Asian Americans: Can We Be Bohemian? Nah!
Bohemianism is the practice of an unconventional lifestyle, often in the company of like-minded people, with few permanent ties, involving musical, artistic or literary pursuits.
In this context, Bohemians can be wanderers, adventurers, or vagabonds.
This use of the word bohemian first appeared in the English language in the 19th century to describe the non-traditional lifestyles of marginalized and impoverished artists, writers, journalists, musicians, and actors in major European cities. Bohemians were associated with unorthodox or anti-establishment political or social viewpoints, which were often expressed through free love, frugality, and voluntary poverty.
The term Bohemianism emerged in France in the early 19th century when artists and creators began to concentrate in the lower-rent, lower class gypsy neighborhoods. Bohémien was a common term for the Romani people of France, who had reached Western Europe via Bohemia.
I had no idea that there was an actual country called Bohemia from which the term Bohemian is derived. In my mind, Bohemian is Haight-Ashbury San Francisco in the 60’s. I’ve had several mom friends recently who described their families as “bohemian.”
“You know,” they’d say, “We’re creatives/counter-culture/Bohemian.”
And it sounded good. You know, non-rule followers. Independents on many levels. Accountable to no one or sort of like that. And I wanted to try it out. We did have some similarities, after all. We all worked from home and had our own businesses. We were at the same schools.
In my head, I rolled it around: “We’re a Bohemian family too…” And it just didn’t work. Not only did it not roll of the tongue, but the image of an Asian American Bohemian was laughable, ridiculous, and even downright embarrassing.
Is it true that Asian Americans can’t be Bohemian? Even the pop/rock musicians that I’ve tracked down — The Slants and David Choi — exhibit a strong work ethnic that is more Confucianism than Bohemian. There are no Asian American parents that I know of exposing free love, frugality, and voluntary poverty as a parenting message. Nope, the message that I hear more often is work hard, try harder, be better.
Confucianism is a Chinese ethical and philosophical system developed from the teachings of the Chinese philosopher Confucius (Kǒng Fūzǐ, or K’ung-fu-tzu, lit. “Master Kong”, 551–478 BC).
The core of Confucianism is humanism, the belief that human beings are teachable, improvable and perfectible through personal and communal endeavour especially including self-cultivation and self-creation.
What do you think? Can Asian Americans be Bohemian? Do you know of any? Please share!