Inuit children at boarding school. The sign on the wall behind them reads, “Please do not speak Eskimo.” (1914)
This reminds me of how whole sects of complex Inuktitut dialects were wiped out by Euro settlers. There were hundreds of different and diverse dialects in Canadian Inuktitut languages alone, and a chunk of that was wiped out during early 20th century. That language is already on the brink of collapse (only 35,000 or so now loosely speak it).
They also took away not just their language, but their surnames, and replaced them with ID-numbers. As if taking their children and capturing them into residential schools (where they were systematically gaslighted, sexually abused and experimented on the regular) wasn’t enough, an Inuit child’s name was legit changed to something like “Annie E7-121.”
1. Why are you running a free tumblr blog when this information is obviously extremely valuable?
Because in many situations, accepting funds more or less negates my control over the content. In other words, all those messages you’ve seen from people that are basically, “You SAY you’re [trying to eliminate all existing inequality/educating people/trying to promote diversity] but you NEED to be [nicer to racists/catering to white historical vanity/acknowledge my sense of entitlement to your time and effort]!!!” would actually be the ones deciding what the content would be.
which leads to…
2. When is MedievalPOC going to be a book?
When I started this blog, I assumed there would be like 900 other people who had the same idea, but apparently that was not even remotely the case. Included on the list of things I was not expecting: That there would be a roiling volcano of untapped and underutilized information, just how few people have bothered to make anything cohesive out of it, and the massive amount of people who gave a crap.
This project has become much more than I ever expected, and it does need to be a book. It would have to be crowd-funded and independently published in order to maintain its thesis and integrity, however. I’ve been looking into the logistics of what it would take for that to happen, and when I have that hammered out, I’ll definitely announce it.
3. What do you think is the most controversial topic you’ve covered?
Hands-down, without a doubt, the number one topic that people get the angriest about, spew the most hate and vitriol over, and that reveals the most blatant, ingrained and deep-rooted racism is the lack of representation of people of color in American animated children’s films. While media for adults often brings out the “everyone in this movie with dragons and elves HAS to be white because it’s historically accurate!" crowd, but it doesn’t hold a candle to what I have seen when it comes to defending whiteness in Disney cartoons.
The closest runner-up is probably anything to do with Lord of the Rings.
4. Do you think the critics of this blog have a point?
Yes, I do.
The thing is, a lot of the criticism centers on an American running a blog about European art. Which pretty much amount to people screaming at me every five minutes, “you’re an American!!!” and then the subsequent bafflement when I don’t spontaneously burst into flames and then implode from this basic statement of fact. (Although as a Native American I have to admit I derive a great deal of oily mirth from being accused of cultural imperialism by white Europeans.)
My sense of geography is abysmal. My awareness of lineages and whether someone was someone else’s brother’s son’s wife is similarly so. When people correct me on those two counts, which happens literally all the time, I publish the corrections. I don’t speak every language, I haven’t seen every piece of art, and there’s a ton of stuff I’ve never heard of. There have been times when I’ve gotten defensive, kept talking when I should have listened, or was dismissive when I should have been learning. I’ve said things that made people who should have felt welcome feel hurt and excluded instead.
I get the sense that both my critics and my fans would be a lot more comfortable if I would just pretend to be right all the time and act “objective”, instead of continuing to live with embarrassingly public mistakes and being so messily human. But I implore you to look inside yourself and ask whether or not this discomfort comes from the same place in your heart that wants to believe your history textbook was born like Venus from the foam rather than being written on purpose by a human being with thoughts and feelings and a race and a gender and all the other assorted accoutrements of actual human existence.
5. Why aren’t you more professional/respectable?
Because no one is. Because presenting yourself that way is a tool used for social control. Because it’s that very illusion that is used to keep people from participating in their own education. Because academic language all too often operates as a form of gatekeeping, and because the first half of this sentence does the thing it describes.
Because the inequalities that exist in the world right now are not due to shortages of commodities, but because people in power control their distribution. Because I live in a country where police restrain hungry people while they throw food into dumpsters, and sends homeless women to prison for sending their children to school.
Because that kind of “respectability” requires exclusion aligning with existing power structures, and I’m not into that.
6. Why do you change your avatar?
Fun fact: changing my avatar image back to “male” cut the hatemail I receive by about two-thirds. Also, having a “female” avatar led a lot of people to make some serious assumptions about my gender. Mostly based on the cultural expectation that no man would ever willingly accept being perceived as a woman without having the biggest tantrum ever witnessed by humanity. 90% of the hate is based on who or what they think I am, rather than who I actually am. Some mysteries are better left intact, even when they’re not really mysteries at all.
Carmen Delia Dipini (November 18, 1927–August 4, 1998), was a singer of boleros.
Born in Naguabo, Puerto Rico, Dipini often entertained her family and friends as a child with her singing. She attended the Eugenio Brac Elementary School where one of the teachers, Mrs. Brenes, realized that Dipini was talented as a singer and encouraged the 7-year-old student to become a singer. In 1941, when she was 14 years old, Dipini went with her parents to San Juan with the intention of participating in a radio talent show. As a result she would make her radio singing debut on the radio program of Rafael Quiñones Vidal.
In 1948, Dipini, who had befriended fellow Puerto Rican singer Ruth Fernández, left for New York City at her friend’s recommendation. While in New York, she participated and won the first place prize in a talent show held at the Triboro Theater. Part of the prize was a singing contract with Johnny Albino and The San Juan Trio and she would go on to record her first “hit” “El Día que nací yo" (The Day I was Born) with the trio.
While in New York she worked in various theaters and nightclubs. She received an offer from another recording company, Casa Seeco, and recorded atango titled “Besos de Fuego" (Kisses of Fire) which earned her international acclaim. She later joined Johnny Rodriguez's band for whom she sang and recorded the following songs:
- “Fichas Negras" (Black Chips),
- “Son Amores" (Loves),
- “Dimelo" (Tell Me),
- “Si No Vuelves" (If You Don’t Return) and
- “No Es Venganza" (It’s Not Vengeance).
She had many fans in places as far as Venezuela and Mexico. Dipini lived in Mexico for seven years and was contracted by both Columbia Records and RCA Records. One of her “hits” with RCA was “Especialmente para Tí" (Especially for You).
When she returned to Puerto Rico, she joined Tito Rodríguez and later recorded “Somos el Projimo”, the Hispanic version of “We Are The World”. She also recorded a tribute to Sylvia Rexach with the quartet, Los Hispanos. Among her last recordings were the songs “Amor Perdido" (Lost Love) and "Congoja”. She had made over 30 albums in her lifetime.
Carmen Delia Dipini died on August 4, 1998 and is buried in the Braulio Dueño Colon Cemetery in Bayamón. The city of Bayamon dedicated an artistic center to Dipini named “Cafe Theater Carmen Delia Dipini”. In 2002, Carmen Delia Dipini was inducted into the International Latin Music Hall of Fame.
(Image description: Asian American men holding signs “Yellow Peril Supports Black Power” and “Free Huey” standing with 2 Latino men and an African American black male Black Panther with an Afro. Text “HYPHENATED* *Bridging Lives & Spaces” overlays it)
Still playing around with the avatar design since it’s the first week and just redesigned it as this for now getting more at the themes of solidarity that we discuss on the show! Thoughts? :)
Also remember to submit your questions to be answered live on the next show either to the ask box on our tumblr page (hyphenated-lives) or our email box (email@example.com)!
Your defense of Brave having an all white cast because PoC in Scotland is ‘unrealistic’ is bullshit.
(If anyone finds the way I discuss race in this problematic, please let me know so I can change it so it’s more appropriate to the conversation at hand)
The topic of PoC in Britain has been discussed at length here before. However, I feel like it hasn’t been discussed enough because some dumb asses still aren’t getting that Britain has basically never been segregated from parts of the world with PoC.
Now, even if it had been why does visibility of PoC in these areas become somehow less believable than a talking bear or a dragon? PoC at least exist! So why does it matter. I digress, this is a history blog so let me get onto the history.
To quote a friend (who I wouldn’t call a dumb ass, rather I will call her uninformed) said to me, “But that would be unrealistic, there were no black people in 15th century Scotland.” To which of course I replied, “Oh and the magic bears were?”
Brave doesn’t even really have a standing in a realistic time period as there’s too many things that make it hard to really stake down when it’s taking place. But since my aforementioned friend mentioned ‘15th century’, that’s where we’re going.
Did Scotland have PoC in the 15 century? YES.
Helpfully, a quick google search for some sources to back up some background knowledge I found that the British National Archives has a website with an entire section called “Black Presence”
I know, I can hear you all groaning so I’m going to quote a few of the pages from this source for you.
Even more helpfully, they have a page titled ‘Black Moors in Scotland’!
“There were no black people in Scotland until…”
Africans have been present in Europe from classical times.
In the 2nd and 3rd centuries Roman soldiers of African origin served in Britain, and some stayed after their military service ended. According to the historians Fryer, Edwards and Walvin, in the 9th century Viking fleets raided North Africa and Spain, captured Black people, and took them to Britain and Ireland. From the end of the 15th century we begin to see more evidence for the presence of Black Moors in the accounts of the reign of King James IV of Scotland, and later in Elizabethan England.
So clearly PoC have been present in Britain for… well pretty much forever. They weren’t taken there entirely willingly, and yes a lot of them were slaves but they still existed there.
I’m glad they mention King James IV though, because they do have a section on him. Apparently he had black people in his courts, not necessarily even as slaves or servants- but as invited guests. There’s also evidence to support that black women (who may have been servants) were also given expensive gowns and jewelry by the king as gifts.
There were many PoC there at that point in time, and fewer accounts of this type of thing exist afterwards. But some of this also disproves the notion that PoC could have only been slaves.
There’s another page on the National Archives website that says
People of African and Asian origin have lived in Britain for at least two millennia.
Another thing that is interesting to note is Kenneth III who was king of Scotland from 997-1005. Though there’s no conclusive evidence of his race, there is some proof that he was black.
He was sometimes known as “Kenneth the Niger” (I was uncomfortable including that, but it has one G rather than two so I hope that makes some sort of difference in the context) and also Kenneth Dubh (Dubh being a surname meaning ‘the black man’).
There were plenty of warriors from North Africa that sailed and stayed in Europe and eventually held power all over the place so it is entirely possible that he was an African. However there is some controversy to whether or not Kenneth III was of some south-European descent or North-African (though personally I believe he was African as so much evidence points to that).
If we go to Wales in history we find St. Deiniol who died in 584. There’s not a whole lot of information to be found… but I find that pictures speak a thousand words, so here’s two:
So, tell me again that there could not have possibly been black people in Scotland or Britain at that time. I dare you.
One woman’s beef with cultural appropriation and food
For a long time, Vietnamese food made me uncomfortable. It was brothy, weirdly fishy, and full of the gross animal parts that other people didn’t seem to want. It was too complicated.
I wanted the straightforward, prefabricated snacks that I saw on television: Bagel Bites, Pop-Tarts, chicken nuggets. When my grandmother babysat me, she would make tiny concessions, preparing rice bowls with chopped turkey cold cuts for me while everyone else got caramelized pork. I would make my own Bagel Bites by toasting a normal-size bagel and topping it with Chinese sausage and a dash of Sriracha. My favorite snack was a weird kind of fusion: a slice of nutrient-void Wonder Bread sprinkled with a few dashes of Maggi sauce, an ultraplain proto–banh mi that I came up with while rummaging through my grandmother’s pantry. In our food-centric family, I was the barbarian who demanded twisted simulacra of my grandmother’s masterpieces, perverted so far beyond the pungent, saucy originals that they looked like the national cuisine of a country that didn’t exist.When I entered my first year of college in Iowa, a strange pattern began to emerge as I got to know my classmates. “Oh, you’re Vietnamese?” they’d ask. “I love pho!” And then the whispered question—“Am I saying that right?” The same people who would have made fun of me for bringing a stinky rice-noodle salad to school 10 years ago talked to me as if I were the gatekeeper to some hidden temple that they had discovered on their own. Pho seemed like a shortcut for them, a way that they could tell me that they knew about my culture and our soupy ways without me having to tell them. I would hear this again and again from that point on. I’m Vietnamese? They love pho! I told people to pronounce it a different way each time they asked, knowing that they would immediately march over to their racially homogenous group of friends to correct them with the “authentic” way to pronounce their favorite dish. I’m sure that they were happy to learn a little bit about my family’s culture, but I found their motivations for doing so suspect.
What can one say in response? “Oh, you’re white? I love tuna salad!” It sounds ridiculous, mostly because no one cares if a second-generation immigrant likes American food. Rather, the burden of fluency with American culture puts a unique pressure on the immigrant kid. I paid attention during playdates with my childhood friends, when parents would serve pulled-pork sandwiches and coleslaw for lunch. (It took me a long time to understand the appeal of mayonnaise, which, as a non-cream, non-cheese, non-sauce, perplexed the hell out of me.) From watching my friends, I learned to put the coleslaw in the sandwich and sop the bread in the stray puddles of sauce in between bites. There’s a similar kind of self-checking that occurs when I take people out to Vietnamese restaurants: Through unsubtle side glances, they watch me for behavioral cues, noting how and if I use various condiments and garnishes so they can report back to their friends and family that they learned how to eat this food the “real way” from their real, live Vietnamese friend. Their desire to be true global citizens, eaters without borders, lies behind their studious gazes.
When I go to contemporary Asian restaurants, like Wolfgang Puck’s now-shuttered 20.21 in Minneapolis and Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s Spice Market in New York City, it seems the entrées are always in the $16–$35 range and the only identifiable person of color in the kitchen is the dishwasher. The menus usually include little blurbs about how the chefs used to backpack in the steaming jungles of the Far East (undoubtedly stuffing all the herbs and spices they could fit into said backpacks along the way, for research purposes), and were so inspired by the smiling faces of the very generous natives—of which there are plenty of tasteful black-and-white photos on the walls, by the way—and the hospitality, oh, the hospitality, that they decided the best way to really crystallize that life-changing experience was to go back home and sterilize the cuisine they experienced by putting some microcilantro on that $20 curry to really make it worthy of the everyday American sophisticate. American chefs like to talk fancy talk about “elevating” or “refining” third-world cuisines, a rhetoric that brings to mind the mission civilisatrice that Europe took on to justify violent takeovers of those same cuisines’ countries of origin. In their publicity materials, Spice Market uses explicitly objectifying language to describe the culture they’re appropriating: “A timeless paean to Southeast Asian sensuality, Spice Market titillates Manhattan’s Meatpacking District with Jean-Georges Vongerichten’s piquant elevations of the region’s street cuisine.” The positioning of Western aesthetics as superior, or higher, than all the rest is, at its bottom line, an expression of the idea that no culture has value unless it has been “improved” by the Western Midas touch. If a dish hasn’t been eaten or reimagined by a white person, does it really exist?
Andrew Zimmern, host of Bizarre Foods, often claims that to know a culture, you must eat their food. I’ve eaten Vietnamese food my whole life, but there’s still so much that I don’t understand about my family and the place we came from. I don’t know why we can be so reticent, yet so emotional; why Catholicism, the invaders’ religion, still has such a hold on them; why we laugh so hard even at times when there’s not much to laugh about. After endless plates of com bi, banh xeo, and cha gio, I still don’t know what my grandmother thinks about when she prays.
Others appear to be on a similar quest for knowledge, though they seem to have fewer questions than answers. Like a plague of culture locusts, foodies, Chowhounders, and food writers flit from bibimbap to roti canai, fetishizing each dish as some adventure-in-a-bowl and using it as a springboard to make gross generalizations about a given culture’s “sense of family and community,” “lack of pretense,” “passion,” and “spirituality.” Eventually, a hole-in-the-wall reaches critical white-Instagrammer mass, and the swarm moves on to its next discovery, decrying the former fixation’s loss of authenticity. The foodies’ cultural cachet depends on being the only white American person in the room, braving inhumane spice levels and possible food poisoning in order to share with you the proper way to handle Ethiopian injera bread. But they can’t cash in on it unless they share their discoveries with someone else, thereby jeopardizing that sense of exclusivity. Thus, happiness tends to elude the cultural foodie.
Why am I being such a sourpuss about people who just want to show appreciation for another culture? Isn’t the embrace of multiculturalism through food a beautiful expression of a postracial milieu? Aren’t I being the trueracist here?
Item: "Asian Girlz" by Day Above Ground, a wannabe–Red Hot Chili Peppers bro-band, is full of references to East Asian food juxtaposed with violently misogynistic lines about their yellow fever: “I love your sticky rice/ Butt fucking all night/ Korean barbecue/ Bitch, I love you.” (Yum!) When criticism surfaced in summer 2013, the band insisted that the charges of racism were ridiculous because none of them were racists, that their many Asian friends thought it was hilarious, and that, at its heart, the song was about sharing their love for the culture. You know what they say: If you really love something, treat it with flippant disrespect.
Item: Alton Brown’s “Asian Noodles” episode of Good Eats takes us on an educational trip to the typical Asian American grocery store—by having its host travel through a lengthy underground tunnel that is a visual echo of the idea of “digging a hole to China.” He emerges onto a set decorated with noodles, a red-and-gold Chinese scroll, and that typically “chinky” erhu music that plagues any mention of Asia in any media, ever. Also on the set is a bearded white man wearing a kimono and a sumo topknot wig who acts out the stereotype of the severe Asian American grocery store clerk. As Brown shares his vast pool of knowledge with the viewer, the clerk harasses him in fake Japanese (“Waduk! Chiyabemada!”). Clearly, knowing a lot about Asian food does not preclude one’s ability to be an asshole about it anyway.
These items speak to the Westerner as cultural connoisseur and authority, a theme that has shone like a brilliant Angolan diamond in the imperialist imagination ever since Marco Polo first rushed back to Europe to show off the crazy Chinese “ice cream” that he discovered on his travels. I don’t doubt that these guys lovebulgogi and soba and want more people to enjoy them, but that kind of appreciation certainly doesn’t seem to have advanced their understanding of the Asian American experience beyond damaging and objectifying generalities.
Their commonality is their insistence on appreciating a culture that exists mostly in their heads; they share a nostalgia for someone else’s life. Nostalgia traps the things you love in glass jars, letting you appreciate their arrested beauty until they finally die of boredom or starvation. The sought-after object cannot move on from you or depart from the fixed impression that you have imposed upon it. After all, a thing can’t be “authentic” if it’s allowed the power to change. Robbed of its ability to evolve on its own, the only way such a thing can venture into the future is as an accessory worn by someone who can. The pho you had at a dirty little street stall in Saigon or the fresh goat’s milk you tasted in Crete as a child may both be beautiful in and of themselves, but their value diminishes if they are allowed an ounce of banality. In order for them to make you look like a more exciting, more interesting person, they must remain firmly outside the realm of the mundane.
All of this makes the experiences of the immigrant’s Americanized children particularly head scratching. We’re appreciated for our usefulness in giving our foodie friends a window into the off-menu life of our cuisines, but the interest usually stops there. When I tell white Americans about the Maggi-and-margarine sandwiches and cold-cut rice bowls that I used to eat, they tend to wrinkle their noses and wonder aloud why I would reject my grandmother’s incredible, authentic Vietnamese food for such bastardizations. What I don’t tell them is, “It’s because I wanted to be like you.”
We live in a time where the discriminating American foodie has an ever-evolving list of essentials in their pantry: ras el hanout, shrimp paste, lemongrass, fresh turmeric. With a hugely expanded palate of flavors, you can experiment with these ingredients in ways that used to be possible only for Medieval kings and nobles who spent fortunes on chests of spices from the Orient. By putting leaves of cabbage kimchi on a slice of pizza, you’re destroying the notion of the nation-state and unknowingly mimicking the ways in which many Korean American children took their first awkward steps into assimilation, one bite at a time, until they stopped using kimchi altogether. Over time, you grow to associate nationalities with the quaint little restaurants that you used to frequent, before they were demolished and replaced with soulless, Americanized joints. You look at a map of the world and point a finger to Mongolia. “Really good barbecue.” El Salvador. “Mmm, pupusas.” Vietnam. “I love pho!” When you divorce a food from its place and time, you can ignore global civil unrest and natural disasters (see: Zagat declaring Pinoy cuisine the “next great Asian food trend” this past fall as deadly floods swept through the Philippines), knowing as you do that the world’s cultural products will always find safe harbor in your precious, precious mouth.
Soleil Ho is a freelance writer, teacher, and MFA student living in New Orleans. Whenever she visits her grandmother, there always seems to be a big bowl of chicken curry on the table, just for her.
I lied because even though depression is so common in Asian American communities, we rarely talked about it. The message I grew up with: your mental struggles are our own; it’s up to you to find the inner strength to “ren,” to endure.
The character for “ren” 忍 is the character for “knife” over the “heart.” Endure even when there’s a knife in your heart.
In my thirties I discovered talk therapy, tried to get my parents to go. Their response was basically: “That’s for white people.” “They hook you in,” my mother said. “You can never be cured.”
I wish mental illness didn’t come with stigmas. I wish I could have told my parents that my mind had broken just as easily as if I had to tell them my arm had broken.