About a month has passed since I openly challenged Amy Chua to an epic and maximally Chinese bare fist kung fu throwdown. At stake in this fight would not be a cash purse or bragging rights up and down the block, but rather, this debate of clasping and clashing hands would be a test of Amy Chua to see if she could truly live up to her self-appointed role as a "spokeswoman of Chineseness."
Rumors of the challenge quickly spread across the lands -- through gentle rural villages and massive cityscapes alike -- the story of my proposed duel being stretched and embellished along its travels to take on mythological qualities as it passed from one person to the next.
In even the most remote villages of China, people gathered to discuss the fight. "Jie-Song's Chineseness is stroooong," states Old and Uniquely Wise Duan, gesturing with an aged pair of wooden chopsticks raised in his right hand, its thin end pinching a single and elegantly hanging noodle, "but this Amy Chua, I hear she cannot be killed. I hear she was raised deeeeeep in the mountains and fed a diet of nothing but precious stones as a child, and that she practices the lethal and loooooong banned Gold-digging technique of kung fu."
"Impossible," remarks Old and Slightly Dehydrated Yang, with one eye pinched shut and blistered dry lips folding downward with skepticism, "that style was outlawed by the emperor himself at the onset of the Tang Dynasty for its devastating effect on human culture."
Old Duan calmly strokes his swan white and impressively long beard. He replies, "well... I am not saying she is a gold digger. But she is not messing with no broke... "
On the other end of the planet, gathered outside a corner store of Bedstuy and smoking loosey cigarettes amid a particularly stern Brooklyn winter, yet another group discusses the spreading legend of the Tiger-Dragon duel.
"Ayo, son, I be hearin' this Amy Chua lady real gangster wit it, nah mean," offers one young hustler of gossip, his forefinger hooking a lit Newport cigarette against the side of his face.
"Yeah son, I heard she the one killed Tupac AND Biggie," adds a friend, "real talk."
"Yo, I heard she ghost-wrote Drake's new album," contributes yet another. "You know that song that go 'started from the bottom, now we here...'? That joint is about raisin' ya SAT score, son. F'real."
But alas, there has been no response from Mrs. Chua herself, and so the matter of her true level of Chineseness remains a question that dances alone with no answer.
"But what would you guess Chua's Chineseness level to be?" asks colleagues, readers, and the older ladies who work the kitchen at my favored dumpling spot.
Well, if I were to make an educated speculation...
According to the ICCC (International Council on the Calculation of Chineseness), a multi-lateral organization rigorously dedicated to the quantification, measurement, and maintenance of healthy Chineseness levels across the planet, Yao Ming is a level 43 Chinese, which is pretty high for someone employed for as long as he was in the United States -- Yao was fortunate to earn jade treasure chests worth of Chinese experience points by playing for China's national basketball team. Level 43 is extraordinary for anyone under 40 years of age. Arthur Chu, the Jeopardy warlord, registers in the database as a level 22 Chinese. The cast of Big Trouble in Little China have an average Chineseness rating of level 16 (Kurt Russell is a level 3). When a person exceeds Level 35 Chineseness, they are granted the title Off Tha Heezy, Chineezy, an achievement that comes with a small ceremony, a plaque, and a You Know I'm Off Tha Heezy, Chineezy t-shirt (all made in China, of course). Surpassing level 50 awards the most prestigious ranking, and you are henceforth recognized as being Chinese Than a Maof***er.
Given all available information, my instincts place Amy Chua at around Level 11 Chineseness or so.
About a month has passed since I first stood upon one of the highest and far-reaching of the Internet's mountain ledges -- The Huffington Post -- and sent my voice sprawling outward in the bodies of thousands of words, they an immense flock of small black birds set free and speeding like flesh and feather missiles through the labyrinth that is the Internet, with its walls built by small precise stones of '0's and '1's, its doors engineered to subtly seduce your "clicking," and its long, winding corridors filled with the soft bluish-white light that marks the ever evolving intelligence of the machine consciousness.
I never expected Amy Chua to respond.
Just as any specimen of a human being's biological material can be analyzed to reveal his or her underlying genetic design, so too can a single sample of an artist's creation be examined to discover the spiritual shape of the artist. In fact, perhaps the most truthful communication we find in any given piece of work is the testimony the work provides for the value system of its creator. Everything about Chua's recent books exemplify a capitalist soul -- an experience of the world in which value is measured by higher numbers (test scores and income), more material accumulation (wealth and possessions), and brand recognition (prestigious schools, institutions, or achievements). Amy Chua knows that responding to me will not aid her fame, the market-reach of her books, or her potential for speaking engagements. Therefore, she would see nothing of (material) value to be gained in reacting to my ideas.
But for the purposes of my writing, the name of "Amy Chua" was always intended to be a Trojan Horse. Controversy is as fireworks to the human society -- in its presence, the masses cannot help but look up and take notice, pupils wide with fixation and mouths agape. The burning sparkler light of controversy emitting from Chua's name was but a mask adorned upon the face of my ideas, that they might gain entrance to mingle inside the masquerade ball where the public American conversation takes place. It was always my primary intention to insert myself into this dialogue, and to speak not through academic citations and statistics but instead to use words as carriers of flesh and blood feeling, in order to share the humanity of the Asian experience in America. As well, it was my aim to point a lone but unflinching finger forward, skyward, towards an image of the future, where the uniting of America's cultural communities is both inevitable and supremely necessary.
The public response to my first piece was weighted and precious. The reactions can be appropriately separated into two groups: those of Asian-Americans and those of non-Asians.
Asian voices rose from across the country and became audible to me, their level of sincerity or enthusiasm so great that, at times, peering into the glowing white reality inside my computer monitor it was as though I was watching hundreds of explosively colorful kites being released simultaneously into the sky by the hands of children recently reunited with innocence. A great percentage of the messages I received from Asian-Americans were offerings wrapped in the shiny, golden paper of pride; but often, within the body of these packages were found the confessions of feelings deeply buried, of a fossilized pain long ago digested, suppressed, forcefully forgotten.
What many Asian-Americans found in my writing and its depiction of those violent discomforts that Asians in America are force-fed from an early age due to discrimination, was a moment of catharsis -- a penetrating look into themselves, to give light and air to old, severe wounds such that a small amount of their pain could be washed away by the disinfecting power of acknowledgment. Through these responses, their volume and intense sincerity, I was able to press my hand inside the breathing chest of the Asian-American community, to touch the texture and climate of the community's emotions at their most exposed. This is what I felt: that there are many Asians in America dealing with significant pain as a result of their identity, that there is a critical shortage of opportunities for Asians to discuss and address this pain, and that, overall, the mechanisms necessary for Asians to find healing for this pain are largely unavailable.
* - Dan Choi is one of the nation's most notable activists for LGBT rights
The response of non-Asians to my article was firmly what I expected it to be. The deeper role of written and spoken language is to help us venture into the rumbling ocean darkness of our consciousness and outline -- with words -- the bodies of our perceptions and understandings. Words allow us to pinpoint, recognize, and thereby attempt to control the things we perceive, feel, believe. My writing on the matter of human oneness -- the common experience of human beings across the planet Earth, and our shared responsibility in making the brutal gravity of human existence more bearable, meaningful, and beautiful -- is simply the use of words to render more visible a feeling that countless people already carry within their chests.
Yin and Yang. To be human is to be made of both strength and frailty. In the skin, the mind, and the heart of the human we find both durability and vulnerability. Frailty is a central flesh of our shared humanity; it is a piece of us where we are all capable of being pierced and bled by the thick needle-head of dehumanization. The mountain that presses upon the back and shoulders of the Asian in America -- the one that constantly urges him or her to live in a state of kneeling - is the same force that burdens countless human shoulders as a consequence of race, gender, class, religion, cultural choices, physical appearance, sexual orientation... The numbers of us are many now who have matured to recognize this perfect and unbending truth; and the moment already prepares itself, where we will in synchronized unison each raise a confident finger forward, skyward, to mark the ascension of a more understanding, more united humankind.
* - Michael Skolnik is Political Director to Russell Simmons
* - Alida Garcia is Director of Coalitions & Policy for FWD.us
This year's winter in New York has been especially heartless, the citizens of metropolis under siege by a villain's cruelty at every instance of our outdoor lives. Nature has repeatedly cotton-swabbed our city's already merciless streets in layers of quickly blackening ice. Look closely, and see thin strands of steam rising and writhing from the body of this writing.
I sit now in Brooklyn, drinking from a clay cup of hot water, the heat aiding in the arrival of these words. While my physical body rests almost still, my deeper self moves with a heavy energy, it also like some liquid heated towards boiling, pouring slowly in the labor of my writing to soak this surface you now look upon with the rawest and most vital of my life force, where it -- where I will slowly crystallize before you in the form of language. These words are me, springing forth as black flowers of thin stems and spectacularly geometric petals, stretching forward one row after another to populate this field where you now wander.
My words lay upon this page and your mind comes to them, walks through them, crushes their shells beneath its marching footsteps to reveal the jewelry of perception and mood, thought and feeling -- shapes of energy -- that words are designed to transport. Your mind pulls at these discovered treasures with its invisible but almighty gravity, consumes them; and in this process, I too am absorbed into your mind.
What is distance or closeness, but the ability of my thoughts and feelings to find a home inside of you?
And where does my voice rise from at this moment... if not amid the atmospheric glow in the forest of electric trees that is your mind, where a flurry of white light bullets travel along an intertwining highway of bare winter branches, to carry in their orchestrated storm the energy field of your consciousness?
Our conversation draws to a close, dear reader -- we have both long seen the coming of this road's end. But before we depart from one another, I shall from my place, here, in the cavernous space of your thoughts, leave for you one final picture to see. It is a children's story that tells of a moment in human history that is today; and it is filled with the faces of countless persons across this planet, their hands young or old, their voices hard or fragile, all of them prepared to move forward and cross into a next stage of human understanding. Do you see them? These settlers migrating towards the founding of a new way for the world: one that has refined itself in the shedding of our oldest and most primitive biases, one that yields a new level of tolerance and imagination for the possibility of what a human being might become, one that recognizes a single and shared human feeling to exist beneath all of the colorful permutations of the human idea.
Live strong, dear reader, your chest filled with music and fire. And keep this final image with you, along your travels, tucked securely behind your eyes.