March 27, 2012

Half and Half

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Just about the only thing I am looking forward to about graduation is finally being able to meet all of my best friends’ parents.  In high school, we knew our friends’ parents almost as well as our own, calling them by their first names, even dropping a playful “Mom” now and then.   Au contraire, we go through college barely having met the creators of the people with whom we share everything, from our rooms to our nights to our secrets.  Meeting a friend’s parents is an “aha” moment in which you are almost in awe of the physical representation of genetics in front of you.  Ah, genetics.  It’s where I get my mom’s smile and idealism, my dad’s olive skin and innate quietude.  It’s why I can both wear a “Kiss Me I’m Irish” shirt on St. Patrick’s Day and send out Chinese New Year cards when my family misses the traditional holiday season.  It’s why some people think I’m adopted.  It’s why I proudly refer to myself as a halfie.  In all honesty, my Chinese dad grew up in Great Neck and I am not even that good at using chopsticks.   But even though I am thoroughly Americanized, I still feel close to my distinct Chinese heritage.  For one, I am perceptibly Asian, whereas the other half of my genes are a little more, well, recessive. I even spent the first seven years of my life in Chinatown, at a public kindergarten where I was the only kid who didn’t know how to speak Chinese. But I have to wonder whether I would feel as close a connection to my Asian heritage if my last name wasn’t Lee, if my hair wasn’t naturally dark and stick straight, if I didn’t grow up knowing my Chinese grandparents.  We’re a generation of halfies, a melting pot, as they say.  Half-Asian, Half-Jewish, Half-Black and the list goes on and on. The general pattern of interracial relationships leans toward racial acceptance, equality, but also dilution.  I’m not against it because I am a proud product of it and remain under the romantic notion that you should be free to love whomever you please.  At the same time, it’s strange and a little bit sad to think that my children will probably be only a quarter Chinese, my future grandchildren even less than that.  What started as milk and cream is now half and half, each generation slowly skimming down to two percent, then one percent, and then what? As important as being half-Chinese is to me, it has never directly influenced or driven my personal life and probably never will.  Sometimes I wish my kids could be half-Asian like me, but if my Caucasian mom has taught me anything, it’s that raising kids of a different race is kind of a non-issue.  At the same time, reflecting on the racial ambiguity of future generations has led me to be less judgmental of how others choose to continue their own family lines.  When people say that they only want to be with someone of their same race or religion, I take it as somewhat of a personal offense, since my own mixed-race existence was in such clear defiance of those beliefs.  I used to think it was closed minded of my Catholic friends to only follow up on Catholic advances.  I used to think it was cruel and unusual for my Indian friends to have to only date other Indians.   I used to see it as a kind of discrimination, even.  I used to protest, caught up by a combination of romantic whimsy and defensiveness — Give everyone a fair chance! You can’t help who you fall in love with! People are people! And it’s true, people are people, but people are also products of their cultures and beliefs.  Is it really discrimination to prefer to be with people who share those things with you? For example, I have Jewish friends who say that they just know that they’ll end up with someone else who’s Jewish, because that’s something that’s important to them, something attractive to them.   They want to hold Shabbat dinners, they want Bat Mitzvahs, they want their children to share the culture that plays such a significant part in their own lives.  Is it wrong to want to be with someone of a particular culture, not because it is better or worse than others, but because it’s yours? I say, to each his own.   One of the coolest things about genetics is being able to create a human being that is the exact combination of yourself, and someone else who you presumably think is really great.  Maybe you think he’s great because he shares your culture and beliefs, but maybe you’re just attracted to his laugh or his charm or crossword puzzle aptitude.  Either way, there’s a reason kids are not clones.  There’s a reason it’s so interesting to meet our friends’ parents and see how two separate people, no matter how similar or different, can blend so seamlessly into an entirely new person.  Two halves make a whole, but when it comes to passing parts of ourselves down, maybe half is enough.

Original Author: Rebecca Lee