Posts Tagged ‘Race’

Fowl language: Thanksgiving, Deadly Viper, and how we got the word “turkey”

turkey3New posts have been noticeably absent here on semaphoric, and it has been some six months since I last updated the blog. What better time for a new entry than this Thanksgiving season. At the risk of disappointing my readers, I will not gush about the things I’m thankful for (even though there is an abundance to be thankful for). Rather, this entry is about origins. This is also about the recent Deadly Viper controversy. Although this controversy has been in the making for weeks, the situation still requires continuing reflection and critique.

Origins is about beginnings. Yet this is not about how we arrived at a certain physical reality. This is about how certain physical reality came to define a linguistic reality and how the interplay between the two strengthens the reality we perceive. In particular, this has to do with what and how we perceive what’s foreign and exotic and how we use words to caricaturize what seems different and strange to us. And this has to with the bird we eat on Thanksgiving, the turkey.

Coincidentally, the bird shares the same name as the country Turkey. Was the bird named after the country or the country after the bird? The answer to this chicken-or-egg question is difficult to ascertain. The word “Turkey” itself probably originated from an ancient Chinese word naming the people living in southern Central Asia. The geo-political entity of Turkey was never known as “Turkey” since demarcation of this country’s boundaries did not occur until the end of WWI. From the 13th century until the First World War, Turkey was simply known as Osman or the Ottoman Empire. However, the modern name for Turkey comes from the Medieval Latin turchia, and by the mid-1200’s, the word turki had appeared in the Old English lexicon to describe people who are part of the Turkic family group.

The myth of the model minority

Binghamton shooting Another mass shooting. This time in Binghamton, New York, and the alleged gunman is Asian American. This is the second of such shooting where the perpetrator is Asian American. When news of the Virginia Tech tragedy first broke two years ago, I did not believe for the longest time the gunman was a fellow Asian American. I said to my roommate at the time that Asian Americans just don’t go around shooting people. Being Korean American himself, my roommate nodded with me in agreement. If you grew up Asian American, you were taught from a very young age to excel in school so you can get into a good college so you can graduate, find a good job, start a family, live happily into old age. Your whole life is wrapped up in reaching this end. You’re hard-working, disciplined, enterprising. You were told not to make a fuss about anything else. You’re a model for what it means to make it in this country; you’re the paragon of immigrants in America; you’re the par excellence of the American Dream.

But this label isn’t true. Asian Americans are just like everyone else, we struggle deeply with our family relationships, our jobs, our identity, our place in this world. We struggle with divorce, depression, homelessness, poverty, broken relationships, teenage pregnancies. The list goes on. Yes, we work hard and we seem to have everything together. But we have real problems that no one seems to notice. The label of “model minority” is a misnomer, a misjudgment of character that the majority culture has placed on a minority. This label makes our problems and ultimately our own being invisible to the majority. This is what I call linguistic colonialism. We are not the paragon; we’re just as messed up as the person sitting next to us. The shooting today goes to show that there needs be evermore attention given to helping and assisting minorities and immigrant in their plight, whether social, psychological, or physical.

The Binghamton shooting is sad, reprehensible and evil, that anyone, let alone an Asian American would commit such heinous murders. This tragedy jarred my memory back two years ago to Virginia Tech. It soon hit me that that anyone can brandish a gun and shoot down people, whether you’re white, yellow, red, black. Hatred and anger isn’t the function of race; they’re functions of the heart. If anything, I’m just like everyone else; I’m a mass murderer ten times over because I’ve already committed murder when I have hatred in my heart.

Introducing Semaphoric

flagSo it begins: this blog was set to launch at the start of 2009 when procrastination took over the better of me. Although this first post dates back to January, it took some three months to get this project off the ground. I’m still putting this blog through its paces — there are a number of content and technical issues being worked out. Instead of having semaphoric launch in entire completeness, I’m planning to fill in the space as the blog progresses. For the most part, semaphoric is off and running.

What is semaphoric? From the Greek word sema for signs, semaphoric simply refers to semaphores, a system of visual signs designed to convey a message. Used primarily on ships and railroads, semaphore is the simplest way to signal and transmit messages.

Why semaphoric? From the obvious — billboards, traffic lights, spam ads, trademarks, to the less obvious —  maps, metaphors, hip-hop artists, a peacock’s plumes, signs are all around us. We make and utilize signs to interact with the world, and in turn, signs influence how we see and understand the world.

semaphoric examines signs of culture and faith and considers how both influence the way we understand ourselves, shape our theology, and how we perceive the world. For the most part, semaphoric is like any blog with its contents reflecting the thoughts and musings of its author.

Who is semaphoric? Entirely conceived by me and one else. I hope you enjoy the great-taste-and-no-filling flavor of semaphoric!

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