SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2002        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Brenda Tong

Eye Opening Trip

It was the fall of 1994 when a lot of people from a variety of different cultural backgrounds were moving to Arizona.  The cost of living was affordable in Arizona while, on the other hand, Californiaís cost of living was a lot more.  There were more jobs available in the computer industry as a result of Bill Gateís Windows (PC) that he created.  The labor force grew from 1994 with approximately 1.97 million workers to 2.20 million workers in 1998, and employment grew from 1.85 million people employed in 1994 to 2.11 million people employed in 1998.

 With the population growing so rapidly, people living in Arizona were experiencing a culture shock due to the vast number of people moving into the United States with various different cultural backgrounds.  My parent came over to America when they were in their early twenties.  Many of the white people that were employed in the computer technology industry were making a much higher income than people of color and they were able to spoil their children.  Teens were segregated into different socioeconomic classes at the high school that my sister and I attended.  Teens were either wealthy or not wealthy at all.  I would say that my family was one of the more fortunate ones to be wealthier, but even that didnít make a difference.  You had to be white and wealthy to be ìnormalî.

I remember back in the fall of 1995, I was shopping at Fiesta Mall with my sister, and we had a racial encounter.  It was during the day when the mall was crowded with shoppers, which to me meant that it was safe to shop.  The shoppers were minding their own business.  I was only 14 years old at the time and my sister was 19.  It was the first time I had ever had encountered racism in my entire life.  I was shocked by the comments that were made to us.  We were going down the escalator and on the other side there were about 5 guys who looked around the same age as my sister going up the escalator.

I went to the mall one day with my four buddies back in spring of 1996.  We were just hanging out and checking out the girls that were at the mall.  After looking for 2 hours, we were getting ready to leave and got onto the escalator to go up to the second floor.  As we went up the escalator, on the other side there was a very pretty Asian girl who was with her younger sister.  So one of my buddies pointed her out and whispered to us that he thought she had a hot body and then he whistled at her.
At first they were whispering something to each other and were staring at us.  Then one of the guys in the crowd whistled at my sister while the others were laughing hysterically.  My sister ignored them and we went on down the escalator.  When the boy whistled at my sister, I thought it was very rude because I had never seen someone flirt with the opposite sex by whistling.  People around probably thought it was funny how the boy was flirting with my sister.  Now that I think about it, the boy was trying to get his friendsí attention that my sister is good looking.
So one of my buddies pointed her out and whispered to us how she had a hot body and then he whistled at her.  We all laughed at him because heís a funny guy who does stupid things.  The Asian girl and her little sister just ignored us, which pissed off my friend who had whistled at her.  My friend is a hot head who usually does not take rejection well and is cruel to people if they ignore him or piss him off.  Since the girl didnít say anything, he yelled out some racial slurs and comments to the girls, telling them to get out of our country.
Then the guy that had whistled at her shouted back, ìYou Fucken Chinks!  Get the Fuck out of our country!î  When the boy shouted out ìFucken Chinksî, it was very scary and it pissed me off at the time.  It opened my eyes to racism in my home town and it was extremely intense.  To other people, they probably couldnít believe how rude the boy was, but there were not going to say something about it because they were just minding their own business.  I think that teenagers back then didnít care because they were white, not Asian and chose to ignore it.

It was at that moment that I first realized that there are actually people out there that can be cruel enough to act on racism.  My sister and I are first generation Chinese born here in America, so we are fairly Americanized.  All my friends were Americans and I didnít have any Asian friends, so I felt that I was as American as everyone else who is white and should be treated the same as others.  While growing up in Tempe, Arizona, I learned from attending school and watching videos and movies how racism does exist and I was taught to stand up against people like that.  Standing up to 5 guys that are three times the size of me was not what I had in mind.  I had never been faced with having to deal with racism in real life.  The incident at the mall brought to my attention that I am different than Americans.  I may have been born here, but Iím still not the same as others.  My skin color and my cultural background are nothing like a ìnormalî American family.

My sister and I were extremely upset about the incident.  I remember how angry I was at my sister also for not fighting back and standing up against those immature boys.  I am the type of girl that never lets anyone push me around, and I thought that my sister was the same as me, especially since she was older than I was.  She ended up just telling me to forget about, which I couldnít.  I wish I could have said something back, but then again who knows what would have happened.  I was just a little kid then, so what I could have said to those guys wouldnít have even mattered.  In fact, it probably wouldnít have mattered even if my sister had defended us.

Now that I look back at this incident, it seems to me that the boy was unaware of other cultures and was afraid of us so his way to defend himself was to curse at us.  Looking back altogether I remember that all the white teenagers at my sisterís high school got a brand new car right when they turned 16 years old.  White teenagers were spoiled by their parents and had excess amounts of cash handed to them to spend freely on whatever they desired, which led them to think that they were superior to those who were less fortunate than themselves.  That was how it was back then and there was nothing to do about it but to learn and to hope that someday things would change.  Things have changed since the incident and the world is still constantly changing.

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