Saturday, July 05, 2008

Hammering Out Sparks from the Anvil....

I've been meaning to blog on this for quite some time, ever since Dennis Prager brought this New York Times article to my attention over 2 years ago.

Take a look at the photo at the top. Is there anything strikingly odd about the photo? What do you see? I see a "ridiculous" little Asian boy pretending to be a cowboy, and proud of wearing the get-up. I say "ridiculous", because, of course, there weren't really any Asian cowboys out in the Wild West. If anything, I should be playing the part of an Injun. But back then, at the time, I didn't feel ridiculous. I thought I looked like Robert Conrad.

I was born in 1968, Phoenix, Arizona. My ethnicity? Thai. Beyond that, I have no knowledge of my birth heritage and biological parents, as I was given up for adoption. I do know that whatever the circumstances around my birth mother's pregnancy, she loved me enough to carry me through 9 months to be delivered right away into the loving home of a young Air Force fighter pilot, wed to a Japanese woman in 1964 while stationed overseas. I couldn't have been blessed with a more stable home or asked for more loving parents.

My parents never kept my adoption a secret from me. I've known all my life that I was adopted, so it never seemed strange to me. I do admit, however, that in college, it did begin to occur to me what a unique experience mine might be; and earlier in my pre-teens, I know I was self-conscious when visiting relatives (on my dad's side....which consequently also affected my feelings when around my relatives from my mom's side) in California of the fact that I was not blood-related to people who seemed to offer me unconditional acceptance and love. Still, it couldn't erase the feeling that in a "skin-deep" sense, I didn't belong. And it had nothing to do with how my relatives treated me. One of the experiences that really meant a lot to me was when my grandpa introduced me to his nurse as his grandson. My Dad and I had flown out to visit him in the hospital, because he didn't have much longer to live. My grandfather was a short thin man; a fisherman and a cusser who was known as "Firpy" (my dad inherented the nickname) because in his youth he was scrappy (I believe there was a boxer named "Firpo"). He was not the kind of grandfather you felt comfortable to be bounced upon, on his knee, and run up to for hugs.

The reason why it was a healing experience to hear him tell the nurse that I was his grandson, was that a few years earlier, my mom in a moment of bitterness, told me the story of how Grandpa Phirpy apparently said to my Dad before he shipped to Japan, "I don't care what you do over there, but don't you dare marry a Japanese lady. If you do, I'll disown you." My dad said, "Alright". But of course, things turned out different. And no, apparently he didn't get disowned. But it was another experience in my maturation toward dealing with racism on a personal level.

My earliest memory of being race-conscious, was one day when I was about 4 or 5 living in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. My mom took me to check out Tinkerbell Kindergarten. It must have been an open-house or something. I went out on the playground where two boys were playing on the monkey bars. They basically told me to go away and I couldn't play there with them; they used racial slurs to reject me. Back then, children used to take their thumbs to stretch the corners out to mock those with "slant eyes". I don't see kids doing that these days. It was one of those experiences that began to shape my consciousness that there was something physically different about me from other "Americans"; that I didn't physically resemble Robert Conrad. And I began to take a closer look in the mirror, to see what others were seeing that I had failed to see.

As a footnote, one of the two boys, Richard, became my best friend and neighbor when we moved into the house across the street. Subsequently, because of that, the other kid, Butch, grew to accept me, too. They were the first ones to teach me a rhyme involving the "N" word. In a moment of ignorant innocence and stupidity, I asked Dad, "Do you want to hear something funny?" And I told him the rhyme. He asked me to repeat it. I think even then, even without the incredulous tone of disbelief in his voice, I knew that I had said something bad. And as young as I was, 5 maybe, I am sure I was conscious of what that word was related to. Richard and I had sang it, while sitting in a car, watching an elderly black man getting into his car. I was ignorant of what I was saying, and yet, part of me I think was consciously aware, and not so blissfully ignorant. My dad told me to never, ever say those words again. I didn't get spanked, but the verbal berating and the gravity in his tone of voice really made me feel ashamed.

My first girlfriend was in kindergarten. She was the only other Asian at Tinkerbell. Basically, she gave me no say in the matter of our relationship, and simply said, "You're mine. I own you." And I went along with it. Every recess, I had to pretend I was Little Joe (Michael Landon) from Bonanza. I still wanted to be James West, though.

I have a vague recollection of Bruce Lee from when I was really, really little. He must have been big, for me to have known about him without having actually seen any of his movies. Back then, and later when the Kung Fu TV series came out, if you were Oriental, you were expected to know karate chops and kung fu. The only Asian hero I remember who "looked like me" when I was young, was Ultraman's alter ego, Science Patrol member Hayata. It came on in South Carolina, translated from the Japanese series, during the afternoon, hosted by a pretty woman called "Happy Rain", dressed like an Indian. Other than Hayata, all of my heroes and role models growing up, the G.I. doll toys I played with, the T.V. and movie stars, were white male figures. When Star Trek was on, I didn't want to be Lt. Sulu. I wanted to be Captain James T. Kirk, dammit.

Multiculturalists would tell the four year-old boy in the photo that he was being white-washed. They would tell the 40 year old blogger hammering this post out on his keyboard, that he is a twinkie: White on the inside, yellow on the out. If I were black, maybe I'd be an Uncle Tom and a sellout. I spent 6 years of my college time living with two of my teammates, who were brothers. They also happened to be middle-class black, from Alburqurque. One day, a student asked Greg, the younger brother, if he had been to any ASU meetings, lately. He replied that, "Yeah, we've been out there; we compete there sometimes." (My roommates and I were on the gymnastics team- the older brother, Chainey, eventually making the '96 U.S. Olympic Team). The guy who asked Greg the question just shook his head and thought my roommate was so out of touch because Greg thought he meant had he been to Arizona State University; but what he really was asking is, had Greg attended any African Student Union group meetings.

UCLA is heralded as diverse and multicultural. That might be. But rather than a melting pot, half of what I saw were self-segregationists. On my way to class, down Bruin Walk, I could see the Chinese Student Union members mingling at the steps of Kerkhoff Hall; on the other side, ASU members hung out together. I attended one Pilipino student group meeting, and found myself turned off by the rhetoric of activism, which had an "Us vs. Them" mentality of persecution. I, as a non-Filipino, felt alienated because I didn't identify myself through my skin-color. They didn't know this, and probably thought I fit right in, due to my shared Malay heritage.

In college, I largely slept-walked (is that even a phrase? Does it matter? It is one now...) through student political activism and consciousness. That is probably a good thing, because even though my father always voted Republican, I was not "overtly" raised on conservative values and principles. My dad is not particularly political. He never really told me "You should think this way, you should not think that way" when it came to political thought. So, really, I was pretty ripe pickings for liberal indoctrination. It happened to some degree. Being an English major, I read a number of modern American literature focused on issues of multiculturalism and racism, with teachers to match. My poly sci professor came to class in tie-dye and Grateful Dead concert t-shirts, jeans, and sandals. He was a Marxist.

Liberalism was all around me, and somehow I was innoculated from much of the "damaging", "brainwashing" effects, even without understanding and being exposed to conservative ideology.

It was only after 9/11, that my political conservative gene was activated. The events of 9/11 shaped my political identity and forced me to exercise a voice in the political direction that this country heads into. Responsibility for the future rests with each of us. I realize now, that there are no sidelines. No fence-sitting. Politics is vital to shaping our values, upholding our traditions, and steering the direction that our country heads into, in a post-9/11 world.

Going back to the NYTimes article....

My opinion is strictly my own and I do not pretend to speak for every person adopted by parents of a different ethnicity. That being said, I strongly disagree with the parents who feel it is necessary to force cultural heritage studies upon a child, based upon the child's ethnic makeup and native culture. Especially if the child expresses non-interest. The Chinese adopted girls do not need to be raised to know intimately, Chinese culture. What they do need to be raised on, are American heritage, American values, American traditions. The adoptive parents are misguided if they feel obligated to give their child a Chinese name and raise a Chinese kid. What they need to do, is they need to raise an American kid and impart the knowledge, traditions, heritage, family history, religious beliefs, that they are familiar with.

My college roommates are now both doctors. They did not embrace Afrocentrism and black separatist nationalism. Nor have they been white-washed simply because they speak perfectly good English, have kept their "slave names", and embrace and contribute to mainstream American society. That is not being "a sell out". It's participating in the American dream. It is enjoying the fruits of their labor in the land of golden opportunities. A country where any citizen regardless of race, gender, or class can grow up to become president.

Diversity is our strength; assimiliation, the glue that binds us all together. E(x) pluribus unum. Out of many, one.

Multiculturalism, as it is preached today, is not about celebrating the beauties of other cultures and appreciating mixed heritages. In the hands of leftists, it is about separatism and narcissism. It is the selfish need to replace already established American values and traditions with one's native values and traditions. All cultures are not equal, when it comes to the historical shaping and founding of America. I am neither Jew, nor Christian; but I fully acknowledge and appreciate that it is what is commonly referred to as our Judeo-Christian values that enables us to tolerate, welcome, and embrace all other cultural heritages. That is at the core of America. When immigrating to this country, the core must be adopted. It is up to immigrants who wish to be American to adapt to American customs and values; not the other way around. Otherwise, we will dissolve into a nation of many nations and many people. Not one nation and one people. I am all for adding one's unique cultural flavor to the mix; but I am not for replacing the established American "core" culture with one's own.

So, who do you now see when you look at the photo at the top?

I see a young boy who will grow up secure in his own identity; who acknowledges his ethnic roots, but is not bound to it by the divisiveness of race and skin color. I see my past which came to shape my present.

And here I am, a proud and grateful American.


Crossposted on Independence Day at Flopping Aces

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24 Comments:

Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...

That's precisely what I see as well: a little kid playing as a cowboy and having fun. Luckily you didn't buy into the separatist bullsh*! and matured beyond that puerile crap. Not to be unkind, but I think your readers couldn't care less about your melanin count. We just know you write and sport a fabulous blog. Which is why we keep returning.

BZ

Saturday, July 05, 2008 3:21:00 PM  
Blogger Marie's Two Cents said...

Happy 4th of July Word :-)

Saturday, July 05, 2008 3:25:00 PM  
Blogger J_G said...

I think the Little cowboy is cute. If I would have seen that picture without you giving an explanation I would have thought nothing of it other than "cool, a little guy having fun playing Cowboys and Indians". The thought of the child looking Asian wouldn't/t and doesn't make much difference to me.

You've done very well for yourself Word. Many of us have been picked on by other children because there is something different about us. I have red hair and was called carrot top and freckle face but I got over it and when I quit letting it bother me they stopped calling me names.

There no blacks in my school when I was growing up. In 10th grade a Jamaican family moved to our district and he had a very unusual name, Desmond Pringle. He was nice guy and he talked with a British accent. Other than that it wasn't until the the Navy that I had to deal with other races and it really wasn't a big deal because we all had our jobs to do.

So you can tell Barack Obama that you are not the typical Asian person and I am not the typical white person, we are just typical Americans and race makes little difference to us.

Saturday, July 05, 2008 5:31:00 PM  
Blogger airforcewife said...

That was awesome, Word.

Saturday, July 05, 2008 5:45:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My "nic" is "Aridog" but I have none of the "keys" required to ID myself here otherwise.

For the record, when I first saw the photo, on another blog where this post was linked, I saw a kid in a cowboy outfit, period. I did not notice that the kid wasn't "Anglo." It's not that I am not sensitive to it, since my first wife was Korean (I lived there for 2.5 years long ago) and our child is a beautiful successful woman about your age who has the requisite temperment of being Korean/Irish...e.g., to match the peppers in Korean food....which she doesn't eat. It is simply that I don't "see" color and features as definitive, so I don't see them first off. Period. Once you mentioned it I went back to look again, not before.

I can't find anything in your words I disagree with, in fact, I like your attitude. You are unquestionably "American" and understand what that means...if anything, today, that makes you more unique than much of anything else, sad to say.

Recently I met a young man working in a cell phone store with a distinctly Irish first name and surname. His face was so Korean he could pose as any number of ancient kings. Because of my own background I just had to ask after we chatted a while, how he came to such a distinct Irish name. His story mirrors yours, and in fact, we spoke later at length, with him asking me about Korea, not vice versa....with me explaining what I loved about the land of his heritage and original birth, and in fact, how it melded so easily with American culture. I noted, as I do with your words, how he identifed with being American over all else.

That is how it should be. Here, we come from everywhere, but become one. As you said.

Saturday, July 05, 2008 9:45:00 PM  
Blogger Z said...

there isn't anything to say except I'm linking to this at my site. WHAT a post. Thanks, I'm really moved. Would that there were more Americans like you.

Saturday, July 05, 2008 10:37:00 PM  
Blogger Karen said...

This is such a touching, personal post, Word. Really well written, your point is well expressed. We are all Americans, all from somewhere else, somewhere along the family lines.

Terms like African-American, brought into play by Jesse Jackson, only divide. They are black Americans. Period. I don't use the politically correct nonsense. Just as I don't describe Obama as black - he is bi-racial. Isn't his white heritage just as important? Of course it is.

I was born and raised in the Deep South with parents from Indiana - Hoosiers. Fortunately we were raised without prejudices and open to all. Or I like to think we were. We are all only human.

My son has been raised in very 'diverse' spots. Especially here in Houston, and I am so proud of that. His first girlfriend was first generation American - her parents from China. They refer to themselves as American.

When my son graduated from high school last month, I told him his graduating class - 555 kids from a large urban, public school - looked like the U.N. His friends ethnic hertiages cover the spectrum. I think he's off to a fine start in life.

Your parents must be very proud of you, Word. Rightly so.

Sunday, July 06, 2008 8:17:00 AM  
Blogger The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

bz wrote:Not to be unkind, but I think your readers couldn't care less about your melanin count.

I don't necessarily write with my amen chorus in mind. I do so with visitors lke Rhonda, in mind.

j_g wrote:There no blacks in my school when I was growing up.

When I was at Johnston High School in Austin, Tx, the only racism I experienced, came from some of the black students who would try and pick fights with me and speak in pseudo "Ching-chong" Chinese, to mock the language.

So you can tell Barack Obama that you are not the typical Asian person and I am not the typical white person, we are just typical Americans and race makes little difference to us.

That sounds rather typical American.

afw, I'm so glad you stopped by to read it.

Aridog, Thanks also for the visit, and sharing some of your story. The other blog you speak of, could only be Flopping Aces. Curious to know how you found your way here.

z wrote: Would that there were more Americans like you.

All you need do is look in the mirror. I've enjoyed your posts a lot that touches upon your Armenian heritage.

karen,

Thanks for sharing some of yourself here, too.

Sunday, July 06, 2008 10:49:00 AM  
Blogger Beverly said...

A wonderful post. Thank you for posting it. I enjoy reading your comments over at Pondering Penguin.

Sunday, July 06, 2008 1:13:00 PM  
Blogger SkyePuppy said...

Wordsmith,

I'm with you rather than your kindergarten girlfriend. James West is WAY better than Little Joe!

When I was in grade school, I used to swing between feeling smug over having the most nationalities of all my classmates (8) and being discouraged that none of them was really cool. Some of the other girls were one or two European nationalities "and Cherokee." I was so jealous!

My school (Navy town, lower middle-class neighborhood) had a mix of races except black until I was in 4th grade, when the first black family arrived. The girl who was my age was really nice, and I don't remember any racial problems.

One family across the street was from Indonesia, and they spoke Dutch at home. I was fascinated and tried to learn some Dutch by listening to them, but all I learned was (spelled as pronounced), "Nay" and "Kohm don" (the "don" might have been the youngest boy's name, rather than part of the Dutch for "come here").

My fascination for people who are different from me and are from far-flung locations hasn't faded. My heritage, my background, and my upbringing seem so completely ordinary that I love hearing about people and places that stir my imagination. My favorites are people who are here because they want(ed) to become one of us. So I'm glad you're glad you're American.

Sunday, July 06, 2008 1:32:00 PM  
Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...

Word: if you meant RhondaCoca, then I must write that as soon as she wrote "my people" I tuned her out. "MY people." I wonder who MY PEOPLE are? Striating MY PEOPLE is precisely what I rail against. Striating everyone and everything has NO linking nature whatsoever and disparages the E PLURIBUS UNUM of which you write. At a time when we should be speaking and writing of a common American UNITY, people continue to highlight, value and only recognize the DIFFERENCES between groups. In my opinion, that phrase de-legitimizes all that she's attempted to write before and after.

I read and value your blog for one reason: it makes sense. Unity makes sense. Striation and emphasis on disunity makes little if any national sense if we wish to continue as a cohesive country.

BZ

Sunday, July 06, 2008 2:32:00 PM  
Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...

However, I do understand the point of your publishing, not editing or deleting comments. I can say that I have yet to delete one comment on my blog (that wasn't spam).

BZ

Sunday, July 06, 2008 2:34:00 PM  
Blogger Layla Gonzalez said...

What an awesome post. Thank you.

Sunday, July 06, 2008 4:05:00 PM  
Blogger Z said...

Hi, Wordsmith!

Check out my recipe post, I invented an ARMENIAN HOT DOG for you! (i'd like to TRY it, too!!)

no need to thank me for the plug..this piece is fabulous..and thanks for the compliment.

Sunday, July 06, 2008 5:54:00 PM  
Blogger Average American said...

What a great start on a fantastic autobiography! NOBAMA did it and you certainly can do a WHOLE LOT BETTER than he did.

Joe

P.S. I found you via Z's blog. And what I noticed about the picture was the antique pants.

Sunday, July 06, 2008 10:06:00 PM  
Blogger The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

beverly,

Thanks for the visit!

skyepuppy,

Thanks for your comment.

bz,

I've never felt the need to delete a comment yet, because I think if there's anything vile and hateful, it merely is a reflection on the commenter. If someone who disagrees with me makes a good point, well then that is self-evident as well, and kudos to the person who put me in my place.

layla,

Thanks for taking the time to read it. It's long and nothing to do with grand politics, so I appreciate anyone's time on it.

z,

You're making me hungry! I'll swing by.

average american,

Thanks for coming by. Yeah, I don't think those pants were ever cool, even in the 70's!

Monday, July 07, 2008 10:44:00 AM  
Blogger Ron Simpson said...

Dude, my first thought was "hideous plaid pants!" Plaid should be the purview of people who wear kilts. It does not look right anywhere else.
Maybe I was sheltered as a kid. I never heard a racist comment till my dad got out of the Air Force when I was 10 or so and we moved back to Oklahoma and I went to public schools. I had to ask my mom and dad what they meant. That was an ear full. Needless to say, I have wonderful parents who taught me to value people for who they are and not color or any other stupidly narrow way of judgement.
I am a stepson. Not the same as an adoptee, but similar. My stepdad is my dad. He never, not once, referred to me as his stepson. I was his son. His dad was my grandpa and I was his grandson. I loved them and they loved me. Of course, I was such a great kid, who could not love me?
Now, I have a stepson. I call him my son. I don't ever introduce him as my stepson. I have had to explain to some people who knew me 8 years ago and I have not seen in a while that I married his mom, but they all have been supportive of my attitude.
As a stepson who loves his dad, how can I be any other kind of dad. Step dad is a label I refuse to take.

Monday, July 07, 2008 12:42:00 PM  
Blogger The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

Lol on the plaid pants, already!!!

I almost wish I had some in my size, just so I could prance outdoors right now, and make a laughing stock of myself.

Ron,

I think military life has to be one of the best-integrated communities when it comes to race. Two of my best friends growing up on base at the Air Force Academy were Joey and Billy Archey. They were black and I never knew anyone who were racist toward them or to myself while at Douglas Valley Elementary. I was so jealous of them, because they had Cub Scout uniforms to wear when we played Cavalry soldiers. I always asked my parents to put me in Cub Scouts, but for some reason, it never happened.

Thanks for sharing a bit of your background history.

Monday, July 07, 2008 12:58:00 PM  
Blogger Bloviating Zeppelin said...

Word: my thoughts precisely; I couldn't have expressed that better.

BZ

Monday, July 07, 2008 1:23:00 PM  
Blogger Marty said...

What a cutie!

I do hope Rhonda comes back and reads this.

Thanks for sharing Word.

You could lose the gun, however.

:)

Monday, July 07, 2008 2:39:00 PM  
Blogger Ron Simpson said...

I was never a scout either. I grew up and joined the Army. Scouting badges are great but pale in comparison. :)
My dad was Air Force. We were stationed at NORAD in Colorado Springs back in 74-76 I think. I was around 5. I went back to visit my old house and kindergarden when I was TDY at Ft Carson. I remember my house seeming so big as a kid. Now it is in a run down neighborhood and seemed kind of small.
Even thought I am no longer military, my kids are being raised in that tradition like I was. But it seems to me that kids these days seem to know less and less about racism. I hope Martin Luther King's dream comes to pass in spite of all the people that try to pervert or derail it.
Have a good one.

Monday, July 07, 2008 3:31:00 PM  
Blogger The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

You could lose the gun, however.

Lol. Spoken like a true pacifist.


ron,

I was in Colorado just this past weekend, visiting the folks. We looked at my old elementary school (looked the same) but couldn't visit our base housing because they are doing some sort of renovating with fences closing the area off with signs about a "privatization" project.

Anyway, it was very nostalgic to revisit where I spent some of my childhood.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008 9:34:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I found this piece of you that you have shared to be beautiful. No surprise though....I've known since shortly after we first met that you're truly amazing!

Tuesday, August 12, 2008 7:00:00 PM  
Blogger The WordSmith from Nantucket said...

ok...no fair, anon, posting a comment (on an old post) as someone who apparently knows me, but won't be identified. Who are you?

Tuesday, August 12, 2008 8:53:00 PM  

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