How can finding more cousins help us see ourselves more clearly?
By Frances Kai-Hwa Wang
My seventeen-year-old son, who we all call Little Brother, has been growing tall and growing his hair long, which he pulls back into a nice pandemic ponytail.
One of his friends is also tall with long hair, which she also pulls back into a ponytail.
From the back, you can’t tell them apart because they are both tall and have the same ponytail, with the same curl.
This past weekend, I talked with the girl’s father at a school event and realized that both our families are originally from Shandong province. Ah. So that is why we are all so tall.
All my life I’ve been told that that’s why I am so tall, because our family is from Shandong province, home of the tallest Chinese. It is only in recent years that my children have started to laugh at the mere idea that I am tall.
Really, I am tall. It’s an important part of my self-image.
Little Brother and his friend have been trying to convince people that they are long-lost cousins. This new Shandong discovery adds a layer of complexity and believability to their prank. I love how my children always try to seek out more relatives.
It is with that same energy that I always rush to see who won MacArthur fellowships every year. Often referred to as a “genius grant,” the MacArthur foundation gives a no-strings-attached grant of $650,000 paid out over 5 years. Every year I count: how many Asian Americans, how many people of color, how many artists, and how many scientists. Some people get excited about the release of sports scores or movie awards, but for me, it is the announcement of the MacArthurs.
This year there is only one obvious Asian American MacArthur fellow, Don Mee Choi, a Korean American poet and translator who writes and creates art about the effects of military violence and U.S. imperialism on the civilians of the Korean Peninsula. We have different family histories and have been impacted by different wars, but there are parallels in perspective, sort of the way that cousins have slightly different life experiences, but they get you.
In recent events co-sponsored by the 1990 Institute, we looked at ideas of unity through communication: what's next for AAPIs in media and entertainment, challenges and opportunities facing Asian Americans, and anti-Asian hate and the economic challenges facing our Chinatowns. Media representation, civil rights, economic issues – cousin issues that affect us all.