I felt frequently frustrated visiting my family last weekend for my grandmother/popo‘s funeral. My relatives typically talk about inanely boring things and this was barely any exception. It’s strange having to put on my masculine face for hours and hours on end. I felt like snapping at my brother numerous times (and did not always restrain myself) during the viewing ceremony of popo‘s body. It disturbed me to play the role of “grandson” of a woman that i did not know very well.
Another part of what grated on my mind was the inherent sexism of the ceremony. We sometimes stood and sometimes kneeled in a particular order before the two altars in the funeral home based on gender and relationship to my popo, the mother of my mother.
D aughters-in-Law (lined up beside their respective husbands)
Grandsons (by sons)
Grandsons (by daughters)
Granddaughters (by sons)
Granddaughters (by daughters)
There was also something sexist about the bowing. All people who had come to pay their respects had to bow to the altar three times, bow once to the men, walk around to where the body is (behind the main altar) and then bow once to the women and once more to the men.
This was mostly frustrating for me because my brother was clearly lost about the order of things taking place and i felt that i had to play the role of the responsible, oldest son when in fact i was neither the oldest nor the son. I felt an obligation to family to help things move along smoothly. Which basically meant that i did what i was told. The one upshot of my brother not being mentally organized is that because he didn’t quite know where to stand, we and my cousin who is a woman and daughter of a one of my grandmother’s sons messed up the order a bit, which gave me some bit of satisfaction. Unfortunately, nobody cared enough about where the three of us were to start anything since we were all in the back anyway (my mother is the only daughter to have children).
In terms of ceremony, my family did typically Chinese Buddhist things to ensure that my grandmother would have a prosperous, happy afterlife, such as provide food on the altar that she had enjoyed eating, presenting offerings of paper gold, paper money at the altar, and hiring Chinese Buddhist monks (women and men) to chant and play small gongs. One especially notable practice: from the time of death until 14 days afterwards, the family is not supposed to eat meat. I think this has to do with some idea about karma, but i don’t understand how the concept of karma meshes with a belief in the afterlife. I mean, aren’t reincarnation and the idea of heaven and hell contradictory?
At one point i almost got into an argument with my mother. It wasn’t something rational, really, and I hadn’t thought it through at all, but i started bringing my gender into a conversation about how i felt it was unfair that two of my uncles, two white guys married to my aunts who live in Florida, were not expected to follow the vegetarian regiment that the rest of us did. I did not bring up race explicitly in the conversation, but it was certainly understood as part of the subtext. Unsurprisingly, she had no idea why i was talking about my gender.
Later that day, my brother, who did go to college but never took any ethnic studies classes there, asked me, while we were alone in the parking lot of Soup Plantation: “Are white people superior?”
When i asked him to make the question more clear, mostly to find out what had pushed him to finally consider that question and ask it, he told me to forget about it.
While wandering around in the buffet lines, i thought about how fitting and ironic that my brother would ask that question while we were in a place called Soup PLANTATION. The association of “plantation”and slavery had obviously been lost on the founders of this family restaurant and on the numerous people of color who had gone there to dine.
That evening, while he drove, i started to provide examples of how people of color are NOT inferior to white people by naming people of color who have been notable inventors and scientists since my brother is was a math major in college and overall does not pay attention to things like fiction and philosophy. I was tempted to bring up a lot of historical and psychological issues related to internalized racism, but i did not want to reintroduce the subject on an automatically political note. He didn’t say anything in response. Maybe he heard me, maybe he didn’t. Still, i know that unlearning racism is a long process, gradual and needing patience.