SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch         Fall 2011       Personal Memory Ethnographies

Ray Surdilla

One Asian to Another

It was the first week of my senior year in high school and Arizona's hot summer weather was in full blast when I asked one of my new friends, Ken, to come with me to my school to pick up a copy of my transcript. Ken was an exchange student from Japan and he just arrived in the US a month prior to this incident.

There was much more for me to learn about the American culture as an exchange student coming from Japan. This is when I met Ray. He was the first friend I had here in the United States and he was kind enough to show me around the area. One day, he asked me to come to his school to pick up his transcript. I was so excited to hear this because it was the first time that I would see the school that I would be attending soon.

I could see Ken's happy face when we first entered the gates of the school until I noticed one really odd thing about him. Whenever we got close to or passed by a group of African American kids, he either walked fast or went to a different path. At one point, I even remember him signaling me to come close to him and stay away from those kids.

Upon entering the gates of the school, I noticed how different it was from the schools in Japan. There is difference in the landscapes, classrooms and the choice not to wear a uniform. Half way to the office, I also noticed a group of black people gathered beside the walkway. This made me so nervous because back home, my parents taught me that all black people are very violent, bad, and disgusting and that I should avoid them at any cost. I panicked and started walking on the other pathway.

When I confronted Ken about this behavior, he told me, word for word, "I don't like those Negros." I asked why and all he could tell me was that his family taught him that "all black people are very violent, bad and disgusting." I paused for a while and was very disappointed that this kind of prejudice came out from this guy.

"Ray confronted me about my behavior and I just told him what my family taught me back home in Japan. He was angry. He told me that that is rude and that I should learn more about a group of people before judging them based on what other people say. This is when I started trying to be more considerate and tried to get know more about different cultures."

I wanted to understand this deeper and as I looked through U.S. history, there were many incidents where Asian immigrants in general had been discriminated against since the late 1860s, when many Chinese immigrants arrived to help build the transcontinental railroad. A lot of laws and acts had been passed to deny citizenship, property and sometimes entry to the country. The biggest event that happened in my timeline research is the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. Many innocent lives were sacrificed at Pearl Harbor and in the war that followed, culminating in the nuclear bombs that the U.S. dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. The legacy of U.S. discrimination against Asians and wartime animosity, combined with the lack of racial diversity in Japan, may have shaped the prejudice towards African Americans held by Ken's parents.

They might have ancestors that at some point in time, had had a very bad experience with black people, or watched too many 1980's movies about the U.S. "urban jungle." Whatever the reason, these prejudices were passed on from generation to generation so that when Ken finally came here to meet African Americans face to face, he acted exactly in accordance with what his parents had told him.

When I was in 5th grade and growing up in the Philippines, I used to think that anyone from a foreign country that came to the Philippines must be rich and associated with high class. I used to idolize them, hoping that someday I would visit another country. Years passed when I was finally given a chance to move here to the US and when I arrived, culture shock hit me hard. I know how Ken must have felt when he first came here because I also shared a somewhat similar experience.

I think the biggest reason why Ken's story has stuck with me is because it shows how my life, just as Ken's, is also greatly affected by my family. They are the ones that fed me, raised me, clothed me and taught me how to live. As a child, I believed that everything they did and believed in was the only right thing. I too have learned to adjust my understandings of issues of race and ethnicity as I acquired my own first-hand experience and knowledge here in the U.S.

Through our course readings and all these studies we had in class about race and cultural differences, I can't blame Ken anymore for his actions. He was compelled to use the misinformation given by his parents about African Americans. I like to think that I helped him to approach American diversity with a more open mind.

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