I’ve been struggling with so many feelings over the past weeks/months/years/decades regarding my identity — a word I dislike especially the way it’s been used in, I think, Western languages. I find that the way parts of white/Western cultures talk about identities as something somewhat fixed, as something to be either weaponized or reclaimed, is really bothering me. Because when you think of languages that come from less binary constructs, there’s a different feel to how things are said and lived, I think. Anyway, I hope you’ll forgive some of my ramblings here — I might be a somewhat writer, but English is in fact my third language, and I’m still trying to unravel all the many myths I have about language proficiency, about what ‘is right to say’ in a specific language.
Which is often all bullshit — there is no right way to say things. When someone’s hard to understand, it’s less because someone’s not good at talking, it’s more about someone who’s not good at listening.
Anyway. I was born in France a few decades ago. The rest of my family (parents and elder siblings) were all ‘boat people’ in the 80s. People who flew Vietnam in the aftermath of the US-VN war. I grew up in the nineties as the only Asian kid in a small town, in French suburbs. I went through many things Marion also mentioned in her own story. There’s that specific trend of racism in France because we have sort of an assimilationist model, you’d say — what we usually call ‘integration’ in French media. Immigrants have to be “integrated” (fully blending in, assimilated) or are deemed as outsiders, as failures. There’s this grounded ideal of universalism, coming back from the Lumières and such.
Of course as someone who’s perceived as a woman, there is that ingrained sexism too. And as I was reading about a scholar writing and teaching about intersectionality, it’s not about oppression olympics. The -isms are not just adding themselves like different piles of shit, it’s more like the shit altogether becomes something else entirely when mixing various -isms together. Hence sexism regarding Asian women or racism regarding Asian women is its own thing, and it also depends on where it’s happening (like, where the shit is cooked — scuse my French :D) And that’s why it’s so important (albeit very painful, and tiresome) to deconstruct all these things.
Another sad thing: I was gaslit, groomed, then fired twice by men of Asian descent during my early, and not-so-early career. In both cases I just didn’t want to be romantically involved with them, and of course they were my bosses, so they used their power to just be absolutely toxic and nasty people who made me lose all confidence in my work capabilities for some time. I was lucky to be surrounded by supportive people during these times to survive, but it wasn’t easy. The second time especially, made me absolutely pissed at myself and at other people, since I was older, and thought wiser. But basically that boss told me that he was scared of me because I was a ‘French Asian feminist’ which is most likely the worst/best Pokemon evolution and nightmare for someone who feels threatened in his masculinity. He admitted he sabotaged my work on purpose because he was too scared of giving me his feedback directly.
Anyway this is one of the worst stories of my career — I won’t go over other anecdotes for now, but I think this one is telling of many things. My mom was really the sort of bossy mom, matriarch type (and I might be mistaken but this is something I’ve seen in other South-East Asian cultures — a different take on patriarchy/matriarchy in various stories). I was a shy kid, then I became an angry kid in junior high to survive, then I became a bitter teen in high school for not fitting in, then I became a somewhat more lenient young adult for a while to survive in work environments, till I got fired once, then twice, but I never was really the exact ideal of the quiet, feminine, submissive Asian woman. I did try, but it never really worked for me to be honest. Over the years I became less quiet, but there are still conflicting ideas in me: I wish I could be quieter at times because I want it, without people assuming I’m the cliché they want me to be; I wish I could be louder other times because I also want it, without people being shocked or scared that I’m not the cliché they want me to be, or suddenly deeming me as more ‘French than Asian’. Anyway, having lived in both sides of the Atlantic I can also say that racism in France and Quebec is more or less the same. One is a tad more overt and aggressive than the other, Quebec might be a bit more progressive than France regarding sexism in general (but to be honest, the bar is so low in France, my goodness). France is more mixed but racism among various races can be very violent, while Quebec is super white in general outside Montreal.
Reading your stories both breaks my heart and gives me a sense of not feeling alone. I’m grateful to be able to read your stories and I hope I will find ways to help bringing better characters, better stories in future projects.
– Elise T.