What Struck a Nerve Today?

As a television news editor for many years, I became adept at looking for interesting ideas for news stories to cover. My blogs often begin from those same kinds of interesting kernels. Current events become a spark. This morning, it was a Tweet on Twitter. Seton Hall professor Christopher Tienken posted a link to a high school history lesson title: Race and Ethnicity.

For whatever reason (Hey, it’s the year 2020, does anything have to have a reason?) when I opened the presentation, I landed on slide #32 which contained this video.

Allow me to write this: I am Asian by adoption. My daughter was born in China and came home to America in 1995. My learning before traveling to China was minimal; I read Pearl Buck’s The Good Earth. I read Wild Swans: Three Daughters of China. In between, I attended to a mound of paper work to bring my daughter home.

People blissfully write, or utter, the phrase: Love transcends color. That’s true for the one’s who love. Somehow, the love which transcends ethnicity isn’t apparent to those on the outside looking in. The ugliness began immediately.

In the grocery store a stranger saw my beautiful infant daughter and started yelling and asking: Why didn’t you adopt from America?! The woman in the shoe store who said: Oh, I see you adopted an oriental. No, I told her; I adopted a child. And ironically, the Chinese-born woman whose father was a member of the Chinese Community party was annoyed that my daughter got to come to America “so easily”. She told me how long she had waited; how much paperwork she had to do.

While I was taken-aback by these comments, my daughter was an infant; their ignorance was mine alone to deal with. Then, we moved to Princeton, New Jersey. People like to think college towns are filled with open-minded people. Another myth in America.

Kindergarten and 1st grade were not a problem. By 2nd grade, life became hell for my daughter. There were three Chinese-American girls in her class. They were all America-born children of Taiwanese parents. But, they all spoke the language of their ancestors. They ate Chinese food for dinner. Their constant taunt to her? You’re not really Chinese. And why was that? Because she didn’t speak Mandarin; she didn’t have Chinese clothes; and her parents weren’t Chinese.

I reminded her she was born in China; they were born in America.

As an aside, her classmates of non-immigrant parents were just as mean. The principal’s explanation? I was the problem.

My daughter and I would bike or walk to school together each day. We said good-bye to one another at the classroom door. One day, the principal called me into her office. My daughter’s classmates were jealous, she said. She advised me there was no reason to walk a 2nd grader to her classroom.

My response? So I should be like so many other Princeton parents and just throw her out the car door and move on? No, she said; that wasn’t what she meant. I never did find out what she meant. (But then, this was a principal who sprayed a child with Fabreze every morning because the child smelled like cigarette smoke. What more can I write?)

Two weeks before the start of 3rd grade, my daughter made a big announcement.

I’m not going back to school.

My husband looked like a meteor had fallen on him; I laughed.

So, you’re going to be a third grade dropout? How does that work?

She had an answer.

If you can substitute teach, you can stay home and teach me.

By then, my husband was pale. I told him not to worry. She’d be begging to return to school in two weeks. Our homeschooling adventure lasted eight years.

Our first learning exploration took six months to complete and began with the question: What does it mean to be from two places? Fortunately for me, there were two authors, both children of American missionaries to China, who had felt that pull of being from two places. They led the learning.

Pearl Buck was born in West Virginia; she traveled to China with her parents as a five-month-old infant. She fell in love with China. She moved back and forth between China and America well into adulthood. Ultimately, Buck settled in Perkasie, Pennsylvania on an estate she called Green Hills. We made a visit. Her home was beautiful; her life story rich. After giving birth to a child with PKU, Ms. Buck when on to adopt seven children. One of her daughters was working the gardens on the day we visited. Buck worked tirelessly throughout her life to bridge racial divides.

While driving to Perkasie, we listened to the story of author Jean Fritz. Ms. Fritz was born in Hankou, and returned to the United States as a preteen. Fritz’s book, Homesick: My Own Story recounts the confusion she felt as a child growing up in China. She had a Chinese amah. She spoke Chinese. She ate with chop sticks. But to the Chinese children, she was a foreign devil. When she return to her American hometown, people would meet Fritz and remark, you look Chinese.

The six-month adventure also led us to New York City where we visited the Museum of the Chinese in America and the Asia Society. We ate in an amazing restaurant in Chinatown where our window table let us watch the hustle and bustle of that part of the city. We talked about immigration. We talked about the one-child police instituted in China in 1979. We talked about the abandonment of Chinese girls because the Chinese culture reveres males. We talked about how America would afford her the opportunities she would have likely not had in China.

In 2020, several of those lessons still hold true. First, I love her with all my heart. Secondly, there are lots of people in the world who are from two places; they hold culture from two places, and they are richer people for those experiences. I do believe she still has more opportunities here than in China.

What I can’t promise her at the moment is that she will be safe in America if she goes somewhere alone. She was recently followed in a grocery store by a burly man in his MAGA garb. She has great radar. She left the aisle. Yesterday, we talked about the distinguished Chemistry professor at Syracuse University put on leave for referring to Covid-19 in his syllabus as the Wuhan flu.

Sadly, I can’t promise her that those who were born in America, and think somehow the country exclusively belongs to them, will ever see her for all her amazing attributes and the gifts she can add to America, and maybe the world.

Alex Dang delivered the rap above six years ago. Not enough has changed for the better, I’m afraid. We still have so much work to do.

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