This is a blog all just for me. It has no purpose whatsoever except for me to share some of the random nonsense I happen to be thinking about in my day-to-day life. Sometimes it sure is nice not to have a purpose.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Race From Mouth Of Babes

Today when I picked up my son from daycare, the four-year-old class was out in the playground. As I walked by the fenced-in grounds, a little girl startled me with her loud exclamation,"You look like a Chinese person!" Caught off guard, I simply said, "Oh, thank you." and kept on walking.

I picked up my son from inside the building, signed him out, and walked out again past the four-year-olds. This time, several of the kids called out to a boy in the class, "Matthew, your mom is here!" Having been through this drill many times before, Matthew just ignored the kids as best he could. After all, these notifications happen every time that I happen to show up when the class is playing outside and they see me.

Why do the kids assume I'm Matthew's mom? Because I'm Asian and so is Matthew's mom. In their eyes, we either look so similar that they can't tell us apart, or what I've decided is more the case...they can tell us apart, but they find it "funny" to pretend that they can't. It's not as though I think that the group of four-year-olds have an insidious agenda of racism, but I think it reinforces how race continues to play a significant role in our society. Even though plenty of adults love to claim that they "don't see color," I think the uncensored honesty of children shows that it is unrealistic to make such a claim.

I know that young kids will speak their mind without cruel intentions. They'll tell someone straight to their face that they're "fat as whale" or tell a woman with facial hair that she has "a moustache just like Daddy!" They haven't yet learned how to have empathy and they certainly haven't picked up social graces. I understand all of this and wouldn't expect any different, but still...I have to admit that getting yelled at across the playground, "You look like a Chinese person!" was enough to shake me up.

With that one exclamation, I remembered how I felt growing up and realizing that I was different from my mostly White classmates. I remember how they'd always set me up with the one other Asian boy in class. I remember when we learned about Pearl Harbor in junior high and a kid turned to me and asked, "So, why'd you bomb us?" I remember being chastised for "not knowing my language" and for always resenting having to answer "where I'm from."

In adulthood, I've to embrace and appreciate my cultural background. I now cherish my heritage so much, and as my husband also greatly respects it, we even decided to give our son a Japanese first name to honor this part of his ancestry. I honestly feel like I've come to peace with my racial identity, and yet today was a good reminder that there is still that vulnerable child inside of me who never wanted to stand out as different. I also see it as a good reminder to be sensitive to the journey that my son will face as he discovers his racial identity as a "hapa," half white and half Japanese. I want to be especially thoughtful of his experience because it will be uniquely his--one that neither my husband nor myself will have known firsthand.


  1. My girlfriend had to deal with a similar (yet sadly more negative) experience. She works with kids in after-school programs, and sometimes, she's sent to other sites to fill in for missing staff. One of the sites has a young Chinese boy there; his parents are practically straight off the boat, as it were. Other kids would constantly tease him about being Chinese, and whenever his mother would arrived to pick him up, they'd loudly exclaim "CHINA! CHINA!" or that "hey, someone's Chinese food is here!" My girlfriend was horrified when she heard this, and naturally chewed the kids out. Ridiculous, isn't it?

  2. I'm half-cast, Kaz will get on fine. He'll feel uniquely different, but proud to be two things rather than merely one.

    I think.

  3. I know where you are coming from. I grew up in an area in San Diego which was predominantly white. In school I would hear things like . . . "Did you sweep your hut this morning?",or,"What's your favorite day of the week . . . Hmongday?" (I'm not even Hmong)., or, "Do you use dental floss as a blind fold?" Words can hurt when you are a kid, but fortunately we are not kids forever . . . well, most of us aren't. ;)

  4. liquidcross - I feel like I should know what to say to the kids and yet I'm embarrassed to say that I'm still so inept as an adult!

    Mathew - It's good to hear you've had a positive experience being "half-cast"! Luckily, Kaz is in good company...we know many mixed couples with mixed kids these days.

    Adrian - Are these comments from someone I happen to know???

  5. Hey, for the record, I never teased my non-Hmong friend Adrian about dental floss as a blindfold. That's pretty messed up! Also, I know he doesn't sweep a hut since he lives in a MANSION!