Friday, March 20, 2009

Why we live in California

Having lived in primarily white areas, I always felt very conscious of my race. Once we moved to CA, the significance of my being Asian just melted away. The San Francisco Bay Area is basically all different shades of brown, and almost everyone is from somewhere else. You hear many different languages and people don't complain about that--we celebrate it. (Most of us, anyway. There are rednecks even here)

So, it was concerning when Barley came home with a tale of another child doing the old slant-eyed routine at school. The chant went something like, "My daddy is Chinese" (pulling one eye up) and my mommy is Korean (pull other eye down), look what they did to my eyes (kid is now pulling eyes in opposite directions) DH was really very upset. Totally understandable. I wasn't thrilled about this either. (Although we did both have to smile that Barley started the discussion by asking DH if he was Chinese. DH's white skin comes from his German ancestry.)

But with 2 kids in school for 10+ years of preschool and public elementary school, for this to be the FIRST time that our kids have been confronted with racist teasing...I'm not that concerned. When most of Barley's class is Asian, Indian, Hispanic, middle-Eastern, etc., I don't think we have to worry about him being singled out for his race.

This is a far cry from my experience growing up. I was teased DAILY. There were 3 families of color whose children attended my entire school. And while I have obviously survived the playground ordeal, and am well and thriving in my adult life, there is NO doubt that the early childhood trauma of being racially harrassed every day has affected me. Some of the effect has been to my benefit: I am bold, brassy, and will not take crap from anyone. I learned early to stand up for myself, and when I didn't feel strong enough to fight back, I at least learned not to run away.

But I also learned how painful it is to be an outsider--I grew up thinking I was ugly, because I was different. There are areas where my lack of confidence has held me back, and opportunities I missed because I was too embarrassed or ashamed to try something. I like to think I've grown past all of that, but I know there are still times when old habits kick in.

So, this pleasant little jaunt down memory lane reminds me why we moved to California in the first place. The teacher took the issue seriously when I brought it to her attention, rather than just telling me "kids will be kids", like my mom got from my teachers and principal.

And I am very grateful that my boys will never feel "other" like I did. I love that Barley felt righteously indignant about this child's behavior, and that he did not just shrug and say he got teased again today. I hope he will always be appalled by racism.

5 comments:

  1. Good post! (I just came here from Kimchi Mama). I'm also a transplant to Cali (first Northern, now Southern). I probably used to do the slant-eye routine when I was a little white kid; but I'll never forget driving around with my wife (then girlfriend) in VA, where we used to live, and a station wagon full of redneck children making slant-eyes at her. Their mom was laughing her ass off. I wanted to run them off the road, and my wife was a little surprised like, "Oh? That happens all the time." After 10 years in Cali, sometimes I forget how good we have it. Relatively speaking.

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  2. Hey Beta Dad, Thanks for stopping by! I had a teasing incident when dating in college, where some punks on the other side of the road yelled out at my while I was walking with a new boyfriend. He was totally puzzled, and asked why I didn't respond to them? Irritated, I asked him why I would? He said, "Aren't they friends of yours?"

    He had not actually heard what they yelled. When I explained they had yelled, "Hey CHINK", he was shocked. As much by my blase response, as by the actual racism itself. It's easy to get inured to it.

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  3. Jomama- I also found your link from KM. I have a 6 year old, adopted from Korea, who goes to public school in SF, where about 70% of the students are Chinese. And he still came home a few months ago doing that stupid chant/eye pull thing. He thought it was so funny, and couldn't wait to show me. I tried to explain to him that it was disrespectful, and that some people wouild be hurt by it, but I am not sure how much he absorbed. He just seemed confused that his little chant was anything but funny. It's an ongoing process.

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  4. Jomama, I ALSO came from Kimchi Mamas. :)
    I too have experienced my fair share of racial discrimination incidents (as well as seeing them happen to family members), and I am deeply bothered by the memories. To this day, I think that is one of the main issues that bothers me the most. And when it happens, I can't seem to shake it off. I know I should just let it go, people are ignorant, but it just bothers me and makes me feel weird/different. A reason why sometimes I wish I think I wouldn't mind living in a more culturally diverse place.

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  5. @Anonymous: In some ways, it's almost a blessing that he doesn't get why it's not funny, isn't it? It's probably not about race and exclusion to him, it probably just seems like a funny/obnoxious face. I suspect it was the same for the girl in my son's class. It might be even more sad the day your son does understand why it is offensive.

    @Iris: I sure do hear you. While I survived my childhood of teasing, the reason we live in CA is because I did NOT want my hapa child to experience what I did growing up. The Japanese family that lived down the street from us moved to California years before I did. They reported a similar transformation in their world view.

    If you can't just pick up and move, then try to find community where you are. There is often more cultural diversity and sensitivity near universities than in the surrounding areas.

    And of course, there is the online Kimchee Mamas community...we're here for you!

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