the endless cycle

as i walked past the barricades set up for the street festival, i overhear the police asking each other, 'hey, what's the difference between chinese and japanese anyway?' and i didn't let myself stop, or turn my head to see them. further down the block, the local lion dance troupe lifted each other up above the heads of the crowd between an old record store and a sushi shop. maybe i should have been grateful that the question was being asked so innocently to begin with.

but i remember chasing the other kids on the playground in anger, throwing rocks and sticks and screaming because they wouldn't stop chanting 'chinese-tokyo girl chinese-tokyo girl'. i'd find out later that my fifth grade teacher waited until i took a hall pass to go to the bathroom before telling the class of suburban white new jersey kids that i must be so lonely and scared for having moved there from china. no amount of my protests in perfect english that i moved there from iowa could undo that impression; as far as they were concerned, my face was yellow, i was born in tokyo, so i was chinese.

it was only a year and change ago that a taxi driver complimented my english when i was helping my cousin deplane at the airport. she looked embarrassed when i asked her why my english wouldn't be good. sometimes, people make these innocent assumptions; sometimes, people ask questions out of genuine ignorance. i have a hard time tempering my response to those situations nonetheless, knowing that there are still children who will pull up the corners of their eyelids on the playground and chase each other around while shouting 'go back to china, go back to mexico, go back to africa'. they learn these games from older siblings, who learn their parents' ignorance.

whose job is it to teach them otherwise?

04 March 2018 20:55

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