The subtle commandment to all who are “other” : Acquiesce
My own children’s Asian features have obscured any hint of my own bleach-white DNA, so I am particularly moved by Sunny Reed’s recollections of growing up Asian-American. I am probably oblivious, with a few anecdotal exceptions, to how my own children were made to feel different, and by implication, less-than. Sunny’s entry is cause for me to re-think the events of my children’s childhoods.
Sunny Reed is a social activist. Here is her submission. Please share it on FB, leave comments, enter the contest yourself, either with personal recollections or an essay, or even a poem that is inspired by our prompt, the link accessible on our home page. Sunny, please put the links to your own projects in the comments section. Thanks.
Just Shut Up and Smile
by Sunny Reed
Some of us believe that babies start off as beautifully rendered blank slates, empty vessels waiting to be filled by the adults who are supposedly sworn to protect them. The blank slate theory, or tabula rosa for the intellectually curious, has proven to be rightfully controversial – nature and nurture are complicated things.
But something strange happens when a trans-racial person is adopted by white parents and brought into a community built on immutable intolerance; a trans-racial adoptee’s identity, already defined more by survival than love, is marked by fragility. We silently plead for acceptance from people different to us in looks, manners, and customs, only to sometimes discover that we remain perpetual foreigners, even to our families.
My mother held the camera while taking the photo below. Her large blue eyes flashed while joking that my aunt looks like me.
Christmas, circa 198x
On each subsequent visit with my relatives, my mom and dad urged me to “do the Oriental eyes!”
I took to hiding under the table whenever I’d see my aunt.
“You’re no fun anymore,” my father whispered, ignoring me for the rest of the day.
Every afternoon I’d beg the classroom clock to stop, please stop ticking toward 2:15 when it’d be time to line up for the bus ride home. I couldn’t take another day of being tricked into turning around so the strawberry-blonde girl behind me could call me watermelon eyes and flat face.
Finally, I snapped. My sweaty palm met her freckled fair-skinned cheek and the next day I found myself in the principal’s office.
“Everyone gets teased,” the principal said. “Stop being so sensitive.”
We were supposed to be working on our eighth-grade perspective portfolios so our art teacher could hide in the closet. Instead, an overweight redheaded kid hands me a piece of my own green folder with GREEN CARD scrawled on it.
I broke the Schoolyard Code that day – I showed the teacher.
“Oh, that’s not a funny joke,” she said. “Just ignore it.
During college, I stopped by my father’s ice cream stand/grill. Chicken wings were off the menu. I asked him why. He said it was because a fat coon sat at his picnic table and tossed bones over her shoulder into the grass like a pig.
I told him that’s a horrible thing to say.
“It’s my shop,” he said. “You never did learn to keep your mouth shut and smile.”