This year has no doubt been a trying one for Jon and Kate Gosselin. Not only did the couple file for divorce but also the rumor mill linked Jon to a slew of young hotties and Kate to her beefy bodyguard. Given this, it seems hard to believe that just last year the Gosselins appeared by all means to be one very big happy family. Take the “Korean Dinner” episode which debuted July 2008. In it, Jon—whose father is French and Welsh and mother is Korean—tries to teach his children about their Asian heritage. Unfortunately, Jon, along with Kate, does a pretty abysmal job in educating the children about culture.
For starters, the first scene from the episode is of Kate bowing in stereotypical fashion. Moreover, when discussing the ingredients needed for his Korean dinner, Jon assumes a stereotypical accent. “Ancient Chinese recipe,” he says as if he were Mickey Rooney playing Mr. Yunioshi in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” To make matters worse, Kate assumes the same mock accent later on.
So, what do their children learn from this? Asians speak funny. The kids learn that Asian foods smell funny, too. When Jon takes some of them to an Asian grocery store, the kids declare that the goods inside “smell yucky.” This could have been a teachable moment, with Jon educating his children about the food in the store or even suggesting that the children replace the word “yucky” with “different.” Jon, however, simply laughs.
In the episode, we also learn that the children don’t understand who in their household is Korean.
“They have arguments in the car about who is Asian and who is not, and it boils down to me and Alexis are the only non-Asians in the whole house,” Kate remarks. But, on the flipside, one of the children tells Kate, “I’m Asian just like you.”In response, Kate laughs and says, “You are?”
Some of the children even wonder if their stuffed animals are Asian.
While race is a complicated issue for children to grasp, numerous studies indicate that children as young as three have an understanding of it. This means that Jon and Kate could have at least pulled out a map, pointed to Korea and explained that Koreans are people from that country. There’s no reason why they should go around believing that inanimate objects can be Korean. Moreover, it’s also important for them to understand that each child in their household is both Korean and white, lest the children deemed non-Asian develop some sort of complex. Kate already notes that some of the children get angry when told they are not Asian, so why not nip this issue in the bud?
Mixed in with the meal preparation was a generous heaping of martial tension. Although Kate knows little to nothing about Asian cuisine—she’s never even heard of the popular dessert mochi—she tries to do things her own way when helping cook the meal Jon is making. When Jon insists that Kate follow his family recipe and separate the green and white onions from each other, Kate calls him “stubborn.”
Interracial tensions flare as Jon tells Kate that she simply doesn’t understand. “It’s an Asian recipe,” he says. “It has to be perfect or it will not turn out.”
Kate not only tries to prepare the food how she thinks is fit, she attempts to correct Jon’s pronunciation of Korean food, telling him that he shouldn’t shorten bulgogi to “gogi.” When he tells her that this is the equivalent of shortening hamburger to burger, she stands corrected, responding with a simple, “Oh.”
In these exchanges between the couple, it’s difficult to know what force is at play. Is Kate assuming the role of culturally superior Westerner or simply being a controlling wife? At one point, she even tries to kick Jon out of the kitchen, arguing that she needs the space.
Once all is done, though, Kate gives props to Jon for preparing a delicious meal. “I did doubt that he would be able to pull off our dinner,” she admits.
Jon, on the other hand, sees the dinner as more than a meal but as a window into his cultural heritage.
“I think it was important to do this for my family, to show them that I care about my heritage, and you should, too,” he says.
It’s too bad that in the process of making the meal, the Gosselin children were exposed to stereotypes and superficialities about what it means to be Asian. How did Kate, for instance, style Mady’s hair for the occasion? She pulled it into an ill-shaped bun and stuck chopsticks in it. And if the kids ever decide to watch the “Korean Dinner,” they’ll hear the soundtrack TLC set it to—Chinese music.
Yep, they’re Korean, all right.
Nadra Kareem has written about race for the Los Angeles Times‘ Inland Valley edition, the El Paso Times, the Santa Fe Reporter and the L.A. Watts Times. Additionally, her writing has been featured on the websites LA Beez and Racialicious.com. You can more from Nadra at her own blog on about.com.
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