SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2005        Personal Memory Ethnographies

Laura May

Will the "Real" American Please Stand Up!

My name is Laura and when I was 8 my Dad accepted a job transfer to Hawaii.  My brother Carl and I moved with my parents to Oahu where I entered into third grade and my brother was in first.  It was much different there than in Arizona; most of our classmates were tan and we were the White kids.  Also, our family was the only White family on the block; the rest of our neighbors were Hawaiian, Chinese, Japanese or Philippino.  It seemed like tourists were the only White people on the island, besides us.  Yet, I still was not aware of how different things were and how differently I was going to be treated because of the color of my skin.

My Mom and Dad thought it would be a good learning experience for Carl and me to visit the USS Arizona in Pearl Harbor.  We went there to learn about Japan bombing the United States and how history has shaped our country.  There were many tourists there from such ethnicities as Chinese, Japanese, Hawaiian, etc. Many people had their cameras with them and were taking pictures of things they found interesting.  As my family was walking, a group of Asian tourists offered Carl and me a dollar each to pose for a picture.  I felt that it was a strange request, but since they were willing to pay me a dollar to pose for a picture, I didn’t care.  I stood there beside my brother, posing for the picture, while my parents waited for us.  There were so many people around that they stopped to watch us get our pictures taken.

The USS Arizona Memorial was beautiful, like always, but I was ready to go home.  As a Native Hawaiian, I was bored showing my friends from the mainland the memorial for the hundredth time.  We were just about to leave when I saw the most interesting thing.  There were Asian tourists taking pictures of little White kids near a dull, metal plaque memorial.  I thought it was completely silly.  At first I thought they knew each other, but then I realized that they didn’t and that they were even paying the kids for their services.

I don’t know if the Asians took pictures because the kids were White or what.  The kids did look to be your stereotypical white American kids that you would see in a magazine or something.  If that was the case, then the Asians were racist.  Maybe the Asians had never seen a real White person before, but then why wouldn’t they take pictures of the adults too?  They were standing off to the side letting the episode take place.  It would have been the “All American” family consisting of a mom and dad, one boy and one girl.

It was after the picture taking episode and pocketing my dollar that I was curious about the actions of the Asian tourists.  Why did those people want our picture?  My parents’ response was that my brother and I are American, and that we exhibited the ideal image many Asian people have of American children.  We were White and had the blonde hair and blue eyes of the stereotypical American child.  They stated that the Asians had probably never seen a child with fair hair and complexion and that they needed to remember it in some way in order to show their families.

I think that even though the event was strange, it shouldn’t surprise anyone.  Most people have a certain curiosity for other ethnicities, especially ones that they don’t encounter on an everyday basis.  I know that in our homeland of Hawaii, the elders might have been a bit more upset to witness such an act.  They are more skeptical of other ethnicities and how they behave because of their past history.  I am a bit more relaxed and I think if I was asked to take a picture, I probably would have said no.  I think it was wrong that the Asians targeted the White kids.  They seemed to be discriminating against the kids because of how they looked.

My family raised me to be no different from anyone else and to be kind to everyone. So even though I knew Japan had bombed Hawaii and sank the USS Arizona, I still accepted to be in a picture for a few Asian tourists. I accepted the photograph first to earn a dollar and secondly because I was naive. Since I didn’t know the Asians’ descent, I couldn’t hold anything against them; and my parents approved of it, so I thought it was ok.

I bet it was unusual to those who witnessed the Asians taking pictures of us.  There were many people there besides my family.  I now wonder what they thought about it.  Did they find the event strange or did they ever experience an event that seemed racist?  How did the incident impact the Native Hawaiians and in what way?  I look back now and I realize that I was a target of race.  I was picked out of a few hundred people to have a picture taken.  The Native Hawaiians must have been bewildered or upset at the situation as well.  It seems like racism is still being practiced, but in more subtle ways.  

The USS Arizona Memorial was important to me because I was from Arizona originally.  At the time of this visit I was 8 and I was beginning to understand the concepts behind our history. While I was there I tried to understand what happened when Japan bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941 and how America was changed by the event. After we had our picture taken we drove home and I remember feeling different.  I had watched the tan people in the street and realized that I was different from them.  I know now that I felt the discomfort because I was singled out amongst many other ethnicities that day.

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