AMERICAN MANNERS

Cross posted from ASPIRE  

While brushing my daughter's long, tightly curled hair (which she inherited from her Puerto Rican's dad side of the gene pool), she hesitantly asked me about a "bad word."

"Can I say it, Mom? Can I tell you what the bad word is?" she asked me.

"Go ahead, honey. Tell me what the bad word is."

"D-u-m. Dumb. Is dumb a bad word, Mom?"

"Well, first of all, it's d-u-m-b, though I have no idea why, and it's a bad word if you are calling someone dumb or if you are making fun of someone. Otherwise, it's just a word. Why? Where did you hear it?"

She smiled widely. I heard it in this song, "Chinese people, Chinese people, Chinese people are so dumb!" She extended her forefingers. I knew exactly what was happening next. My early childhood years stuck me in my stomach, and I could feel the heat rising from my bile. She pulled at the corners of her eyes, mimizing her wide Latina eyes into squinty, chinky, silts of skin.

"Jo! NO! That is NOT funny." I could hear the anger of a thousand Asian children in my voice. I could hear my own timid, shy, and careful voice hush my rage.

"But, all the kids laugh when Robbie sings it at school! I think it's so funny!"

We sat down against the rim of the bathtub, placed the wide tooth comb on the floor and held hands. We talked for the next few minutes about the song, about her family -- the other half of her Puerto Rican/Filipino heritage -- and that the song makes fun of people who look like her mother.  We talked about how making fun of people -- any types of people -- is hurtful. She said she didn't want to say anything to her friends because she was afraid they wouldn't like her anymore. She was afraid that if she told them about her mom -- that her mom was Asian -- then they wouldn't want to be her friends anymore if she didn't think the song was funny.

She's seven. And, the truth is, the kid in her class heard it from somewhere. He heard it from somewhere, someone, who thinks the song is funny or who thinks Chinese people are D-U-M.

They are seven. Though obviously Asian, I grew up on these songs, too. I heard all sorts of racist and homophobic songs growing up, many of them I can remember the words to even 30 years later.

But, someone taught these seven-year-old kids this song. And, with the latest viral YouTube video here (reposted from Colorlines since the original was pulled down), these songs, beliefs, and language that disparage Asians are still prevalent today.

Organizations like ASPIRE fill a need for so many of us. Some of us need ASPIRE so we can feel connected to a family. Some of us need it so we can  feel connected to a cause. Some of us need ASPIRE so we can feel connected to ourselves. But, for all of us, we need ASPIRE as a statement of Asian sisters participating in reaching excellence.