SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2004        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Erika Medina

Life’s Incidents

“Go talk to Mr. Wall!”  This phrase brings back many vivid memories to my mind.  When I was in 5th grade my father, who is in the Marine Corps, was stationed in Okinawa, Japan.  Twice a week, my fifth grade class attended a Japanese culture class so that we could learn more about the foreign country we were living in.  For some reason my classmates and I acted very disrespectfully and we made our culture teacher, Ms Hokuma’s life miserable.  We burst into laughter when she would shout, “Go talk to Mr. Wall!”  This was her way of telling us to go stand in the corner when we were in trouble. 

     In the class room I was one of the better behaved children, but to be cool you had to have Ms. Hokuma yell at you at least once.  I mean if she didn’t yell at you at least once, than you were a goody good, and it wasn’t cool to be called a goody good.  So one day, I believe it was around October in the year 1995, I walked through the culture class door with a mischievous spirit.  Today would be day that I would give my culture teacher a hard time.  Ms. Hokuma was trying to teach us what Wishi wish Kanishiwa meant, but I didn’t care to learn how to say “Hello, good afternoon” in Japanese and I began to talk to my friend around me.  Once I started talking other children around me started talking, and no different from any other day, the whole class was being noisy, giving the teacher grief, and making it impossible for her to teach us a lesson.  Because I was the one who started it, she told me to be quiet countless times, and then sent me to the corner with her broken English.  Yes, I had done it!  I would now be known for causing trouble in culture class, no goody good here.  Despite the evident disappointment that I can remember seeing in Ms. Hokuma’s eyes as I left, I walked out of the door not once thinking about the extremely terrible kid that I just had been.

     If you asked Ms. Hokuma about her experience teaching in an American school, she would tell you, “It is a very challenging occupation for me, and many times I go home frustrated with these American children.  It is very hard to get these children to respect and listen to my lessons.  I have a very strong Japanese accent, and although I speak English fluently, I sometimes do not pronounce things correctly.  The American children feed on this, to ridicule me and cause trouble in my classroom.  Even children who are generally good, like Erika Medina, had a desire to act naughty.  I just don’t understand!   I am very proud of my culture.  I want to teach these American children, who are living in my country, the culture that they are surrounded with every day.  I want to teach them why I love my culture and the many wonderful things about it.  They refuse to listen!  It is obvious that these children are not as disciplined as Japanese children.  They do not realize it now because they are young, but one day they will regret not enjoying and learning about the beautiful culture of Japan, the wonderful culture of the country they lived in for three or more years of their lives.   All Ms. Hokuma was trying to do was teach us about her culture, and our goal in her classroom was not to listen.  Why were we like this? 

     Thinking back I can still feel the humid air on my skin.  I can see myself running through the beautiful green grass and trees.  I can hear the excitement of the Japanese people celebrating New Years Eve.  I remember the quiet fear of being in the “eye of a typhoon.”  I loved living in Japan!  So why did I give my Japanese culture teacher such a hard time?  In Japanese culture class, I had the desire to be misbehave because of the peer pressure I felt as an eleven year old kid in 5th grade, who just wanted to be cool.  As children, my friends and I “picked on” our teacher and made her life harder because she wasn’t “like us.”  I believed that our Japanese teacher had negative assumptions about American children.  In a way we could sense her assumption that we were going to be bratty kids, and so because she believed us to be undisciplined, misbehaved children, we acted upon her assumption.  Frustration, disappointment, and anger would describe the feelings my Japanese teacher was feeling toward her fifth grade elementary class, especially with a certain student named Erika Medina on October of 1995.  At the same time, she was intrigued with the American culture and for this reason she had learned to speak English and decided to teach American children about the Japanese culture.  As American fifth graders our Japanese culture teacher was foreign to us, and we were foreign to her, and that is probably why so many problems occurred.

     This particular incident with my Japanese culture teacher has left a lasting impression on my life.  As a younger child I was taught to be “color blind” when it came to other people’s different ethnicities.  I have had friends of all difference races, but I can seriously say that I did not notice any difference between them and me, except for the color of our skin.  I am half white and half Mexican and I did not really notice a difference between the two races.  Yes, my Mexican grandparents spoke Spanish and ate Mexican food, and my white grandparents didn’t, but to me, that wasn’t much of a difference.  Or at least I didn’t think that it was much of a difference at such a young age in my life.

     So the very first time I actually really noticed difference was when I was slightly older, and placed in Okinawa Japan.  Crossing this transnational borderland was a huge cultural shock for me, and I noticed right a way the ethnic borderlands between me and the Japanese people.  This is the very first time in my life that I became aware of difference.  I was so accustomed to my own bi-ethnic, bi-racial world, that it took a third to provide this awareness of difference.  My Japanese teacher was different to me!  This humongous realization of difference in my life has made a lasting impression on me forever.  The way my Japanese teacher acted, talked, and dressed was actually noticeably different and because of peer pressure I gave her a hard time.  When I think back on that, I realize what an ignorant child I was.  Living in Japan would have been a wonderful opportunity for me to embrace another culture different from my own.

     There are definite discrepancies between an insider’s and outsider’s view points in mystery.  In my own personal view point, I saw my teacher as annoying, too strict, and always yelling.  Through the outsider’s view point though, it was obvious that I was being a misbehaved brat and not listening to my teacher.  As an eleven year old child I felt my Japanese teacher did not like all Americans, but if I step back, I realize that this is a very wrong assumption because if she didn’t like Americans she would not have chosen to teach American children in school.  I should have paid more attention in Japanese culture class and learned more about the culture during my displacement into another country.  In school, and through the years, I have learned more about the importance of different races, cultures, and ethnicities.  Although I should treat everybody equally, I should not be color blind.  I need to realize that people are different, but that it is each individual’s difference that makes them the special person they are.  I have learned these things from difficult realization, and hard lessons that I have experienced throughout my life.

Return to Personal Memory Ethnographies homepage