Whitewashing Culture by Leang Ngov

image description: long haired Leang, wearing beige t-shirt with long necklace, sitting in front of a fireplace with mantle which holds four Cambodian statues and glide chair next to the fireplace]

Titled “Whitewashing Culture”

[transcription: When I posted a while ago about whitewashing culture, I noticed that people had difficult time accepting that. As the first generation here in America, which means I was born here and my family were not, I have experienced a lot of cultural clashes. Using my own life experiences, I can tell you that we do indeed live in whitewashing culture.

Let me give you several examples from my experience:

When I was a kid, let me say first I grew up eating homemade food from my culture, anyway once I wanted to bring a lunch from home to school because I was tired of eating lunch at school and we were on a field trip. I actually made my own lunch and I was only 7 years old because my family didn’t know how to make American lunch. Ironically, what I packed wasn’t your typical American lunch like PB + jelly sandwich lunch. I thought the food I packed were normal and I was so excited. When it was lunchtime, we were eating our lunch. I’d get comments, like “Umm…what is that?” and disgusted looks from my peers and even my teachers, too.
If I were to dress “strangely” or behave differently, I’d get labeled “FOB” which stands for fresh off boat. That term is a racial slur.
The only times I’d get compliments for wearing my traditional cultural clothes is when we celebrate Cultural Appreciation Day at school, or for photo op. However, if I were to wear them on street on everyday thing, I’d get called “gook” or “FOB,” or comments like “Aren’t you proud to be American?” “You’re not patriotic!” “Go back to where you came from!” Even though I could’ve said the same thing to them because if you look far back in their family history, they were originated from Europe or elsewhere. I personally have seen many white people wearing clothes from other cultures and they would be praised for being well-rounded people, or for being open-minded or for being enlightened. I have personally seen white folks wearing loose yoga pants with tank top, having already traveled from India and they’d get praised that they looked like they’ve had such awakening journey. Can the same thing be said about Indians for wearing the clothes from their own culture here? I’m not talking about wedding but in general. On a side note, I wanted to add my recent epiphany: my firstborn was wanting to wear a sarong from my family’s culture to school, and I protested against this and caught myself before telling them to not wear such clothing because it would look strange. This was the result of me being whitewashed for so long and I nearly passed that onto my children, who are the 2nd generation.

Those were just few examples of what I went through every day growing up and it taught me to judge other races if they were not being whitewashed enough to blend in.

As I continue to unpack, the more disgusted I get at the concerning social injustice issues. I admit, at first I didn’t understand why Native Americans were upset that people were wearing their cultural clothes and accessories, and I didn’t understand the concept of cultural appropriation. Now, I understand that my identity as an minority….as the first generation here in America…was being taken away, yet white people are profiting from my culture. It is upsetting because after unpacking and recognizing this problem, I’m noticing that this is happening in my family’s country. I recently visited Cambodia and I see organization and business being run in Cambodia by white people. We’re being made fun of for our culture…for our cultural clothing…for our language…for our physical appearance. As our identity are being stripped away by this whitewashing culture, people who have not experienced racism and oppression on the same level as us get to move in and profit from all these things that were stolen from us? Hearing people are not the only cultural appropriation offenders…I see this happening in my own Deaf community. I’m calling for the community accountability. People don’t realize that by swooping in my country and run their business using MY people…using MY culture…using MY country…to profit for themselves, they’re taking the opportunities away from Deaf Khmers. They…no, I mean, we, as Deaf Khmers, do not need saviors. Why not partner up or set up workshops to show us how to run our own businesses or start our own organizations? Think of Deaf President Now…who’s better suited to run the world’s 1st Deaf university than a Deaf member of our community? Or what about Baby Signs? Who’s better suited to teach hearing babies AND Deaf babies than a Deaf member of our community whose primary language is sign language? Now, the question is, who is better suited to run the organizations and businesses that have to do with my culture…with my country in Cambodia than those who were born and raised in my culture? It is not something that people can “study” for a few years and be qualified as an expert.

Ending this vlog with this thought: if you wanted to purchase items or obtain the services, please consider doing so from authentic sources.]