Monday, January 23, 2006

Strictly 4 My ORIENTALZ

Is it just me or are you still surprised when you hear the word Oriental coming out of someone's mouth to describe a person of Asian descent? I find it almost comical that many of my non-Asian relatives still think they are being politically correct when they use Oriental. I bring this up today because at a family gathering last week one of my cousins asked me what kind of girls I like to date. "So, do you just like Oriental girls?" I know my cousin doesn't know any better, this is why I'm not angered, but c'mon! How do you grow up all your life here on the West Coast and still talk like your some yee-haw from the deep South?

In general, however, should I be angered when someone uses this term? In all honesty, whenever I hear the word I really do want to burst out laughing. I think part of the reason I find the usage of Oriental so humorous is because often the person saying it looks like they came straight from the trailer park. On the handful of occasions that a person has muttered Oriental in front of me they were usually not from the West Coast or any major metropolitan area. Part of my "joy" in hearing such a person use the word is that it just reinforces my general notion that the rest of our country is comprised of a bunch of ignorant hicks. Further, I think that the term is so outdated that when a young person says Oriental they come across looking like some old 1950s geezer. I must say, however, the only time I get irate is when Howard Stern, knowing perfectly well that Oriental is unacceptable to Asian Americans, uses it just to be a dick and argue that it is not really a derogatory term.

Now, if I may digress somewhat I want to take this time to further inquire about the terms used to describe people of Latin American descent. With all the words in usage - Latino, Chicano, Raza - I am always baffled to see hip hop icons from New York in interviews using Spanish to describe themselves or other Latinos. A prime example is in the DJ documentary Scratch where Rob Swift tells the camera, "... I'm Spanish. My parents are Colombian." So I ask you(sarcastically) Rob, how is it that somehow you are from Spain yet your parents are from a country on a different continent thousands of miles away? Hello! Spanish = from Spain. Colombian = from Colombia.

Ok, enough sarcasm for today. I love Rob Swift - one of my favorite DJs in the world. And, I actually do understand that the term Spanish, as it is used out East, refers to those of Spanish speaking cultures. However, I feel that we got to truly represent who we are. Latinos are not just of Spanish heritage but a mix of indigenous, African (and even Asian) cultures as well. Moreover, if we were solely Spanish (i.e., European) we would not be facing some of the struggles in white American society that we do.

Back to Oriental. I heard a rumor about five years ago that some academics wanted to turn Oriental into an empowering term much like the word Chicano. Instead of allowing history to define and use Chicano as a derogatory word, activists in the 1960s and 70s took hold of it and redefined it in a positive way. To my knowledge, such a change in the usage of Oriental has not occurred yet. A similar on-going debate seems to be happening in African American academia. Has nigga replaced and redefined nigger? The actual spelling has changed but does this evidence a change in its definition? To quote Tupac, "Niggers was the ones on the rope, hanging off the thing; Niggas is the ones with gold ropes, hanging out at clubs." Though I am all for the 'jacking and redefining of derogatory terms, I don't know if Oriental would even work out as an empowering designation. For one thing, many people don't even realize that the word is a bad thing to say! The significance in calling ourselves Orientals as a way to shed the negative connotations would be completely lost on white America.

Well, there you have it. My little fling with the word Oriental for today. I am consoled by the fact that I am not alone in the way Oriental amuses me at times. In fact, let me end with a story that my friend Dirty Viv once told me regarding her travels through Georgia. As she sat at a diner with her Korean mother an old Anglo man excitedly approached and asked her, "Are you an Oriental?!" He than proudly showed-off the two "Orientals" of his own - his wife and son.



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