They call me a dirty chink and a gook, using the tips of their forefingers to slant their eyes upward while speaking to me in the tones of an Asian language. Ching chong choooww, and they laugh and laugh. One wants to spit on me, and I can see the saliva forming in his smooth, white cheeks as he puckers his lips to deliver the blow. He decides against it and spats on the ground instead. “Go back to China or wherever you’re from, chink.”
“Get back on the boat,” they yell from the end of the
cul-de-sac, their chins lifted in defiance, middle fingers raised up at me
despite being with other friends. “Go back where you come from. You don’t
Not one incident. So many. I’ve lost count. On school busses, on playgrounds, walking down the street, in stores. People don’t want me here, and I know that. I knew that every year since I was old enough to know that those names, those phrases, were meant to draw lines in the sand. You come to realize that the border always exists—imagined or real—the dividing line between outside and inside a constant threshold to belonging you will never cross. We have no place, really, in any country. We are refugees and immigrants—people of color—constantly negotiating our place in a nation that needs us and hates us all at once. We are visitors, interlopers, outsiders. I’ve lived here nearly 46 years, became naturalized at age 3, earned 4 degrees, pay taxes, and I’m still not always welcome in a place that defined itself by taking over sovereign nations—they themselves immigrants. It’s been a long while since someone sang to me the song made popular by “Lady and the Tramp” or imitated Jerry Lewis’s Asian caricature in front of me on the playground. Still, I’m hyper aware. Sometimes a look is all that’s needed—a loaded silence hanging over me while pumping gas in the wrong part of town, the confederate flag stickered proudly on the back of a truck, the news of the day bringing in stories of more people inhumanely detained. The line is always there. It’s not just my imagination. Go back where you come from still chases me down streets and slides and memories.
One of my all-time favorite movies is “The Princess Bride.” There’s not much to NOT love about the movie, especially with its witty lines and characters. One of my favorite characters is Inigo Montoya, played by the talented Mandy Patinkin. His most famous line, “Hello, my name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die” has infiltrated the memories of 80s youth everywhere. Similarly, I love the moment when he’s looking at Vizzini who keeps saying “Inconceivable!” and he finally says to him, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Continue reading Vizzini Academics: Kneeling? Inconceivable!
With the recent worry about providing paperwork to affirm one’s citizenship, I have been sorting through files and boxes in my basement looking for my naturalization certificate. I just recently received a new passport, but in this political climate, I’m worried that it may not be enough. When I lived in Hanoi in 1996, the first advice given to those of us who were Vietnamese adoptees was: “Do not get in trouble with the law. If they throw you in jail, you’ll have a hard time getting back out.” I was twenty-three and rebellious enough to not care but mindful to store that bit of knowledge for later use. As adoptees of Viet Nam, most of us did not denounce our Vietnamese citizenship (effectively granting us dual citizenship up until 2011 or so). As a result, my U.S. passport was somewhat moot in 1996 in the event I was caught in the clutches of the Vietnamese government for some 23-year-old-rebellious-reason. Fast forward to 2017 and I’m now concerned about my U.S. citizenship, wondering if I will be detained upon reentry from international travel and questioned about my purpose, my background, or honestly, about my faith. It’s stressful and sad that I would question my years of U.S. citizenship or the gold star on my license. I have been filing taxes since 1992 and have enjoyed a privileged and democracy-driven life as a hard-working, U.S. citizen. Nonetheless, I still worry, and I still haven’t found my naturalization certificate.
Continue reading Paper Trails
First published on The Adoption Exchange Blog: https://www.adoptex.org/the-adoption-journey/blog/
Over the course of my life, people have been curious about my adoption story. It is a story that begins in the Vietnam War. At the time, adopting from Vietnam was as much a humanitarian movement as it was an opportunity for couples hoping to establish or expand a family. As such, questions about my adoption were numerous and while many people were supportive of my parents’ transracial, international adoption, it was still a tenuous time and the choice was not devoid of criticism by others. Adopting a child was one thing; adopting a child from an unpopular American war was quite another. Even so, my parents fielded the positive and negative comments with dignity and managed to pass on to me a healthy sense of love and belonging in a society that would not always afford me the same.
Continue reading When Difference Matters
When I think of school I am caught off guard by the multitude of racialized experiences that sent me daily preparing for battle. I remember the kid that pushed me down in a bus and called me a nigger, stepping on my head as he walked over me and out the swinging doors. I saw kids in seats all around me, oblivious to the behaviors of others because, back then, a push and a shove were common experiences for kids riding to and from home in yellow busses. No one classified such incidences as bullying and frankly, no one really cared. I knew that when I caught the eye of the bus driver as I was getting up. He had seen the incident and did nothing. Said nothing. But he watched me as I got back up, gathered my things, and made my way out the door. On the bus I knew I was on my own.
Continue reading Get Back on the Boat
I am tired of being a pawn, a piece in the teaching game that is sacrificed for the greater good. I am your pusherman, peddling mandates of curriculum and assessment to turn profits for the wizards behind the curtain where the stakes are high and no one ever wins but the dealer. Best practices are packaged in shiny, new sleeves and rolled out as the latest goods for sale. States are still buying, but the products are just another method to stratify rich from poor, good from bad, losses felt by those who can’t afford to be a part of the solution. It’s a metaphor, but I don’t have the time to teach that properly because I waste valuable instructional time in rooms of silence, listening to the click, click, click of a mouse that will drag and drop kids into boxes that will never explain who they are just what they are not. I forgot what I was doing; teaching lost its shine the moment I became a pusher, an expendable chess piece of little consequence no matter what side of the board I am standing on.
Continue reading Opting Out