Is race about genes or nurturing received in childhood?

If you must blame someone for today’s post, blame Charlie Sheen. Before I go any further, let me state that I am a big fan of the former “2 and a Half Men” star despite his obvious personal dysfunction. So how is this his fault?

Hear me out: I was driving home from sending HRH to work this morning when  a radio host on Perth’s 94.5 said, quoting Charlie Sheen, “I don’t wake up feeling Latino. I’m a white guy in America.” Read more on http://latino.foxnews.com/latino/entertainment/2012/07/12/charlie-sheen-on-being-latino-never-part-my-life/#ixzz2USHQdGUe

In the interview with Univision News, Charlie Sheen went on to say that he isn’t ashamed of his background or running away from it, “But I was born in New York and grew up in Malibu.”

Having come across innumerable second and third generation migrants in the course of my travels around Australia, I’ve found this to be a common phenomenon, instead of the rarity non-migrants think it is. Before you start hurling apples at the likes of Charlie Sheen, calling them “traitors to the race”, consider what the main problem with being an ethnic minority in the West is: the lack of exposure to your own language and culture.

You’d be amazed to learn that this lack of exposure often starts at home. Sure, your parents can speak your so-called “mother tongue.” They do so to each other, relatives and same-race friends all the time. But do they speak it to you? I’ve found many parents speak English to their children but somehow expect these same children to be able to converse fluently in their mother tongues. Frankly, I’m guilty of this myself: I’m still hoping that one fine day, Amanda will wake up spouting the perfect phlegm-inducing Mandarin of mainlanders even though I draw a blank from her every time I ask her what she learned at Mandarin class.

Well, we all have our dreams. I look to my two sisters, whom I have made nary a mention of on this blog, out of respect for their privacy, to form some sort of conclusion as to whether race is in our genes or upbringing.

The fact is if you were to see the 3 of us coming down a street, you wouldn’t think we were related, much less the products of the same womb. You’d look at us and think, “Who are those people with Estella?”

My eldest sister, Rachel, a purchasing specialist residing just outside of London, looks much like her white father, in that she can pass off for being totally white. My second sister, Rebecca, a top-notch divorce lawyer in Cardiff, has Rachel’s lower face but our mother’s Chinese-sy eyes. Since both spent their formative years in Malaysia, both speak Malay and understand Cantonese. Rachel though, lives as a white person would, whilst Rebecca is very proud to be identified as half-Chinese. I judge neither for their choices as they went through hell growing up in an unevolved Malaysia during the 80s – rejected and vilified by Chinese, the targets of racism even among family, who have thankfully grown to see the error of their ways. Far be it for me, who has experienced no such vilification, to get on my high horse and insist they “honour their Chinese heritage.”

Amanda is another case altogether. Even if, as an adult, she were to feel more comfortable in the company of whites than her own kind or wind up marrying someone outside of our race, I’d still very much like for her to embrace her Chinese-ness – leaving out the inherent bigotry and xenophobia of course. I recognise that whether she does so or not depends very much on my current efforts to educate her and of her own acceptance or rejection of her identity. What I’ve discovered is that many second and third generation migrants do take an interest in their own language and culture once, and only if, they get pass that adolescent and early adulthood phase of proving they are “just like the white guy.”

As for Charlie, he’s welcome to call Rebecca for consultation and representation the next time he gets divorce, which if you ask me, is probably some time soon after he gets remarried. And should any of you need a fabulous, win-’em-all, divorce lawyer in the UK, or perhaps simply some advice on asset division and custody issues, just PM me for her contact details. Mention you read about her on By Estella Dot Com and she’ll give you a good discount.