On my wall of shame and remembrance is a picture I drew when I was in first grade. It was some kind of very sad, self-hating picture that I drew of a guy named “Pup E. Chow” complete with coolie hat, buck teeth and the dreaded single line “Slanty Eyes.”
Man, my liberal democrat mother must of had a mini-stroke when I brought this thing home . . . a shock second only to my engagement announcement at 19-years-old . . . sorry mom (for the picture, not the marriage and three kids 😉
While I am not in a hurry to get the “Pup E. Chow” image out there in cyberland, I did have it framed to remind me of what it means to embody some pretty crazy crap when it comes to self-image and ethnic identity.
I often wonder how, even I, someone who grew up in an pretty Asian-American community, surrounded by politically and personally strong Asian-American role models could still embody these kinds of images. Well . . . not surprising, this stuff even happens in San Francisco. My girls have even repeated back some of the sing-song rhymes, “Chinese, Japanese, look at these . . .” complete with the whole pulling back the eyes motions. Man, that thing is not even creative racism 😉 Interesting that the caricatures always seems to be particularly focused on the eyes, the whole “Slanty” eye thing. When anyone impersonates/mocks an Asian it is the eyes, the teeth, the bowing and accent.
There is just something about the eyes.
Now I am not naive enough to think that these kinds of actions will go away, nor am I cynical enough to think that what we do doesn’t matter, so the only option I have left is to press on and try to make a difference, not only for my own, but for the next generation. How will I help my three girls deal with the inherent racist thoughts and actions that they will face even here in San Francisco?
Well . . . no surprise, I will start with the eyes.
One of the members of my church sent me this picture above of Analise, our youngest, and I couldn’t help to be drawn to all that must be going in that little head of hers. It is her eyes that communicate this inherent joy and mischievousness that we have come to know and love. You can see it in her eyes just as she is about to be goofy, throw a temper tantrum, or fall asleep . . . it’s in the eyes. In fact all three of our girls express their personalities so much through their eyes.
ANNIE’s eyes: I am the youngest, the loudest and quite possibly the most stubborn. But I can also be incredibly sweet, slightly dramatic and I am a little bit of a ham.
ABIGAIL’s eyes: I look into your soul, I don’t steal it, just look at it. I am an artist and peacemaker, but if you get me mad, I also have a dark/feisty side that will come out when you are least expecting it.
EVELYN’s eyes: I am the oldest, I am Manang! I am focused and fiercely independent and strong. I like to be silly, but at my worst and best, my determination can be seen in my eyes.
I never want my girls to own the idea that their eyes are something to be mocked or ignored. I play this game with them where I look into their eyes and ask them what they see. While they playfully tell me, “I can see your eyeball.” I always tell them the above. It is small gesture to fight a huge problem, but as cheesy as it sounds, “baby steps” and all that do matter. Plus, I CERTAINLY don’t want any “Pup E. Chow” portraits coming home from school.
The eyes . . .