By Joy Wong
Recently, I was delighted to discover an old TV family series called Little Men, based on the book by Louisa May Alcott. Little Men was the sequel to the more famous book, Little Women, and it tells the story of Josephine March and the school that she runs with her husband. While the story can easily be judged as overly idealistic and sentimental, it reminded me of how the character of Josephine (aka “Jo”) March was one of my childhood heroines. I related to her tomboy-ish nature, and admired her for her boldness in defying social conventions to be true to herself and her convictions.
In fact, I loved the character of Jo March so much that as a child, I named my first journal after her. Every entry began with “Dear Josephine.” When I took Spanish in middle school, we all had to pick a Spanish name for ourselves, and I chose the name, “Josefina.” Thinking of my childhood brought back more memories of other stories and music that I loved and cherished — My Fair Lady, The Sound of Music, Anne of Green Gables, etc. In many ways, my character formation had much to do with the heroines from these stories, as I admired them and modeled myself after them in my youth.
But having been in meetings and conversations about Asian American Christianity and the assimilation of Asians into the dominant white culture lately, I’ve only begun to realize that all my women role models as a child were Caucasian, not to mention that all the music and literature that I loved (and still love) are produced by Caucasians, featuring Caucasians. Moreover, this has continued beyond childhood. In college, I was an English major, concentrating in British-American literature. To this day, my favorite author is George Eliot and my favorite genre of literature is Victorian. This realization has begun the question in my mind, Is this a problem?
I would never have thought so before, but some have suggested that the assimilation of our identity into white mainstream culture is indicative of self-hate, or wanting to be like those in power. (Examples are given of how African American and Latino American groups have distinctly ethnic worshiping styles, whereas Asian Americans simply reproduce that of Vineyard, Hillsongs, or other Caucasian worship styles.) If self-hate is indeed true of me and my family, it is much more ingrained than we are aware of. My mother still remembers the first time she ever heard the music of My Fair Lady, and the thrill in her heart when she first heard it. I doubt that her affinity to the music had anything to do with not wanting to be Asian in a dominant white culture, especially because she was still living in Taiwan at that time. I don’t think she gave a second thought as to who produced the music — she just heard it, and she loved it.
If indeed my love and affinity for Caucasian literature and music are a problem, then that leaves me between a rock and a hard place. All my life, I have been influenced by white American culture. I grew up in a Chinese church, singing English songs produced by Caucasians. My most pivotal God-moments occurred to the soundtrack of Vineyard songs. To tell me to adopt Asian role models from Asian literature or to like Asian styles of music now is to go against the grain of who I have become.
Clearly, I haven’t figured this all out yet. But it seems unproductive to look back to my past and lament all the ways that I was not schooled in my own culture of origin. In fact, I cherish all the influences of music and literature I had as a child. What seems to make more sense now is to somehow integrate all the different pieces of who I am today in order to gain a sense of wholeness. I can’t change who I have become, but I can gain more clarity on where I come from, what has influenced me, who I am as a result, and hopefully, where I am going.
Joy Wong completed a Masters of Divinity degree at Fuller Theological Seminary. She and her husband currently attend New City Church of Los Angeles. To contact Joy, please send your inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org.