“Actualy, we’re Korean!”

Leslie is a friend who, along with her family, has been very generous to our family over the past few years.  She agreed to let me post the following story which she originally shared on her Facebook page.  I share it here with no commentary except to express my gratitude to Leslie and other friends whose stories help me understand a little more what the world feels like from another’s perspective.

“Hey, you’re Chinese!”

Our family of four had just left the house on our way to dinner.  Four young white boys were strolling leisurely down the alley.  As our car slowly approached, they made barely enough room for us to drive by.  As we did, one said loudly, “Hey, you’re Chinese!”  While my husband Mike kept driving forward, I immediately rolled down my window and replied, “No, actually, we’re Korean!”  Then one of the boys took the ball he was holding and threw it towards our car.  We were too far forward and his arm was too weak to place the ball anywhere near us, but the intent was clear.  While Mike kept driving forward, I tried to roll down my window, look back, even tried to get out of the car, etc.  Ball retrieved and thrown again.  I was ticked.  Mike calmly kept driving only stopping once briefly in response to my, “STOP!”  Mike: “Why?  What are you going to do?”  Me: “I don’t know, but I can’t just NOT do anything.  Maybe teach them some manners or see where they live or try to find the parents?”  Mike kept driving.  I kept being ticked.

What to do in that situation?  They were probably only 8 to 10 years old.  Being a quarter of a century older and wiser didn’t seem to affect my reaction.  In fact, as we continued driving, I had to fight back tears and even say to myself, Think happy thoughts. Instead, I thought of first grade in West Virginia when some kid called me Chinese.  My friend, Ellen Wheeler, was so mad she told the teacher, Mrs. Morrison, who was navigating how to handle this situation since I was probably the first Asian kid she taught.  Even some 6 year olds, like sweet Ellen did, know better.  But then again, many do not.  I thought again of 2nd grade when a cute 3rd grader’s friend also called me Chinese and made the usual “ching chong” sounds.  I have a bad memory, but these and many others are burned in my old, forgetful head with much clarity.

My darling children will be teased, hurt, made to feel less than, and there is absolutely nothing I can do.

It’s not just that the incident unearthed childhood wounds.  I could say that last night’s sleep deprivation was making me emotional to an extreme today.  It’s more likely the fact that my precious and impressionable 5 year old and my adorable and mimicking almost 3 year old were in the back seat to witness it all.  Poor Ethan had to hear another mom speech about ignorance, people making mistakes/poor decisions, how you are not to throw things at people no matter what, do not tease, etc.  But what might be most responsible for the tears and allowing prepubescent kids to upset me so much was the fact that I know it is inevitable that my darling children will be teased, hurt, made to feel less than, and there is absolutely nothing I can do about that fact.  I cannot protect them from the cruelty of life.  I will not be able to stand in front of them and take every bullet of pain no matter how much I would want to or how hard I try.  All I can do is love them and give them the tools to wear their own bullet-proof vest or the means to heal from those shots that eventually penetrate, because they will.  And they will sting, hurt and wound.

Ignorance is everywhere, in the hills of West Virginia and the streets of Chicago.  Human nature as well.  But I do believe that being where we are (the city, a diverse church, our neighborhood school) will provide opportunities to broaden our children’s horizons so that hopefully they will not be the kids who throw stones.  Earlier this same day, I had the privilege of helping to shower a mother-to-be.  The room was filled with friends and family of different races who touchingly shared the beauty of Anna and the fortune of her son who will no doubt be raised in abundant love.  I cried happy tears in celebration of who she is and who her biracial child will grow up to be under such direction and care.  It was a stark contrast to what I experienced just a few hours later.

Black hair and small dark brown eyes are just as lovely as blonde hair or black skin.

We continued on to Cho Sun Ok, ate a delicious Korean dinner, and were surrounded by a room busting of Asians.  The boys gobbled down mandoo, chadolgui, and little Connor even ate several bites of the spicy kimchi bokumbap.  For some reason, seeing him inhale kimchi made me so proud.  Good food and ice cream for dessert helped diffuse the anger.  Those kids in the alley are probably decent kids.  Contrary to my desire to label them as bad, ignorant, and even sheltered rich white boys, they are probably not.  After all, I’ve seen my “perfect” children tease and make poor decisions, too.  Instead, I have to remind myself that there is very little to separate us in the mistakes that we make.  Instead, I threw in one more mom speech before bedtime about how God created us differently and those differences are not to be objects of ridicule but rather beauty, that black hair and small dark brown eyes are just as lovely as blonde hair or black skin.  I’m thankful that Ethan and Connor do and will have friends of all kinds, races, socio-economic statuses, languages, etc.  I’m also thankful that I’m married to a calm, rational man who can counter my urges to get out of the car and whoop some ass.

6 thoughts on ““Actualy, we’re Korean!”

  1. Thank you Leslie for sharing…Thank you David for re-posting (with permission).. May I share on my FB as well?

  2. Leslie, you are the best! Thanks so much for sharing this. I actually think this is a VERY pivotol moment for your kids. In college friends always recounted situations like this when they were about 10 and how they saw their parents respond to racism and how they learned from it. I am glad you yelled at them! They need to know it’s not ok…and at 8-10 is when they are not kids anymore- they will turn into Alexandria Wallace making racist videos and then thinking, “what? what did I do wrong..oh, I see…sorry”
    We need to definitely extend grace to the kids that said those things..because they very well may be ignorant and sheltered. Their parents MAY have been horrified had they found out, but then again they may be hearing comments in their home about the mexicans taking our jobs and the chinese taking over the world. (these are comments I hear shopping at trader Joes- people say this in public.)
    We can’t change the world in a day, but we can certainly do something to influence. You may not be able to be there for them, but speaking out about your experience(blog), and not just brushing it off, is making a HUGE difference. Thanks
    We need grace to stay committed to celebrating diversity and differences, while at the same time the courage to stand out against injustice. It is hard.
    Your the best!
    (ps. I’d of loved to see their faces had you stepped out of the car.

  3. thanks, all. and yes, daniel, feel free to share. i’m encouraged by the conversations that have flowed from this now shared experience and do believe in the power of those conversations.

  4. Leslie and David, thank you for sharing this story!

    Too many times I’m still caught surprised by the rush of emotions, usually anger and sadness wrapped up in an adrenaline rush, when the racial taunts come at me or my family. It doesn’t seem to matter whether or not the words come from the mouths of babes or folks to whom I would greet with a deep bow had they shared my ethnicity. Sometimes it is ignorance. Sometimes it’s racist. It’s still always painful.

    I used to yell back, “I’m Korean” but now after almost 40 years I yell back, “I’m American!” That ALWAYS throws them off 😉

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