Banana Blog 
echoes of the jook sing generation

Topic #1
What is your definition of "banana" as it relates to Chinese-Canadians?

Format
All entries will be made without any knowledge of what other Banana Bloggers are writing. All posts will be made on the day of June 30, 2002.

Discuss this topic


No I'm not, but you can call me a 'jook sing'.


To me, a banana is someone who is Chinese but "westernized" to the extent such that they cannot even speak or understand Chinese.

A Chinese-Canadian is not automatically a banana. Most are "jook sing", while others are "westernized Chinese"; a "jook sing" being one who has some of both Chinese and Western values but not all of either culture, while a "westernized Chinese" is one who has mainly Chinese values with some Western ones so that they can adapt to this western society better.

Then there are those who consider themselves "Chinese" and not Chinese-Canadians, regardless of the number of years they have lived here. Those are the ones who do not try to or wish to fit in and believe that they are "better" than everyone who is a "Chinese-Canadian". They also seem to be the ones that believe ALL CBC's (Canadian-Born-Chinese) are automatically bananas and make it seem like being a CBC makes one a social outcast. To them, anyone that is not "Chinese" is a banana.

If anyone was to ask me if I'm a banana, I can tell them, no I'm not, but you can call me a "jook sing".


My disguise as a Banana


Other than a delicious fruit and phallic symbol the word banana has been used derogatively by others to describe a Chinese person (yellow on the outside) who thinks, acts, and talks like a white person (white on the inside). So if you can speak, read and write Chinese do you count as a banana?

It is high time we reclaimed this word. We shouldn't be afraid to call ourselves Banana. It's not just used derisively by other people - but mostly by our own people.

There is another alternative moniker, the CBC (Canadian Born Chinese). Though it is definitely more politically correct it still leaves a chasm in a description of the modern asian canadian. In theory it's a good label but in practice the CBCs who grew up in very Asian areas such as Vancouver and parts of Toronto are closer to FOBs (fresh off the boat, new rich immigrants) on a scale.

Whereas CBCs in other parts of Canada that do not have the normal regular constant exposure to Asian culture grow up with ideas, tastes & attitudes closer to others in their neighborhood. It's the proximity effect!

So are CBCs bananas by definition? Or are bananas mostly CBCs?

FOB (Fresh off the boat) used to be pejorative, as in the great unwashed masses sailing to our fair shores in search of a new world. But now it has come to mean newly minted Canadians who bring more of their own culture than absorb Canada's.

For native CBC's and bananas, do we refer to these new additions as FOBS out of innate jealously because they still maintain close connections with their ancestral culture while the rest of us have lost touch? Or is it because they have it easier than we did? After all they have their community while we had to fight for recognition. Ironically sometimes it is the CBC's or bananas that truly embrace the historical philosophies of Daoism, Confucism, and Buddhism rather than our FOB counterparts.

Truth is, what if you're neither a complete Banana and not technically a CBC, only you have a dash of FOB stirred in? What category do you belong to? Most people see me as a Banana just because I enjoy artistic pursuits that most new asian immigrants find too risqué. But that's too broad a brush, I know of many "authentic" asians from Hong Kong and Taiwan who are just as artistic or unconventional.

Let's say we should stop trying to label ourselves so definitively. Banana or not I'm proud to be Asian. Either it's asian-canadian or canadian-asian.


I think it is unavoidable for a young Chinese person to be in Canada without eventually becoming a banana


Bananas typically grow in tropical regions and are then exported to countries with milder temperatures, such as Canada. Although this is true of the fruit variety, it is basically true for the bananas of the people variety as well. Bananas are fruit that are yellow on the outside and white on the inside. When people move from China to Canada, they can produce offspring that are yellow on the outside and white on the inside.

But what exactly does it mean to be "white on the inside"?

I think the key aspect that differentiates a "traditional Chinese" and a "banana" is the mentality. Bananas have a different view of the world than the traditional Chinese way in that it is heavily influenced by Western culture. This may be reflected in the choice of food, career, or spouse. For a banana, their meals may consist of rice noodles one day and pizza the next. They may not wish to pursue a career as a doctor or lawyer as their parents wished. And perhaps they may even have a spouse who is not Chinese. Such a travesty would not be heard of in a traditional Chinese family. However, there are all to many Chinese-Canadians pursuing relationships with non-Chinese partners and is perhaps the most significant sign that the banana has a much different mentality than a traditional Chinese.

Some may argue that even if they satisfy the description in the previous paragraph, they are not bananas because of they are fluent in Chinese. Although it is true that bananas typically have poor command of the Chinese language, it is not a defining aspect of a banana. The language difference amplifies the already vast difference between them and recent immigrants. Being fluent in Chinese certainly helps in distancing oneself from the way of the banana as it allows social interaction with traditional Chinese people, understanding Chinese movies, reading Chinese text, and being able to describe things using Chinese words that have no equivalent in English. This allows them to be more in touch with the Chinese mentality and traditions. Although they may be less banana than others, they are still not truly Chinese. I could learn the Spanish language and their tradition, but does it make me a Spaniard? Of course not. My mode of thinking would be totally different than that of a Spaniard. This is also true for bananas who are fluent in Chinese. They may be able to interact with Chinese people with relative ease, but their way of life would be shocking to their grandmother. In my opinion the defining characteristic of a banana, the mentality, is not significantly affected by Chinese fluency. One does not have to be completely "white-washed" to be a banana.

I think it is unavoidable for a young Chinese person to be in Canada to eventually become a banana. Even if they have full command of the language, both oral and written, their thoughts will undoubtedly be tainted with commercials on television and their circle of friends. Their entire world outside of their home is not Chinese and this will inevitably play a vital role in shaping their mentality. The only way for them not to become a banana is to ship them back to the tropical area from which their forefathers came.


Most often, others in your situation are the best companions


It took me a long time to realize my place in the big picture, the grand scheme of things on this world of humanity. Since I became aware of my identity as a Canadian Born Chinese/CBC/banana, and increasingly now as I grow older, I have realized that an identity exists for us, separate from the Caucasian Canadians, and separate from the Chinese.

There are many different types of Chinese Canadians, and to outline criteria for assigning membership to ethnic subgroups such as bananas, FOBs, whitewashed CBCs, etc. seems foolish. But most Asian Canadians will likely acknowledge having put some thought into this matter. I am no exception. In fact, throughout my life, I have continuously identified people who are bananas and people who are not.

There are many characteristics of bananas, from language, to family customs, interest in music, sports, and culture. Bananas undoubtedly follow both Chinese and Canadian customs. Most bananas tend to mingle with other bananas, but are usually quite willing, if not eager, to mingle with non-bananas. Some try specifically to behave with a blend of Canadian and Chinese character, while other do this naturally. Most have parents who were not born in Canada, and most have spent many years of their lives here. Long enough to learn about Canadian culture and history, but also not forgetting their Chinese roots and customs. Most bananas care more about Canada, and would definitely consider themselves Canadian before Chinese, but part of that may be due to the natural patriotic instincts of Canadians. Another significant distinguishing factor of being a banana is not fully understanding where you fit into society. Canadians sometimes believe you are Chinese, and Chinese often believe you are whitewashed. The truth is you are somewhere in between, the neglected offspring of two parents who could care less, though you love them both in your own strange way. You find solace and compassion with them on occasion, but most often, others in your situation are the best companions. You are all growing into adults yourselves, where you will carve your own rules, play with whomever you choose, and become your own people. You are a banana.

My idea of a banana is a very open one, for which many Chinese Canadians qualify. In fact, the more I consider this issue, the more I believe that there is no specific identity at all, that the dividing line is becoming too unclear to understand. Is it even important to have a banana identity if the world is growing ever closer? Perhaps later, it will be moot, but for now, I know it is important to me, because it is an important part of my identity. And that helps me define my eventful yet confused life.


A banana is a curved yellow fruit


(Really, this was a question in a quiz game I competed in. The infamously easy clue went something like: "blah blah blah million tons of these were sold in the United States last year, blah blah blah, Name this curved yellow fruit".)

But as for the question posed, the definition is just as simplistic: "yellow on the outside, white on the inside". An insult to Chinese kids who have lost their ethnic identity - jook sing hollow bamboos not connected to either Chinese or Western culture.

(I tend to use the terms "CBC" and "banana" interchangeably. I'm not trying to reclaim "banana", as if it were "queer" or "nigger"; it just doesn't bother me. For example, to blacks, being called an Oreo is a big deal. You've sold out your brothers and sisters in an effort to "pass" in the dominant white culture. But the difference in flavour between bananas and Oreos is that we don't have hundreds of years of slavery, discrimination, and racial antagonism colouring our relations with the dominant white culture. I don't feel insulted at all by the term - so what if I am "whitewashed"? As journalist Jan Wong wrote in Red China Blues, there are a billion Chinese people in China who can maintain the culture just fine without the help of one Chinese Canadian.)

Back to the topic of what a banana is. I'm afraid that I'm going to have to spout stereotypes here, but:

A banana is someone who straddles the line between mainstream Canadian culture and the new immigrant. We aren't FOBs, our peers who came to Canada to escape 1997, or to start school, or simply to start over in Canada. They know that due to accent and language and their foreign upbringing, they will never fit in. On the other hand, no one thinks of a smiling yellow epicanthal-fold face as when they think of Canadians, so we may never be seen as true Canadians either.

As bananas, we are mainly engineers, doctors, accountants, and other professionals - the secure, quantitative jobs that can bring success to the culturally inadept, like our immigrant parents. We were the hard-working kids in school, properly trained in Confucian self-discipline and with the race memory of thousands of years of exam-writing bureaucrats on our side.

We feel insecure about our Chinese identity. Even if we speak the language flawlessly and maintain the cultural and social traditions of China, we'll never be Chinese enough. Certainly not enough for our parents. But we're Chinese enough to seriously care about respecting their desires.

Being a banana means not belonging clearly to one group or another, and maybe that sense of dissociation is the defining element. I know that my personal experience has been shaped by feeling different from others. I suppose virtually everyone goes through this - typical high school angst - but it's come to be a defining trait. There are two responses to being different, change yourself so you are more similar to the standard, or define 'different' as a desirable trait, and I picked the latter.

So here we are, bananas on the border. Writing about ourselves, and the two continents we bridge.


A Banana in Canada is an Outsider


A banana is someone who has no ethnic association with Canada. I learned this when I went to Asia. I was an exchange student at a university in Taipei and for the first time ever, I did not feel like an outsider.

True, I was not like the people I met. They were born Taiwanese, and I was born Canadian. Yet, I was not different. It did not matter that my Chinese was poor, or that I did not possess their culture or upbringing. My ethnicity did not betray me.

My ethnicity betrays me in Canada. Why is this my home? I call it home because 29 years ago, my parents moved here. Yet our history is not here, nor is our culture, nor is our ethnicity. I am in Canada because my home, a physical house, is in Toronto. If that house were in Spain I would be in Spain and Spain would be my home.

Being a banana in Canada means having no roots here, no logical association to this place, and being forever different. White Canadians are just that, Canadians. Yellow Canadians, however, are ultimately Chinese. We are not ethnically linked here. We are outsiders.


Fusion


To me a Banana, is a mix of the good parts of the Chinese culture with the good parts of the Western culture, with the regular amount of generation gap thrown in there. I'll elaborate. Before I do however, I don't really consider people from Hong Kong and Taiwan to be part of the Chinese Culture - they are a breed of their own. In addition, there are obviously bad fusions between the cultures, but I don't really consider them Bananas, I just consider them to be bad people (Bad Bananas??).

Here are the good traits of the Chinese culture which I like to follow in general. First, I think that Chinese people work very hard at everything they do - I think it's almost a trademark. Chinese people also tend to show more respect, honesty and dare I say a more conservative approach to life.

The Western culture, to me is more liberal and open. The focus of the Western culture is one's self. Perhaps, I'm relating it more to capitalism, but that is almost a trademark of the Western culture.

I think that the combination of the two creates a person who knows that he is free but knows not to abuse it. In addition, it allows one to develop as an individual and be aware of what makes them so.

Now, it seems all fine and dandy that I say this, but not all is well in paradise because, like the guys said in Banana Boys, we belong nowhere.

Banana's live in a philosophy of their own, whether they like it or not. The combination of cultures will produce conflict. This is because as separate traits in different individuals they are very diametric. That is a very disciplined person will despise recklessness just as an old experienced person never approves of the over anxious youth. Likewise, a very liberal person will despise discipline because it undoubtedly stifles one's freedom like the young engineer thinking they can take over the world. In one person however, it will either pull them apart or bring about a new kind of person as I have described above.

So, I think a Banana is fusion of cultures. In particular, I believe it is a fusion of the good traits. The resulting conflicts will go away with the next generation...but that's another story to tell isn't it.

P.S. I know that I've written things very simply and maybe somewhat strongly, but hey, it's a blog not a PhD thesis.


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