at school I never feel compelled to attend. I do identify with Asian culture, it's impossible not to-I just don't seek a reciprocal confirmation of it in the form of clubs, institutions and social gatherings. I don't think of hardly anyone in terms of race and culture unless they impose it upon me.
But that's the kicker-the imposing bit. With my name, lots of people impose their presuppositions upon me, note the strangeness of the Japanese and Chinese names. When I decided to learn Japanese at UC Berkeley last summer, every teacher asked of my roots, wanted to know to which parent they could attribute the decent accent. I simply responded that it was my attendance of SF Japanese Cultural Youth Center. 'Course one might be wondering, if he blurs himself from Asian culture, why learn japanese? But you see, nothing is ever so clear cut as one can attempt to write it; I always wanted to speak Chinese or Japanese-- grew up around the languages with family and friends. But maybe, maybe the reason I started Japanese was to put an end to it all-of people coming up to me in the streets and speaking to me in Japanese, of people saying "really, you can't speak anything?" That's one of the other assumptions, that I must be fluent in something. A name like Toshiro Chiang must be backed by a foreign tongue. The real reason for starting Japanese was that I thought it would be fun, well, and-yes, that I wanted to be able to speak a foreign language, a language that correlated to my first name. I admit that there is a certain wonderfulness in now being able to tell people that I'm not wholly Japanese, in Japanese.
But there are more benefits than none to having my name. People who don't have any knowledge of the names' roots have no idea what to expect-especially when they find me speaking such good English. Also, in America, my name is something of an attention grabber; most people remember my name before I remember theirs. But all in all, there is a kind of freedom in knowing that the name is a bit like false advertising, though I would never call it really false; I get to play in that area where the signs confuse the signifiers-- like I said there is a freedom. It allows me to present myself in more than the usual ways, allows me to take advantage of my very own diversity and be released from it. But maybe the best example of what I'm trying to get at is my nickname: tosh. Its an alphabetic impossibility in Japanese-it should be toshi. And further, tosh means nonsense in colloquial British. The name by which I go is a true American variant (some would say bastardization, though I do jokingly), it's a name that shouldn't really exist but here I am-thriving in that freedom which it gives, in that very self-constructed identity with which it allows. Ethnicity and culture are there, but in the end, I'm just myself.
|Tosh Chiang was born and raised in San Francisco, Califronia but has also lived in Phoenix, Arizona. He currently attends Bard College in New York, where amongst late-night coffee-fueled madness and pancake free-for-alls, he plays in two bands (The Ginger Ninjas, The Broken Bottles), edits and writes for the Bard Free Press, thinks about building tiny electronic toys for integrated arts classes and studies a lot of Sociology. He likes to write too, and sometimes enjoys the occasional cup-o-joe to a finely tuned donut.|
Posted by Tosh Chiang at 2002年05月16日 07:08