SBS 301 Cultural Diversity/Prof. Koptiuch Fall 2012 Personal Memory Ethnographies
Steaming White Rice
One particular day in the year 1999 in Fountain Hills, Arizona at my grandparents house, an event occurred that made me open my eyes to the meaning of racism. During lunch my Grandma usually set out dinner on the counter and we would go and get the food we wanted and then sit down. Being the baby of only nine years old I of course got to go first, and my Grandpa would wait at the table for my Grandma to bring him his plate. At this time it was just he and I sitting there waiting for the others. As I looked around the room at the intimidating photos of my Grandpa in the Navy in WWII which show my grandpa’s discipline and how orderly he is. As I looked around at my grandpa I was wondering what is going on in his head.
As I was sitting at the kitchen table, I watched my granddaughter become anxious about the food awaiting our family in the kitchen. My wife called to her first to go get the food, and after she sat down my wife brought me my plate as well. My granddaughter started to eat before prayer, which was fine because I understood that she was young and hungry.
Now usually we say a prayer before we eat but on this particular day I was starving and started shoveling food into my mouth without even thinking. My Grandpa did not seem to care too much. Being so hungry and probably going through a growth spurt, I kept eating and eating, especially the rice because my Grandma makes it in a special way that I have always loved. I got up to get more rice, all excited, and everyone was settling down at the table ready to eat the meal my Grandma had prepared. I started eating more of the rice and sensed that my Grandpa was just staring at me. Again I wondered what he was thinking and wondered why he was staring.
As we waited for my granddaughter to come back from the kitchen I could not help but notice that her plate was full of rice. I could not believe her, all of that food that my wife made and she goes for the rice! I knew it may have been rude or even maybe made my granddaughter feel uncomfortable but I could not stop staring at her eating the rice. The sight almost disgusted me.
I looked up and tried to read his facial expression. The smell of my Grandpa’s cologne that was strong but in a comforting way, even though he is intimidating. However, he looked as if he was disgusted or angry. So I stared into his eyes purposefully with a confused expression on my face, and out of my grandpa came and unexpected statement: “If you’re going to continue eating rice like that you’re going to turn into a chink.” My confused expression turned genuine.
First I turned to the right to see my Grandma hit my Grandpa and say, “Shut up!” Then I turned to my left to look at my mom who was mortified and looked as if she could have had steam coming out of her ears. I looked directly beside me at my brother and father laughing, because they knew exactly what Grandpa’s words meant. He was just staring, almost as confused as I was.
My granddaughter looked mortified mainly because her mother was hitting me and telling me to shut up for saying chink. What did I do wrong? My granddaughter should be learning about those terms and what they mean and why I would say something like that.
I felt awkward and confused. I was just about old enough to infer that it was not a nice thing to say to call someone a chink. I quickly picked up the link between rice and the Asian culture. My mom right then and there explained to me that this word was something that was never to be said to anyone because it was hurtful and wrong. Even as she told me this it was the first time I realized that people of other ethnicities were perceived as different from me. My grandpa felt completely different.
Victoria may not have understood my statement now, but she should learn these things for later in life because to me these words separate us from the others.
I may have not understood then but understand now that changes in immigration laws were taking place at that and also a great deal of controversy. Grandpa was and still is a bitter man about illegal immigration which could contribute to his resentment of other ethnicities including Asians. Another thing that could have contributed to his anger and disgust with me at the time of the incident could be in that exact same year the Navy had gotten into trouble due to not following their guidelines in Puerto Rico with their exercise bombing. They had been doing their exercise bombing over there for over sixty years. So imagining that ending even after my grandpa had served must have been upsetting due to him due to the fact that it was Latinos that had stopped it.
Looking back on this incident now it only gives me more of a reason to not let myself act that way prejudice comments are not okay and that I am resolved to be more proactive in my family’s lives and friend’s lives in order to promote better understanding of racism.
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