More Than Serving Tea



Chinese Eyes & Playground Prejudice

“Look, mom! Chinese eyes!”

Apparently that was the lesson of the day during recess.

Three years ago my son came home from 2nd grade and showed me how he could gently pull up the outer corner of his eyes. Duh. Chinese eyes.

I didn’t want to alarm him or make him feel like he was a bad kid, but I didn’t want him running around pulling his eyes back for obvious reasons. What I was able to gather was that a kid on the playground came up to Corban and said, “Hey, this is what Chinese eyes look like.”

Corban, who at the tender age of 7, understood he was Korean American but he associated that more with some of the customs we keep, our Korean names, the food and the language. He figured that he was learning something new about the Chinese, and thought his classmate was sharing fact. 

“Mom, did you see? I made myself Chinese,” he said with his one-dimple smile.

I wrote in my journal:

“I need more manuals for this kind of stuff.”

So what would you have said if your child or a child you know came up and proudly showed off her/his newly acquired skills?

I remember walking into my new 2nd grade class. We had recently moved from the north side of Chicago to the northwest suburbs. As far as I was concerned we had moved to Mars. 

Miss Thompson did her best to welcome me, but the real welcome came in the bathroom. “Amanda” came up to me and asked me what was wrong with my eyes and nose.

It was an honest question with no ill-intent, just like Corban’s re-enactment of what he had experienced on the playground. Amanda had never encountered an Asian American, and I had never encountered someone that weird. We were best friends that year.

But when you get beyond the playground, say, in your 20s, 30s or not quite 40s, it’s not quite that simple is it? Or is it?

My youngest is in second grade. I wonder what lessons Elias will bring home from the playground this year…

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