By Christina Cho ’24
This is a two-part series that broadly explores how discussions of “Asian American” identity and interracial dating overlap in student publications found in the University Archives. In Part 1, I examine a magazine called The Seedling and attempt to contextualize its underlying motive and somewhat ambiguous language.
Finding The Seedling
After reading “A Brief History of Asian and Asian American Students at Princeton,” I wanted to learn more about the Asian American students who attended Princeton before me. During my search for Asian American perspectives in the archives, a magazine called The Seedling particularly caught my attention. As I’ll discuss in this post, The Seedling approaches the subject of “Asian American identity” from an angle I was not expecting.
Arthur Yee ’84 founded The Seedling in 1981 as a newsletter for the Asian American Students Association (AASA). In the 1980s, AASA was making a conscious effort to address its political inactivity, which had followed a period of intense activism in the 1970s after changes in AASA’s leadership. In 1981, AASA held an emergency meeting to discuss its many “organizational problems” and the “prevalent apathetic attitude of Asians and other students on this campus.” The Seedling demonstrates a way in which AASA renewed its commitment to community-building among Asian American students.
Difficulties Interpreting the “Preservation of Blood”
I found two editions of The Seedling in the Davis International Center Records. One edition (April 1983) discusses Asian American identity through the lens of interracial relationships. Since the cover advertises this edition as “A look at Asian American dating,” I was expecting articles on intraracial dating (i.e., relationships between Asians of different ethnicities). Thus, I was surprised when reading a commentary by Raynard Cheung ’85, who discusses the phenomenon of “marrying into the majority.” Regarding Asian-White couples, Cheung concludes the following:
It is the case of the individual, the decision to marry outside of racial bound is not subject to judgement by anyone, family, peer group, or even by this commentator. If he/she is certain about his/her choice, then his/her choice is utterly beyond reproach.
BUT… (and here, perhaps is where the fanatic obsessive does take over) there remains the question of what happens if the entire Asian body is eventually married into the majority group. Is there a guarantee of the ‘preservation of blood’ in the hypothetical long-run? If not then is it to be assumed that Asian characteristics, owing to some inherent inferiority perhaps, are to be eventually bred out?
Group identity cannot be attained, or maintained, if the ethnic group eventually loses its physical as well as its cultural separateness. Thus, provided that within the group there will always be individuals who choose to preserve racial integrity as part of their self-determination process, the physical identity of the group will be maintained.
It seems that dating had strong implications for marriage and future generations. This passage made me reflect on my own assumptions about dating and how its conceptualization has become more “casual”—at least for some—in recent decades. This change, of course, goes hand in hand with people’s changing attitudes towards marriage and the later age at which people get married. If I were to write about interracial dating today, I would probably focus more on the interpersonal dynamics within a relationship. Cheung, however, focuses on the long-term consequences of relationships, asking whether interracial marriage threatens the “preservation of blood.”
I also found it difficult to interpret Cheung’s use of “preservation of blood” and “Asian characteristics.” On one hand, these phrases suggest that Cheung valued something similar to today’s concept of “representation.” Minority students can derive a sense of comfort from seeing others who look like them, especially at a place like Princeton. “Preservation of blood” may also point to the importance of family lineage in East Asian cultures.
On the other hand, I was disturbed by how Cheung uses the phrase “preservation of blood” in conjunction with “racial integrity,” a term that reinforces the misconception that race has biological origins. Additionally, I couldn’t help but associate Cheung’s use of “racial integrity” with the language of twentieth-century eugenics. In fact, Virginia banned intterracial marriage in 1924 with the “Racial Integrity Act.” (This law was overturned over forty years later in the landmark Loving v. Virginia Supreme Court case.)
Cheung never opposes interracial dating or marriage, and he emphasizes that “the decision to marry outside of racial bound is not subject to judgement by anyone.” However, the kind of language Cheung uses to convey this message—regardless of his intention—has connotations that originate from contexts beyond the discussion of Asian American identity.
At the same time, I realized during my research that Cheung’s commentary was situated within a larger context of works published by other Asian Americans. In the next section, I’ll explain how reading these works can help us better understand Cheung’s message in The Seedling.
Cheung Responds to “White Male Qualities” (and Its Racist Ideas)
Cheung’s article comments on a piece called “White Male Qualities,” which was written by an anonymous author and first published in Gida—a monthly newspaper for Asian Americans—in January 1970. In 1971, the article was reprinted in Roots: An Asian American Reader, which is possibly the first anthology of Asian American writing ever published. In The Seedling, the editors write that the Roots reprint of “White Male Qualities” is what first inspired the theme of Asian American dating.
“White Male Qualities” perpetuates harmful stereotypes about Asian men, despite the fact that Roots was intended for an Asian American audience. These stereotypes have legal origins in antimiscegenation laws, which “were often employed as a means to maintain racial domination when minority members were perceived as a threat by the dominant group.” Here is a short passage from “White Male Qualities,” which contains extremely derogatory language:
It seems that Oriental girls […] will not settle for the short, ugly, unconfident, clumsy, arrogant Oriental man that we are all plagued with.
Given this context, we can understand Cheung’s commentary as a response to racial stereotypes. Emphasis on racial solidarity is how Cheung gives “Asian characteristics” a positive, meaningful significance. By reading “White Male Qualities,” we can also see tension between how the two authors understand the “preservation of blood.” The author of “White Male Qualities” writes:
I have been lucky in my decision–my parents want me to marry for love and happiness, and not for preservation of the blood […] I feel that if I make any contributions to the community, they will be better for having married him…
The author juxtaposes “love and happiness” with the “preservation of the blood,” suggesting that her marriage is a kind of resistance to traditional (perhaps Confucian) expectations. Furthermore, she implies that this “love and happiness” will allow her to make greater “contributions to the community.”
The idea that interracial marriage either contributes or takes away from “the community” is something we see in both The Seedling and “White Male Qualities.” Comparing “White Male Qualities” with The Seedling thus allows us to see two diverging perspectives on what interracial relationships mean for Asian Americans as a (constructed) whole. Both articles reveal the ways in which dating takes on a political significance for minority groups.
In my research, I found a study that articulates my issue with “White Male Qualities.” Karen Pyke, the author, conducted 128 interviews with second-generation Korean- and Vietnamese-American women. Pyke found “widely circulating discourses that glorify white masculinity and denigrate Asian masculinity.” In fact, many interviewees understood dating White men as a “strategy for resisting Asian American men’s gender oppression.” Ironically, this act of “resistance” upholds the kinds of stereotypes we saw in “White Male Qualities.” (The anonymous author’s decision to choose “love and happiness” comes at the expense of perpetuating racist ideologies.) Pyke suggests that the debate about whether Asian-White relationships are “good” or “bad” for the community is limited by its binary approach:
When we define as resistance any individual act designed to increase the mobility of the oppressed, we risk overlooking how such actions can rely on and reproduce larger structures of domination. We need to consider how structures of power can direct and co-opt resistance, rendering it ineffective, or worse, obscuring how it reproduces the very structures it intends to oppose.
Thinking that one’s relationship is “resistance,” according to Pyke, has its limits. Likewise, as we see in The Seedling, framing Asian-White relationships as “compliance” also has its own pitfalls. Both The Seedling and “White Male Qualities” demonstrate the binary way in which Asian Americans have thought about interracial relationships.
This concludes Part 1. In Part 2, I will expand on “White Male Qualities” and its preference for White men. I will also introduce other pieces of student writing that discuss interracial dating at Princeton University from the 1980s to the early 2000s.
Christina Cho is a sophomore who plans to concentrate in Religion. Beyond Mudd Library, she works as a Fellow in the Writing Center and sings a cappella in VTone, Princeton’s East Asian music group.
Roots: An Asian-American Reader, ed. Amy Tachiki et al. Los Angeles: University of California-Los Angeles Press, 1971.
For Further Reading:
Pyke, Karen. “An Intersectional Approach to Resistance and Complicity: The Case of Racialised Desire among Asian American Women.” Journal of Intercultural Studies 31, no. 1 (February 2010): 81-94.