An Encounter Leads to Personal Awareness

From time to time, we have all asked, “”Who am I?”” in a desperate search for identity, both in terms of cultural makeup and personality. In a world where national barriers are quickly falling down, globalization is picking up momentum and marriage between people of different ethnicities is on the rise, another question some people may ask is, “”What am I?””

Poet and writer Paisley Rekdal addresses these questions in her book, “”The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee.”” A nonfiction work about Rekdal’s own experiences, the book examines how a person of mixed heritage is viewed through the eyes of native Chinese, Koreans and Japanese people. Rekdal herself is mixed; her mother is Chinese-American while her father is Norwegian. However, she looks almost entirely white. Rekdal’s duality is set against the duality with which she examines her own identity: the micro sense of self-analysis and the macro sense of how the world views her.

Rekdal humorously writes on her travels in China, Korea, Japan and the Philippines and critically explores how people in each nation view her. At the end of the book, she comes to a conclusion about ethnicity, about who she is, what she is, and likewise helps us come to our own conclusion. What is most memorable for me is that Rekdal does so through a compassionate and humorous lens, setting her book apart from other, drier, critical ethnic studies literature. She unabashedly retells anecdotes, whether embarrassing or personal. But because of this, the reader’s attention is captured and keeps him reading, even if the book is used in an Asian ethnic studies course or an Asian-American literature course.

The book starts off with what the title implies: the night Rekdal’s mother met Bruce Lee. Her mother, still a teen-ager at the time, was working in a restaurant. While the introduction goes on and describes the situation in which her mother met Lee (I’m going to skip it and let you laugh about it yourself).

The story humorously continues with Rekdal’s experiences living in China with a group of foreign students. It also talks about her hearing what they think about Asians, living with a conservative Japanese family, teaching English in South Korea, her travels in the Philippines and even in her own bedroom. Again, the narrative shifts back and forth between her own developing views on her identity and how the world views her. Readers are given the chance to witness how she comes to her resolution on identities and how she comes to terms with herself.

I am purposefully holding back on much of the detailed descriptions of “”The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee.”” Moreso than with other books, to even hint at what transpires in this book is to give away the meaning of it: how to view oneself. While Rekdal does come to a conclusion on who and what she is, the book must be read on a personal level and the reader must come to his own conclusions. In essence, it is a book that must be enjoyed selfishly.

I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Asian-American literature and ethnic studies. It takes a different approach to exploring Asian identities and ethnic identity, filled with smiles and laughter. “”The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee”” will keep the reader interested, yet still provide the critical analyses that are found in similar literature.

Buried beneath the humor and embarrassing moments are the opinions expressed in many Asian ethnic studies courses on racial and ethnic identities. “”Perhaps I am afraid to become as my appearance suggests — ‘merely white’ — because then I have nothing to distinguish myself,”” she writes, looking at her own identification as white and what it means to be white in relation to other races. If you’re an ethnic studies major, you know exactly what she is referring to.

“”The Night My Mother Met Bruce Lee”” is a fantastic book that critically examines race and identity in the 21st century, where people of mixed heritage are more and more common. It looks at the same old beliefs of racial analysis through the lens of humor and anecdotes, leaving the reader with a smile on his face, while nodding his head in understanding.””

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