Sunday, October 4, 2009

Mid-Autumn Festival 2009

I constantly remind myself that part of my responsibility as a parent is to pass on to my child the values and traditions of our family, race and culture. While I can send him to professionals to learn stuff like music, sports, art, math and languages, Richard and I remain the most appropriate teachers of who and what his family and community are.

I myself am a semi-stranger in my culture. I know a little here and there, a bit of this and that, but certainly not enough to be a proud spokesperson of my heritage. I can read some Chinese but not enough to read the Chinese newspaper. I know enough Cantonese to have a casual conversation but not enough to watch a drama serial without subtitles. I know that Confucius was a wise man, but I also know Gandhi and Aristotle were too. I can't tell the Ching from the Ming. I don't know the legend of the three kingdoms although I know the tale of the three wise men.

Growing up, I didn't pay much attention to my own culture and history. I didn't reject it, I just didn't take the time to appreciate it. I visited other countries. I tasted their food, read their books, watched their movies, discussed their politics and their domestic issues, learned their history and took pictures of their monuments.

So, I was always out of place. In a Western country, I am regarded as an Asian. Yet, in an Asian country, I am regarded as a 'banana' - yellow only on the outside.

I know very little about my family history. I only know that my maternal grandfather came from China. My mum is the eldest of nine children and I was fairly close to my uncles and aunts when I was a child but when they were getting married, having children, establishing careers, I was doing the same. During this time, I didn't keep in touch as closely as I should have and I missed out on many years when I could have stayed closed to them.

Perhaps I've realised that the richness of a heritage is due, in large, to its preservation. Perhaps I want to be able to lay claim to something. Perhaps I feel the need to belong somewhere. Whatever the reason, in recent years I've felt the need to find my racial identity, to fully embrace my race and my culture. I want to re-connect with my relatives, to get to know them as they are now, instead of being stuck in childhood impressions of who they were.I want to participate in family gatherings. I want to get to know my relatives - I want to know what they like/dislike, what they did when they were young, who they are now. I find myself interested in Chinese festivals and Chinese customs. I'm keeping a lookout for the perfect cheongsam.

In the same vein, I want to pass all this on to my son. I want him to have a strong sense of family, community, race and culture. This, in turn, will give him a starting point to develop an identity for himself.

So, although Richard and I normally give the Mid-Autumn festival a skip, we decided to celebrate the occasion this year, to show Ryan what it means. He may be too young to understand, but that's ok, we didn't do anything fancy. Just a short stroll by the Singapore river with the lantern. The important thing is that we did something to mark the occasion and, in doing so, acknowledged who we are.

Happy Mooncake Festival everyone!


florinda said...

im also damn banana okie... lol

I like didn't know it was mid autumn till 7 in that evening...

Creative Beast said...

hello Pinkie Pirate!
this is a great post - being a Latina raised in American culture i understand the importance of knowing something about your culture and your words "Growing up, I didn't pay much attention to my own culture and history. I didn't reject it, I just didn't take the time to appreciate it" really resonate with me.

i would say though, from recent experiences, that i think it's okay to make room to learn about your culture in YOUR own way and to keep in mind that culture is actually HOW we live. i think the fact that you have visited and experienced other cultures makes you a "citizen of the world" so to speak and that seems like a great culture to be a part of =-)

sorry to be commenting a day late on this but i really appreciated this post -thanks for writing it!

Doofus said...

Hullo, observing and celebrating the day is a great start :) I also thought each succeeding generation losses some heritage and culture. For instance, I doubt we can whip up a traditional reunion dinner and I suppose we would stumble trying to explain the symbolism of the dishes.

Then again, high-tech rides to the rescue of tradition. One can seek out recipes in the abundance of food blogs out there, here's one I like:
A yummy way to preserve tradition :)

Pinkie Pirate said...

Insightful comments. Yes, I agree inasmuch as we need to remind ourselves to stay connected to our heritage, we also need to live in the present and find the best way to marry the traditions of our culture with our modern lifestyle. Each generation is the start of something new, not a wiping clean of the slate, but something new nonetheless.

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