SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch Fall 2015 Personal Memory Ethnographies
The "Chinese Kid":
Experiencing the Borderlands of Race & Ethnicity Through Culture Shock
In the middle of August 2004, it was my first day of 6th grade at Paseo Hills Elementary School here in Arizona. I had moved here at the beginning of August from Guam and I was absolutely nervous to start school here. I was very shy, timid, quiet, and nervous about making new friends. I was overwhelmed by a plethora of emotions. I was scared, nervous, and anxious. Guam is a U.S. territory located in the Western Pacific Ocean. It is primarily populated with Asians (Koreans, Japanese, Chinese, Filipinos, Vietnamese, Taiwanese) and Pacific Islanders (Chamorro, Palau, Samoans). We did see the occasional tourist(s), who were Caucasians.
On my first day of 6th grade in Arizona, I felt like the odd ball. I was the only Asian in my class, which was comprised of Hispanics, Caucasians, and African-Americans. This was the first time I had seen different races and ethnicities. I felt very alone, lost, confused, and bewildered. I simply didn’t understand how to process everything. Despite suffering from this culture shock, I still treated every one of my classmates with respect. However, they did not treat me the same way.
My classmates gazed at me as if I were an elephant in the room, as if they had never seen an Asian before. I was left out when it came to group activities, lunch, and even during recess, while all my classmates associated with one another. Things got worse when a few classmates proceeded to ‘bully’ me. I was discriminated against for being of Asian decent. They made fun of my skin color, my eyes, how I looked/dressed, how I spoke, and how no one wanted to befriend me. This moment was an eye-opener; I felt angry, sad, and annoyed.
But more importantly, this was the moment I realized I was receiving unequal treatment because I was of a different race and ethnicity than my classmates. Back on Guam I felt “accepted”; everyone I met in Guam was so friendly, caring, respectful, and welcoming. It was baffling and hurtful to see kids my age not wanting to interact with the “weird Chinese kid”. I’m not even Chinese!
It was the first day of school. I(Whitney), Nick, and Derek were all baffled by the New Chinese Kid; Jeric. He was reserved, quiet, lacked social skills, and looked strange. We wondered why Jeric’s eyes looked ‘chinky’, as opposed to his cousin Jayson’s. The Chinese Kid Jeric looked “different”. Jeric repeatedly told us that he was not Chinese, but Filipino; whatever. His eyes look closed, bushy eyebrows, has a pale-yellow tint to his skin, but surprisingly, Jeric spoke English more fluently than his cousin. We rarely interacted with Jeric, yet he was a topic that the three of us talked about profusely. We had no intentions to befriend Jeric, thus we began questioning his background/culture, called him names; we basically bullied him. We rarely invited Jeric to our ‘group’ to hang out, eat lunch, or play on the jungle gym. Jeric would have caused a disruption within our circle, he was different and we wouldn’t tolerate that.
Despite all the name-calling, hazing, and ignorance, Jeric never retaliated against us. That was a feature that drew my attention, unlike Nick and Derek’s. Those two continued the bullying, whereas I began to understand and befriend Jeric. Jeric explained that we all come from different walks of life, that we should be kind and forgiving to all we meet. The brief conversation with Jeric struck me like lighting. I was shocked to realize that we had been mistreating Jeric and I began to make amends. Unfortunately, Nick and Derek didn’t understand well enough as they took our ‘let’s mess with Jeric’ game too far and instigated a fight with Jeric.
My fight with Nick and Derek, stained my mind, heart, and soul like bleach on clothing. The stench of rain and asphalt clouded the air. Damp woodchips lay scattered all over the playground floor. The woodchips acted as a cushion in case of potential falls from the jungle gym. Children also used the woodchips to throw at one another. I had this chewed up #2 black wooden pencil. I don’t nervously chew on things, however, prior to lunch and recess, I couldn’t bear the anxiety of being bullied. I deemed it as a possible weapon to use for self-defense.
The confused muttering of my classmates playing on the jungle gym and Whitney’s in-vain pleas to Nick and Derek to stop the bullying still echo in the halls of my mind. The other children never quite understood what was unfolding before them. I was appalled but knew that Nick and Derek intended to harm me. The look of confusion on the other children’s faces meant that they could not decipher who was the good and bad guy. I assumed they thought I was the “bad guy”, I already felt like the odd ball. It was several grueling minutes exchanging punches with both Nick and Derek. Through the midst of our exchanges, Whitney was able to notify one of the teachers who then separated Nick, Derek, and I. Inevitably we walked away with several bruises, bloody noses, a black eye, and a scolding by our parents.
The borderlands my incident covers are race and ethnicity. My incident is meaningful to me as it allowed me to experience a culture shock, a different perspective, and an event to continually learn and grow from. The seed of my understanding of race and ethnicity was planted early on by my parents in the strict context of treating everyone with respect. In other words, treating others how I would want to be treated.
Although being born as a U.S. Citizen and on U.S. territory, it was still a culture shock moving from Guam to Arizona. Guam’s environment was graced with beautiful weather, palm trees, and the ocean just moments away. Arizona is scorching barren desert with a few cacti here and there. I also needed to reconnect with relatives I had not seen in 4+ years. It was difficult knowing that I was going to leave my friends behind on Guam and that I had to make new friends in Arizona. The environment and social aspect of Arizona was the exact opposite of Guam. For example, buildings replaced trees, the desert replaced the ocean, the scent of pollution-plagued Arizona, and its sprawl neighborhoods were not social.
My experience of culture shock introduced me to different perspectives on race and ethnicity. We all hail from different cultures. Meaning we have differences in our values, morals, and ethics. But despite all the differences from one culture to another, we are all human. We shouldn’t have the thought process that one race/ethnicity is lesser than the other. Granted, the world is tortured as it is forced to relive its past (slavery, inequality, etc). We all need to experience a different perspective on the world and its cultures, we need to open our minds and accept that different doesn’t always mean bad. As a people, understanding race and ethnicity requires one to step out of their comfort zone. It has for me.
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