Celebrating or Rueing API Culture?

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

May is API Heritage Month! So I thought I’d celebrate our culture, but in a round-about way. I want to boast about two perceived weaknesses of API culture—especially in the context of American mainstream culture–so that God’s redemptive power and grace might be revealed.

The first is the lack of physical affection and emotional nurture given to us by our parents.

Few of us, especially those with immigrant parents, got verbal praise. And I’m sure that even less of us got hugs and kisses after the age of 7. Consequently, we feel wounded and insecure, longing for unconditional love from our parental units. If those smarmy kids in TV sitcoms got hugs, why don’t we?

The good news is that our API parents do love us. They just show us in a different way—through food. According to the news, an Asian food craze is sweeping the nation. But we’ve long known that APIs love to eat, and love to eat everything that crawls, walks, flies or swims.

I was at the zoo in Melbourne, Australia a while back. Now Australia has some bizarre animals with cool names, like” wombat.” Besides having pockets, their animals own features like duckbills and webbed feet. As I walked around, a group of tourists from the PRC were behind me. At each exhibit, they would remark, “That’s good eating!” and “That’s good in stew…” They wanted to stir fry every creature there!

Our ability to cook all kinds of dishes stems from the joy we receive from taking care of our families and feeding them well. This display of love isn’t unknown in the Bible. In fact, we know God’s love because He feeds us daily and He feeds us well. We celebrate the Lord’s Supper because it’s Jesus’ way of offering himself to us, just as our parents offered us food.

Instead of asking, “How are you?” , my grandmother always asked me, “Have you eaten yet?” That’s how I knew her love—she would always want to be sure that I was cared for and fed. This month, let’s celebrate API love through food—that selfless giving that is concrete and filling (James 2:15-17).

The second weakness is our quietness. In the U.S. people who post themselves on youtube and “represent” are admired, while the quiet ones are ignored and hit glass ceilings.

“Oh no,” you cry. “Don’t raise that model minority stereotype. We’re still celebrating Jeremy Lin’s shattering of stereotypes, as he went against all odds. Wait, that’s another model minority stereotype…”

(If you want a real stereotype that hurts APIs, it’s that we’re cheap. Ask any retail or food service person what they think of APIS when they enter their establishments. They automatically think we’re cheap and we’re going to bargain. It doesn’t matter if you’re Korean, either, because they’ll think you’re Chinese. We’re racially profiled “SWA,” or shopping while Asian. We just don’t know we’re getting bad service because we’ve never known any better.)

So what’s so great about being quiet? Well, despite Americans’ penchant for awarding the assertive and confident, being predisposed to quietness helps to develop a lot of biblical qualities. Blessed are the meek. Be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger. It is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

Indeed, the quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of the ruler of fools. So this May, let’s follow our culture and be still, and know that the Lord is God.

APIs have lots of cultural traits that American evangelicalism doesn’t necessarily promote, including a sense of shame, mutual obligation, and hierarchical relations. But in each of these perceived weaknesses that we may have, God can use and redeem.

Let us not be quick to reject our culture simply to replace it with evangelical culture that is Americanized.  He may even bless the rest of the church with these API cultural gifts.

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