When my mom was feeling kind, she used to say my Caucasian looks were an asset. No one would think I’m different from them. My name, she would say proudly, was American and therefore I would have all the opportunity this country has to offer without any of the prejudice.
While waiting in line at a clothing store, a young woman once turned to my mother and aunt and told them to speak English or go back to China. I thought it was the hazard of shopping in a poorer, less educated neighborhood.
After water polo practice when I was fourteen, I’d jumped into my mother’s car when a man leaned out of his car window and told her that she was the worst Asian driver he’d ever seen. She gave him the finger and offered me some hot congee in a thermos. The incident didn’t stick in my mind.
My junior year of high school, my mother and I drove around North Carolina looking at colleges. I left the state musing that Southern hospitality clearly only applied to minorities. It never occurred to me to register the side looks and silence from the white residents we encountered.
Two years ago, on a road trip to see Abe Lincoln’s cabin, my mother stopped at a Walmart to use the bathroom (is there anything more American than that?). As she was walking up the aisles, two white men flanked her and started making “ching chong” noises. They pulled their eyes wide to make them slanted. She walked quickly – Hong Kong –style quickly – to her destination without acknowledging either of them. By now, she was well-practiced.
These instances never lingered in my mind. Naiveté or fear prevented me from stringing the pattern together. Compared to the blatant, violent racism that others have experienced, maybe I felt that micro-aggressions didn’t have the right to manifest in my mind.
After the election, I started to comb through this country’s history and to rewrite the version I have witnessed. In Trump’s America, where the veneer of American idealism and tolerance has been ripped away to reveal something sickening, my childhood memories have started to morph. I recall moments of such ugliness that never revealed themselves relevant to me until now because I am scared for more than just my mother. And I now have to face the fact that the history from my memory is not the history that actually exists.
Photo is Wikimedia creative commons
Guest Author Bio
Mallory is a bleeding heart liberal who lives in New York and works in Publishing.