Jews and Asians - We Go Together Like Peanut Butter and Jelly
By Alex Chester
I’m a product of a Jewish mother and a Japanese-American father. I have always referred to myself as a JAP-squared, aka Japanese-American Princess/Jewish-American Princess.
I grew up in white Orange County, California, where I was the only Jewish kid at school in addition to being the only Hapa. Since moving to NYC, two of my best friends and my hubby are also half-Jews. Never mind the fact that my bestie Rebecca and my hubs Matt are distantly related to me (thanks 23andMe). This is all on the Jewish side. Apparently, we Jews like to keep it in the family.
I began wondering why Jews and Asians seem to marry each other so often. Often, misogynistic Asian males will call Asian females “race traitors” for marrying a non-Asian dude. They say they can never get a date because women don’t like Asian men. I call bullshit. My mamma has yellow fever. Maybe you can’t get a date because you’re not a nice person. Have you thought of that? But I digress...
After much thought, I believe the reasons Jews and Asians mix so well really comes down to some interesting intersectional cultural similarities: the racism, and model minority myths both groups share.
Jews and Asians will never be considered “white.” There is a crap load of racism toward both my peoples. I have been told to “go back to the country I came from,” I have been told I’ll go to hell cause Jesus isn’t my Lord and Savior. I have been told I don’t “look” Jewish, to which I responded, “oh I guess my horns aren’t showing.” White America will never accept me and maybe at one point in my life that really bothered me, but it doesn’t anymore. Mixed people are the face of America. We are what this country really represents: the cross-pollination of different cultures, races, and creeds. We aren’t going anywhere. In fact, in 100 years we will be the majority in the United States and I think that is just awesome!
Both Jews and Asians are affected by the model minority myth. Most people think Jews and Asians are wealthy and good at math.
Guess what? Some of us suck at math and have no money. The only reason people think all Jewish folks are rich is that for centuries Jews were only allowed to hold specific jobs, like money lenders. Because of this Jewish people are usually associated with having money.
Both groups have also been the butt of jokes for years and years. It’s sh*tty.
Another aspect, especially in Asian and Orthodox Jewish culture, is the lack of mental health care. If someone has a problem, it is ignored, which is horrible. Thus, we keep passing down our mental instabilities to our children and the cycle continues. Maybe it’s getting better within communities but I think it is something vastly ignored as it is seen as shameful, or not “strong.”
Family is a very, very important component of both cultures. Family and community come first before self. It is not unusual for older relatives to live with their children and help raise grandkids. It is not strange for kids to live with their parents for a lot longer than what American society deems “normal.”
I also think Jewish and Asian cultures respect their elders differently. We are more “hands-on.” It is rare (at least from what I have observed) to throw an aging parent into a convalescent home. We take care of our seniors, we respect them and treat them well.
I think the way American society views growing “old” is almost looked down upon. How dare you age? We seem obsessed with creams, injections, and diets that will erase years from our skin. Don’t get me wrong, I’m vain AF, but I also believe in aging gracefully and I’ve earned my laugh lines dammit! Of course, ask me how I feel about getting older in 15 years and I’ll probably be the first in line for Botox.
We eat weird food. We Jews love gefilte fish, schmaltz, fried matzo, lox, pickled herring in cream, and matzo ball soup. Asians love soondubu, mochi, boba tea, fish sauce, phở, ramen, raw fish, soup dumplings, etc. All this yumminess is the norm for me. Personally, I think a casserole is strange AF. Someone please explain them to me!
Oh, and we cannot forget Jewish Christmas, aka the day Jews go get Chinese food on because it’s the only thing open, and it’s yummy. This practically begs for a marriage proposal!
I’m sure I’ve missed a few connections for why we seem drawn to one another.
I have to think it really just comes down to basic human need to be “seen” and “heard.” This is something both groups still struggle with.
Many Jewish folks have had to hide their Jewishness for fear of their lives, job security, etc. While many Asian-Americans are constantly having to prove they are “American,” they have to behave in a “white” way to make themselves become accepted into “American” society.
My last and final reason why we go together is LOVE. Maybe the simplest reason is the most accurate and human of all. Love.
Alex Chester is the creator and producer of the theatre company WeSoHapa - a theatre based on diversity and inclusion. She is a New York City based columnist for On Stage Blog and contributing writer for ManhattanDigest.com and HuffPo. She also hosts a podcast with fellow writer Melissa Slaughter, We're Not All Ninjas. Follow her on Twitter/Instagram @AlexFChester if you like food and cats.