Oriental Girl

Racism burns at my throat and simmers behind my eyelids 

I see the people around me and identify with those persecuted, yet I hear, “what do you know about racism, your Asian, you people are good with ethnocentricity.”

And I nod, “right” but who are my people. 

No teacher ever presumed I was lazy or dumb, in fact I remember walking into my first day of 8th grade history and the teacher whispered in my ear as I went to collect my papers,”last year Henry (another Asian pianist) was my favorite student too” as she winked with a grin. 

I wanted to tell her, “well the only other old white lady I know well makes pies has 9 cats and a registered pedophile for a son. Will you make me a pie?” But instead I just decided to prove her wrong and didn’t do much work in class. 

Kids always asking me to help them with their math and do their homework because I must be smart right? 

Old men smacking their lips and telling me about Korea or Vietnam because my face reminds them of the subservient yellow women who praised their blond hair and white skin,

Whom he probably took advantage of, made a child with, and went back home to his American family. 

And we kept our mouth shut, just did the work, chuckled along when people slanted their eyes by stretching the skin around their temples, silently stared at them when kids would ask if the doctor dropped me on my face to cause it to be so flat, nodded when they assumed our names were conceived with the sound of metal chopsticks Ching changing the floor when they dropped, questioned the masculinity of our men until they were no longer attractive,asked me to pronounce my name 3 times before realizing it was a name from the Hebrew bible, wondered what kind of strange animal parts kimchi was made out of, commented on how well I spoke English and I would reply “pretty impressive being born in California huh?”

“your father is so not Korean.” When they see a free spirited man who loves rock and partying because men are supposed to all be in business, which he is, but have you ever asked the liquor store owner if his dream had always been to own a store, because when I sit down and talk with my dad, he came to America, spent all his money on a guitar because he was going to be a rock star, got stuck here and joined the American army to try me make his way home. 

Have you ever thought about what the woman at the counter imagined as her future when she was young? 

My mama, she didn’t grow up longing to sell children’s clothes at a non descript store in a swap meet that sucked the soul out of her pretty face. 

She simply wanted to be a house wife and cook and clean for her family. Yes some of the stereotypes are consequences of immigration, but America has lumped Asians as one race, one type, one characteristic, one kind until we believed it and if you were different, your own kind might call you “banana, because you were white on the inside if you listened to punk and studied American lit. “you’re not like your kind huh.” 

In the second grade when a new girl came from Vietnam, they picked me, the only other Asian, to be her translator. 

“Can you tell her to color the apple red.”

And I would. I would grab the red Crayon and look her dead in the eyes and speak slowly in my best Asian accent, “use a da reeeeeed crayyy on. Ok?” And she would just nod, and the teacher would walk away pleased. 

How many times people would tell me, “‘I like orientals. I had a neighbor who was oriental once and they were always quiet and polite.”

“Yes we are all quiet and polite. If you make fun of me, I will not talk back. I’ll just walk away silently and draw my eyeliner on thicker.” 

“You look just like…” and I would hear the name of some so and so Asian actress, who really looked nothing like me except she was Asian. 

And then wonder, what do I know of racism?

It’s been a silent slow passive aggressive emotionally abusive relationship with America, and so when my son asks, “Mama why do you cry?” When I listen to the news of injustice on the radio or watch the news, I want to tell him, it’s because for some reason the pain has been boiling inside of me since I was born living. And how stupid it is that we are relieved that he was born with large eyes, because that’s one less thing to be made fun of. 

Racism Talk with a 7 Year Old 

Elijah: Mom what is racism?

Me: it’s when people judge others because what they look like or who they are and I think it’s the most ignorant behavior. Why?

Elijah: my friend at school is not my friend anymore because he told another kid who’s black that he looked like poo. I didn’t like that so I don’t want to play with him. Is that racist?

Me: that could be taken as racism

Elijah: at school when we learned about Doctor Martin Luther King, they said he marched and spoke to make everyone the same. He was peaceful and didn’t fight with people. Then someone shot him. He was the best president huh mom 

Me: (chuckling) I think he was one of the best too, but he wasn’t a president. He was a preacher. 

Elijah: some brown people are better at things than some white people right?

Me: yeah there are all kinds of people that are good at things and sometimes not good at others. It doesn’t matter what color our skin is. 

Elijah: I like being brown though. 

Me: what else do you learn at school? Do you know about Christopher Columbus?

Elijah: no who’s he?

Me: no one. Just wondering. They usually tell a wrong version of that one.