By Sarah Yee
Northwest Asian Weekly
It was only a little more than a decade ago. The 2000 U.S. Census was a milestone because people had the option to choose more than one race in identifying themselves. While there were 57 possible combinations within six racial groups, the U.S. Census Bureau asked only one question regarding ethnicity.
“For this Census, Hispanic origins are not races. Is this person of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish origin?”
Among the respondents of the most recent 2010 U.S. Census, 598,146 people, or 1.9 percent of the reported Latino population in the United States, identified themselves as Asians, or Asians in combination with other racial groups. Ethnicity, however, is closely related to cultural background, such as heritage, language, and
belief. Dramatic demographic changes in the 21st century reflect that one’s home is no longer defined by one’s skin color.
“It depends on what kind of home you’re asking [about]. If you’re talking about cultural home, maybe Honduras. Where my parents live, that’s Honduras. Foundation roots — that can be Honduras and Korea and the U.S. I feel like all three countries are my countries,” said Ha Na Park.
Park possesses the advantage of a multicultural background. She was born in Korea, raised in Honduras, and now works and lives in the United States. Her family immigrated to Latin America when she was 8 years old.
Even within a closely knit family of four, they each have different stories to tell.
“There’s this mistaken notion that because we all speak Spanish, we kind of somehow share something,” said Park, who is trilingual in Spanish, English, and Korean.
“My parents, because they are eye doctors, work with the Honduran community, with the natives and the locals. My younger brother moved to Honduras when he was 3 years old. I would say his experience of being tri-cultural is quite different from mine because I [had lived] in Korea, and I had been to Korean schools, and I had Korean friends. [Cultural experiences] are very individualized and very unique to a person,” said Park.
Kawing Poon’s mother was one of the first in her family to move to El Salvador from Hong Kong, because it opened doors to new opportunities. Two years later, when Ms. Poon was 9 years old, she followed her mother’s move, along with her father and sisters.
“I had never been to a foreign country for longer than two weeks. I was so excited to go to El Salvador. After the first few days of curious adventures, I soon realized that I was like [someone that was] mute, blind, and deaf,” said Poon. “There is an extremely small number of Asians [where we settled in El Salvador]. I was the only one in my school straight from Asia. The Chinese community in El Salvador consists of mostly Taiwanese. Since I didn’t speak Mandarin, I didn’t really connect with them.”
After a few years, as Poon acquired language skills in Spanish, English, and Mandarin Chinese, she was able to participate in more activities.
“One of the biggest advantages of being multicultural is the ability to embrace new things,” said Poon.
“Although people come from different backgrounds, there are some feelings that people share in common.”
When Poon came to the United States for college in 2007, her world view changed again. Her initial feeling toward the differences in the United States was overwhelming.
“I thought that all Latin Americans and Americans [in the U.S.] are the same. But I soon [found] out that there are many cultural differences between the ones I grew up with in El Salvador and the Americans [in the U.S.] We would always greet people on the streets and talk to strangers on buses [in El Salvador]. I started doing that, but people reacted as if I wanted something from them. I treated guys and girls the same way, but the guys thought that I liked them. At the end of three months, I [had] learned a lot and didn’t do any of the things I used to do before,” said Poon.
Steve Leon was born in the Dominican Republic. Although his first language at home was Cantonese, when his mother spoke Cantonese he would respond in Spanish or English.
“I’ve lost it. There were not very many Chinese people [in the Dominican Republic]. My parents didn’t really reinforce the children to keep the language,” said Leon.
Just before starting high school, Leon’s family moved to Canada from the Dominican Republic. Now, after living in Seattle for more than two years with a career in software engineering, Leon reflects upon his experience, “Even if I went to the best university there [in the Dominican Republic], with the best grade, I don’t think I would have the opportunity to work in the States. I have a lot of friends who are very smart, who graduated, but who weren’t able to find jobs there. For professional careers, there are not as many opportunities.”
Leon has also visited Hong Kong and China twice. Though that is where his family came from, Leon could not imagine himself living and working there.
“I felt very distant. I look like them. [But] I don’t think like a local Chinese person, I don’t act like them. I don’t have the same way of thinking,” said Leon.
Nonetheless, the family bond is a strong value in both Hispanic and Asian cultures.
“Hispanics are very family-oriented. You see people living with their grandparents or brothers. I decided to stay with family in Canada. Moving to Seattle was the first time moving out from family,” said Leon.
“Just being a small family [in Honduras] really reinforces the bond of [our] family. You start making friends in Honduras and they become your family. You have this bigger cultural family as well,” said Ha Na Park.
The 2010 U.S. Census data indicates that more than half of the growth in the U.S. population between 2000 and 2010 was due to the increase in the Hispanic population. The statistics also show that the Asian population grew faster than any other racial group in the United States within the same time frame.
With a desire to explore the merging of Latino and Asian cultures, two theater companies, Pangea World Theater and Teatrodel Pueblo, are in the process of producing a series of plays in Twin Cities, Minn. Their visions include empowering the communities and creating a national dialogue.
“We see demographic changes in this country, in government, in arts. We love Shakespeare and all the great masters, but we want to take these and reflect the reality of our demographics,” said Al Justiano of Teatro del Pueblo.
One of the artists, Luis Alfaro, is potentially writing a Latino and Asian love story. Another artist, Marlina Gonzales, is developing a story that explores the Mexican-Sikh community in California. Aravind Enrique Adyanthaya, who has a mixed Puerto Rican and Indian background, will explore the cross-section between Latino and Hindu religious beliefs in his piece.
“Hardly have we engaged and talked about [Latino and Asian] cultures’ commonalities and differences,” said Justiano. “This will be a new kind of work.” (end)
Sarah Yee can be reached at email@example.com.