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I used to be Chinese

ais.jpgI found my old college ID today. My first thought was "holy crap, I need to call the Hair Club for Men!" My second thought––was that I used to be Chinese. I’m not sure I am anymore.

My dad, George William Ford Jr.—was 100% Chinese. And despite the Western name (long story), he spoke fluent Cantonese. My mom on the other hand was Betty Crocker white. So I have a lot in common with Mr. Spock. We’re both half-breeds sporting bad haircuts. (There’s that hair thing again––calling Dr. Freud).

Growing up, there was no mistaking it. I was that one ethnic looking kid in all my class photos. I remember kids asking me things like "do you celebrate Christmas?" No, but Pearl Harbor Day is quite festive.

And when I graduated from the largest high school in Washington State, of the 400+ grads, there were only about ten of us that knew our way around a set of chopsticks. It was so bad that people on occasion mistook me for my good friend Rey. Keep in mind, I’m half-Chinese. Rey was Hawaiian/Filipino, six inches shorter, thirty pounds heavier and sported a mustache. Yup, aside from that it was like looking in a mirror.

I grew up in your typical Chinese-American home. We had decorative Buddhas all over the place, Chinese prints, Asian lamps and furniture. My dad ran a Chinese restaurant and taught martial arts on the side. If you ever go to an "authentic" Chinese restaurant, where the cashier is the only one who speaks broken "Chinglish", where little kids run around like they live there––that was me.

But now that I’m exploring adulthood I’ve realized how American I’ve become. My wife is blond (usually, shhhh, don’t tell). And except for my daughter Madi, who has Asian eyes so beautiful they could stop traffic, the rest of my family looks pretty much like their last name could be Von Yorgesbergerstein. Or simply, Ford.

With that in mind, I’m nourishing my roots through my work. You can catch a glimpse of it at Tribe’s Flashing in the Gutters.

There’s a little ditty entitled Dim Sum. Let me know what you think.

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Reader Comments (17)

Wow, Jamie!

This post is brilliant. Provocative as hell. So many things to love about it.

March 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterAdam Hurtubise

Cantonese speakers who grew up in America - UNITE!

And you know, I guess the stereotypes are true - my dad worked in a restuarant all his life and my uncle has a martial arts academy...

And lately, I've learned that I've become Filipina because wherever I go, filipinos of all ages and gender ask me if I am one, too. No? They don't believe me because they ask me again, 'Are you SURE you're NOT Filipina?'

I should write a short story on that one.
March 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDana
I love it,Jamie! Left you a note. I used to be way more Italian. Then I got my nose done.
March 11, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterm.g. tarquini
Thanks for the kind words!

Filipina, huh? Amazing. People would ask me if I was Native American. Even Russian.

My weirdest "you look like" story was in high school. A bunch of us volunteered to work in the local haunted house for Halloween. I was Satan—complete with cape, pitchfork and a sweaty rubber mask that reeked.

Basically, I just sat on this throne and had two equally rubber-masked minions that would jump out and grab people when I pointed at them. (I was a lazy Satan).

During breaks, we’d all get much needed water, snacks and even Satan had to use the lil’ boys room once in a while.

I remember standing there on break, and this bloody vampire chick asked me what nationality I was. I told her. She said, "wow you do look like the devil!"

Handsome is as handsome does, ma’am.
March 11, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterJamie
Nice work. Great dialogue and imagery. Pace was perfect in my opinion.

Good job...keep it up!
March 13, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterDZ Allen
Hi Jamie,
loved the short story...succinct and funny. Seems like you're having fun with it. I love the biracial nature of your family. Mine is white, white, white, and white...good in it's own way, but the beauty in bi-racial families is stunning. As you indicated about your daughter...
March 13, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterkathie
Thanks Kathie. I love writing from my cultural base. It's what I know. And it's what I have the most fun writing about.

Also, thanks to everyone for not making fun of my skinny white tie in that pic. I think I had shoes that matched. Gotta love the 80s.
March 13, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterjamie ford
Hello Jamie,

Thanks for stopping by DiR. To answer your questions about the Tarot Deck: those illustrations were drawn and inked, then scanned in and colored in photoshop. It probably looks like markers or prismacolors, because before I color in a similar style with primas. I only wish I could master markers.

Thanks for the comment, it brightened my day!
March 14, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterC. Rooney
Cool. Thanks for the info. I really like that style of artwork in 1 or 2 colors, stark and graphic (like your profile art), but that's just me. The full-color stuff is nice too.
March 14, 2006 | Registered CommenterJamie
The full color work is considerably more time consuming. I've lost track of how long it took to do the one image, but it seemed like I was never going to finish. I like using the starker images to show off line work.

In fact, the time factor is mys one of the main concerns I have for the deck. But maybe the minor pips could be done in a more simplistic style (like the profile.)

Thanks, you may have just solved one of the problems!
March 15, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterC.Rooney
Hi Jamie - I can totally relate on an opposite level. I look so freaking white, no one would ever know I'm part Indonesian. I've always wanted to look more exotic so people would quit assuming I'm just another white person. Is that wrong?

My father is Indonesian and Dutch and my mother is white (also of Dutch heritage) with blue eyes. My friends never quite knew what ethnicity my father was. Because he was short with dark hair and olive skin, they first thought he was Chinese. But looking at my siblings with the same hair and skin, you could see the Dutch and Indonesian influence. And then there's me. I inherited my Mother's alabaster skin and my hair has just a touch of my Grandmother's red hair.

I remember being little and how much I wanted to look exactly like the Japanese foreign exchange students we hosted. I'm still jealous of my asian friends. I'm even more jealous of my sibling's ability to tan while I burn to a crisp unless I wear SPF 45.

I agree that bi-racial people are beautiful and I'm proud of my heritage. I just wish people could see more of it when they look at me.
April 4, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMaryke
Wow, I didn't realize you were part Indonesian. Very cool. I can relate to the whole odd duck out thing. Growing up I sometimes wished I was more Caucasion looking, and when I lived in Hawaii I wished I was more Asian. The grass is always greener...
April 5, 2006 | Unregistered Commenterjamie
So true. I guess we just have to be proud of who we are.
April 5, 2006 | Unregistered CommenterMaryke
Ok, here's a question for you, particularly now that you have an agent and a book due out next year. I'm not really sure how to phrase it...Do you think you'll maintain a cultural identity in future books? Do you also write outside your "cultural base"?

Don't get me wrong. I'm sure one of the draws of Hotel on the Corner... is its cultural uniqueness, especially tied to such significant historical context.

But, frankly, I check off that "Asian, Pacific Islander" category on EEOC forms, and yet I have no inner calling to write from that cultural perspective.

So I'm just curious.
September 18, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterP.S.

That's a very...very...good question.

An editor that was part of the auction even suggested I write as Jamie Eng, or Jamie Eng Ford--putting my family name in there somewhere. (My great-great grandfather was adopted by missionaries, hence the name Ford).

I've thought about it, but I think I want the freedom to write whatever I want, even though for now, I'm really enjoying writing stories with an Asian American voice--mainly because I'm enjoying the research. It doesn't feel like work to me...

I'm the same way with the EEOC thing. I'm half Chinese. Do I put Asian, do I put Caucasian? It seems like people want to classify me as 100% one or the other...

Then again, it might just be me. My dad, who was Chinese, was an only child. So I have no Uncles or Aunts on the Chinese side of my family--just lots of Great Uncles and Great Aunts, most of whom have passed away. When my Chinese Grandparents and my dad died a few years ago, I felt completely cut off from the Chinese side of my life. So I started writing about it...
September 18, 2007 | Registered CommenterJamie
Ah, the whole naming thing. Yeah. I took my husband's name when we married so, aside from my quirky first name, my name obscures my ethnic background. Filipinos/as have the Spanish surname thing going due to colonization so my maiden name wouldn't be a clear identifier either. And so I ponder those implications once in a while too.

I'm sorry about the loss of your father and grandparents. There is something tremendously meaningful about trying to recapture that family heritage. Overall, I think it's a complex position...especially from a career standpoint. Thanks for your take on it!
September 18, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterP.S.
Ok, I am 100% Thai, so I can't identify with your situation. But your post made me think of, wait for it, Tiger Woods!

it is funny in a way because I always hear people call Tiger Woods an Afircan American, but all my friends from Thailand and I think of him as a Thai American. I mean, why wouldn't everybody think of him as a Thai American first and foremost?

Anyway, people were giving him static because after his problems, he had turned to his mother's religion (Buddhism) to seek solace, and a lot of people were acting as if that was completely unnatural.

So, I think the think is, you have experienced some challenging times and now maybe there is something inside of you that needs to come out. Something you have always had, but maybe overlooked?

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