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1990s: The Golden Decade : REFLECTIONS : 'It was kind of an iffy situation.'

January 15, 1990|Jonathan Gaw

Virginia Wing, 45

Actress, mother of two

Fourth generation

Born in Mississippi

"Being a Chinese in Mississippi was really tough in some ways because you never knew where you stood. I was fortunate in that my family came over at the turn of the century, so I had uncles who were sheriffs and mayors of towns. In my hometown, there's a street named after my uncle.

"The South was really black and white, so you had to belong to one or the other. In my particular hometown, we were considered white because we didn't have to sit in the back of the movie theater or drink out of other fountains.

"But when I would go to another town in Mississippi, in those towns we were considered black. So it was kind of an iffy situation.

"I guess it wasn't all positive either because I wasn't very daring. I don't think Chinese are raised to be very daring. We're raised really to be conformists.

"So I think that any creative spirit I had was tempered a lot by my Chinese upbringing. I guess the most daring thing I did was to get out of Mississippi.

"I think it was a survivalist instinct in them (her parents) that they needed to do things in the American way to survive, especially in that society they had to belong as much as possible.

"My mother became a Southern Baptist; I was raised in a Southern Baptist church. And I was things like homecoming queen, things that Chinese girls just weren't.

"I think one of my problems in acting has been that I'm not really Chinese. My whole chemistry is very American. I think roles are written for Chinese or Asians but not Asian-Americans and not Chinese-Americans.

"At heart, I'm really Chinese, but there are so many overlays. My ex-husband was Jewish, and I'm very comfortable with blacks. I'm just a mixture of a lot of things, but I guess basically I am Chinese.

"Sometimes you have to say some lines that you can hardly believe that you're saying like, 'Buddha bless you,' or, 'Buddha be with you,' those kinds of things. But I think things are a little more open now. You can say to a director that, you know, one would not say this.

"Assimilating--you're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't in some ways. If you assimilate in a business where your reason for being is because you're Chinese, if you assimilate into the mainstream too much, you are no longer that product. I would work a lot more if I had an accent and was very Chinese. . . .

"It's like I have a friend who is black, and she cannot tap dance. It's not that she doesn't have the ability to tap dance, it's because there's something in her psyche that says, 'You people have made me tap dance; my people tap dance too much.' I guess there's a little of that in me."

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