- Posted August 29, 2013 by
This iReport is part of an assignment:
Everyday racism: Your stories
As the youngest daughter of 2 hardworking Filipino immigrants, I was the only one out of my siblings to be born a United States citizen. My parents made great sacrifices to move across the world and leave everything and everyone they knew to give their children a better life. I grew up in a nice middle class neighborhood, surrounded by families of various ethnic backgrounds. Growing up my best girlfriends were Hispanic, Indian, and Caucasian. Despite this Chicago suburban melting pot, my first run in with racism came early- on the playground. I remember once during 1st grade another kid made fun of me and called me a "Chink". I was too young to even know what that was, but that derogatory term was successful in sending me home in tears. When I learned that "Chink" was a derogatory term for people of Chinese descent, I still couldn't comprehend. I remember saying "but I'm not even Chinese, I'm Filipino". I felt so low that day, a feeling and a memory that I would bury until many years later. That was my first run-in with racism. As an adolescent I remember trying to pinch my nasal bridge wishing it was more "American" and wishing my eyes weren't so "Asian looking".
My parents and my older sisters pooled all their resources to make sure I would succeed. I was the first of my parent's children to obtain a college degree. Their encouragement and support motivated me to strive even further- I got into medical school and became an officer in the military. I was living the immigrant's dream, the American dream of a life with new opportunities possible only in the land of the free.
While I was in medical school I visited my sister in New Jersey. While shopping at the mall I had an experience that would shake me and bring me back to how I felt that day on the playground. I was in the fitting room trying on clothes. I stepped out of the fitting room momentarily to show my sister my outfit when a Caucasian lady walked into my fitting room and locked the door behind her. I laughed to myself thinking, poor lady she must have forgotten which room she was in. I politely knocked on the door to tell her she made a mistake and that all of my things, including my clothes and my purse were in there, and I couldn't believe it- she wouldn't open the door! We had to ask the sales lady to get her to leave the fitting room. When she did, she went in the previously unoccupied fitting room next to mine. It was at that point that I heard her say "F!@#ing Chink!", loud enough so I would hear it.
It was like a knife into my chest. I was in shock. I couldn't believe that a complete stranger could say something so ignorant and hurtful. I felt like that small little girl again, helpless and powerless and humiliated. I was an officer in the military who committed my career in service to our country, yet I felt invisible. I left the clothes there. I walked out of the fitting room and told my sister what happened. Furious she tried to confront the lady from outside the fitting room, telling her I was more of an American than she will ever be. I was silent- too shocked to say anything. I cried in a mall that day. Silently, tears streamed down my face as a grown woman. I'm not sure if I was more sad for myself or sad for what that meant about society.
Almost 10 years later I can look back on those 2 examples of everyday racism in my own life without the pain. Today I am in an interracial marriage. We don't have kids yet, but part of me is afraid of the challenges they will face being of mixed race. I recently learned that the Supreme Court ruling that overturned laws against interracial marriage was recent- 1967! It reminded me that although society has come far in terms of equality, we have many miles to go.