Wednesday, December 28, 2005
What's Wrong With A Little Privacy?
The vice president, who believes in unwarranted, unlimited snooping, is so pathologically secretive that if you use Google Earth's database to see his official residence, the view is scrambled and obscured. You can view satellite photos of the White House, the Pentagon and the Capitol - but not of the Lord of the Underworld's lair.
Vice is literally a shadow president. He's obsessive about privacy - but, unfortunately, only his own.
I think I'd be a little obsessed with privacy too if I were in his position, but I do agree that at some level, government policy should be transparent, or else. (Abu Ghraib is a pretty good example.) But that got me thinking about my own sense of privacy. I have been told before that I can seem guarded. (Not by my closest friends, but there is obviously something to it.) I do guard certain parts of my life with the same obsession and protectiveness as any vice president. Sometimes its simply because its not anyone's business but mine (and perhaps a few confidants); sometimes its about preventing people from trying to collect more ammunition to swipe me with (I have enough bruises already thank you very much). Sometimes I just don't feel like sharing. But I've always been amazed at how people think of others (in this case me), my personal decisions, my relationships and my time as their honest entitlement. Boggles the mind doesn't it? Thankfully, I'm come a long way.
Having said all that, it's still incredibly irritating. Sometimes I want to say, "Don't you have anything more productive to do?" (Not a very nice thought, huh?)
Tuesday, December 27, 2005
Holiday Mentoring: Battling History and Personal Myths
I did learn something interesting this week though. This may not be a newsflash for you (especially for those of you that are teachers), but it was new to me. I realized something when I had my mentees over for Christmas dinner this weekend.
For those of you who haven't followed my mentoring story, you can read the history. Start here. And if you want some updates, see here, here, here and here
I learned that you have got to meet a child where they 'live' to encourage learning and self discovery, and then be prepared for some hard work. I also learned that I've got to be patient. This is hard for me, because I want things to move quickly. I want to see results. I want them to feel confident and loved and have all the skills they'll need to live the lives they want to live. But history is a complicated thing. Even in the mind and heart of a nine or ten year old, there is just so much history. What I learned is that when I speak to these children, I am speaking to everything they have experienced or thought about for their entire little lives. It's a lot to think about and sometimes feels overwhelming. Chill out Vern. Take it a day at a time (that's what I'm telling myself.) For Christmas, I wanted to show my mentees a good time and that started with some meaningful Christmas gifts. That was the idea.
From our Saturday morning visits to the library, I knew that Stephen liked superheroes, so for Christmas, I bought him the Ultimate Spiderman. Its a collection of comics. His favorite superhero IS Spiderman, after all. I also thought it might be interesting to get him a black superhero comic. So with a slightly warmer than lukewarm recommendation from a random African American comic book enthusiast at my local Borders, I also bought The Black Panther by James Kirby. As you will see from the Amazon reviews, it doesn't get rave reviews, but it's my attempt to introduce Stephen to other characters. Who knows if he will take to it, but it was worth the effort.
Johnny, the older of the two, and the one who is in many ways struggling the most, received a book on how to draw. I can't remember the author's name, but he was pleased. I asked for a drawing or two before he left. I wanted a little something to put up, but I also wanted him to realize how cool the gift could be. Both he and Stephen used the book to make some sketches. Stephen drew a plesiosaur for LO (he knows LO loves the dinosaur age). Johnny drew a shark and a whale. Johnny suggested that he could draw when he was sad. (I was all over that.) I agreed and said he could also draw whenever he became angry or frustrated or mad. I think he finally got the point. Johnny is a bit of a loner. His inclination is to internalize things, so this could be an outlet of sorts.
Meanwhile Stephen is feeling a little left out. He is a bright, sensitive and social child - very impressionable, taken in by T.V., video games and wants to 'fit in.' He's trying so hard to impress me. He wants my husband to accept him. He wants me to love him. And he is constantly fearful that no one does. I think he is also struggling with his reading comprehension and attention span. He tried to read the comic book for maybe 45 minutes, but then I guess it was just too much. He became moody and said he wished he could play. By then it was dinner time. My husband asked why he hadn't played instead of reading. He was unresponsive. Then I kind of weighed in. Sometimes he tries to control you with his moodiness. I had to follow up with a series of hard questions which ended with, "After all the cooking and trying to make this a special day for you guys, does your attitude make me want to invite you over again, yes or no? He admitted the answer was no, and quickly bopped up to say that he just needed to talk to someone to feel better. Now, he said, he was perfectly fine to have dinner.
I always had this image of what this mentoring experience would be like. This is not what I expected. At dinner, both boys couldn't wait to tell me all the things they would not eat. (We don't do that.) I, of course, can't make these kids eat anything. I'm not their parent and they don't live with me. But I can say (which I did) that I don't want to hear what you don't want. Tell me what you do want. This, I repeated several times. After dinner, we played games, watched two movies and I took them home. They arrived home full of stories about games, gifts and a good time. They were happy.
I worked so hard to be firm and at the same time, once it was over to let things go quickly. I felt like I was constantly correcting language, manners and behavior. I don't know if it is the right way to go about this, but I reinforced my values and it felt like a decent way to keep this relationship going.
What's interesting has to do with my son, my little one (LO). My four year-old has more tolerance for literature than the nine and ten year-old. No one has told him yet that children's literature is not cool or is boring. He never learned not to be patient if there are a few words that he doesn't understand or a part of the book he doesn't get. He doesn't know yet that stretching the brain is a turn off (like work with manipulatives, or Chinese, or whatever.) To be fair though, my son also hasn't learned that everyone is not interested in this kind of thing. He thinks absolutely everyone is going to be intrigued by his Chinese or share his interest in dinosaurs. Unfortunately, one day he'll learn this the hard way. And lastly, he's an only child. So that means as parents we find almost everything he says interesting or funny. That's going to come back to bite him too. I'd be willing to bet alot of money on it.
That was our Christmas. I wish I could just pull all three out of school and homeschool them. But that won't happen. So, my new goal is to continuously meet them where they live (Spiderman, drawing, marine animals, dinosaurs), stretch them and continue to pick them up and encourage them. Most importantly, I want to be an influence in their lives for a long time. It's a long journey and I don't even know where we'll be a year from now. But it's a fine investment in the future. It's a decent investment of my time.
Friday, December 23, 2005
Have An Authentically Fabulous Christmas!!
1) I WILL have a no stress Christmas.
Everyone will not get a Christmas card this year and that's O.K. If I give a gift, it WILL be meaningful and heartfelt. I will cook what I want to eat. (Since I'm the only one cooking.)
2) I WILL tell all of my closest friends and family (and mentees) how much I love them this Christmas. I WILL give them my full undistracted attention during this conversation and I WILL mean every word of it.
3) I WILL spend time during the holiday to read up on the birth, life and death of Jesus. It's the only way to have a personal relationship with him and I deserve that.
4) I WILL remember that the season can and should extend throughout the year.
4) I WILL NOT tolerate anyone or anything keeping me from concentrating on these goals and other areas of my life that matter to me.
A pretty good list, don't you think? I feel on top of the world today and filled with the spirit.
HAVE A WONDERFUL HOLIDAY Y'ALL!!!
Wednesday, December 21, 2005
Becoming Radicalized and Getting Back to Asia: Another Personal Story
I met my friend Sophia in China in 1996. She still rocks. Here's her story.
My grandmother, born in Belgium, came to New York city, THE city, with her mother in the early 1900s. Her father came first to find a job. My grandmother grew up in New York and eventually went to a two-year secretarial college. My grandfather was a civil engineer who helped design the New York subway system. My grandparents couldn’t get married right away because of the depression -my grandfather wanted a proper job. They did finally get married and my grandmother had three daughters. My mother was the oldest. When my mother was 14, they all moved to Long Island. My grandfather didn’t think his daughters should go to college, but my grandmother put her foot down and they all went.
My mother went to Barnard and majored in history. In her senior thesis, she argued that Soviet communism and Chinese communism were ‘fundamentally different and ultimately incompatible.’ Her professor told her she was an idiot and gave her a 'C.' A few years later, the Sino-soviet split happened. So you see, she was right! After she graduated, she married my father, a graduate student at Princeton. They met at a mixer at Princeton and got married three months later. He was 35 years old and she was 21. They moved up to Canada because my father got a job as a professor there. My mom decided to learn Russian, so she started her Ph.D. in Russian literature. She had me and my sister during that time.
My mother was very liberal. I mean that in a good way. I never remember curfews in high school. I felt like my mom trusted me. She read to us. She would sometimes read to us for several hours in the afternoon and on weekends. We didn’t have a television. She read us the whole Chronicles of Narnia series before I started first grade. She read us, The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. The book had a profound effect on me. I often feel like I am Lucy, walking through the back of the wardrobe into the magical world of Narnia where I‘ve met the fawns, the centaurs, the dwarfs, the witch. – all of them. Every time I get off a plane in another country, I feel like I’m living out the adventures that I read as a child. Those books, they instill the feeling of awe, intrigue and the desire to discover something new. When I was 12 and my sister was 10, we moved to Paris for a year. My father had a sabbatical. It was my mother who wanted us to go to Paris to be French bilingual. In Canada, I always got As in school. In France, I was almost failing from day one. (I was the only foreigner in my class.)
My mother did do one thing phenomenally well - she taught me how to write. I would show her my essays. She would look them over and suggest ways that I could write them better. She would also suggest bigger words that I could use. She taught me how to write persuasively and beautifully. It has been a huge bonus in my life. I could get good grades. I could get into a good college. I can write a good grant proposal. That’s how I’ve been supporting myself for years. I can effectively communicate to others those ideas that I believe. After all, if you can’t effectively and persuasively communicate your ideas to others, then your ideas are useless.
In my high school, I was the only kid who went to college outside of Canada. My mother was extremely involved. Princeton started taking women in 1969. By the time I went there in 1982, the student body was one third female. My mother told me how to apply, typed my application forms for me and I was thrilled to find that I was accepted. I couldn't believe it.
In my second year at Princeton, I dropped out. I had so many things going on in my life. My parents were getting divorced and my mom was very sick. (She died when I was 27. She was 52.) During that year, I worked as a chambermaid in Vanff [a resort area in western Canada].
I went back to school to finish at Princeton. The first traveling I did in college was the summer after my junior year. I went to the Soviet Union for a two-month Russian language program. I loved it and decided I would go back when I could. I wanted to learn to speak Russian well. And I also wanted to develop the friendships I had made there. I decided to learn Chinese in my senior year. I had wanted to study an Asian language for ages and senior year was my last chance. I went off to China and had a job teaching English for a year in Dalian. It was very difficult in the beginning. It was the poorest place I’ve ever been in my life. It was 1987. I couldn’t figure out how to buy milk because milk was rationed and you needed a coupon. I couldn’t get any green vegetables in the winter. My students were too poor to buy themselves a pair of glasses and they were hungry at the end of the month. It took some adjusting. (After a few months, I did figure out how to get milk without a coupon – I could order it through the guest house where I lived.)
I wanted to figure out a way to go to Russia to learn Russian. I asked people who were traveling. What is a good way to earn money? I was told, “Go to Japan, teach English and come back.” For four months I worked in Japan for 7 days a week. I had several day jobs and a night job. One of my first jobs was handing out pizza samples in front of an Italian restaurant. They wanted a white person. I finally saved enough money to go back to the Soviet Union (it was the Soviet Union then) for three months with a group of Canadian students. After three months, I found a way to extend my visa and stayed. That’s when I learned Russian. I stayed on for an extra two months. I lived with people who only spoke Russian. You really learn from interaction. There were days and days when I never spoke any English. Eventually, I wanted to do something interesting and challenging, so I decided to go to graduate school. From the time I left college to the time I started graduate school (4 years), I was in Asia or Russia. I spent one year in China, two years in Japan, and six months in Russia.
In graduate school, I spent three years taking courses. I really wanted to find a way to get back to Asia. The first three years of graduate school were not bad. I learned Japanese. I felt it was a failing on my part that I spent two years in Japan and had not learned Japanese. In my third year, I wrote grant applications to do research in Russia, China and Japan and got funded. I ended up spending three more years in Asia, all on grants. I was determined that I would go back to Asia. If the grants didn’t work, I would have found another way. I went back to the States to write up my dissertation. Writing my dissertation took a really long time – 6 years. I myself wasn’t clear on the topic. I’d done the research but I wasn’t clear on how to pull it together. And the interaction between me and my advisor was not helpful to me in moving forward. Graduate school is an elite, competitive atmosphere. It is hierarchical, it is undemocratic, and I was finally realizing that the reason people weren’t taking me seriously was because I was a woman and not because I was stupid. During that that time, I became radicalized.
1) I became a feminist.
2) I became serious about my yoga practice.
3) I became a vegan.
4) I became passionate about animals and animal rights.
5) I came to love my yoga world so much that I wanted to move to India as soon as I finished my dissertation come hell or high water and stay for a long time practicing yoga. (Now I live in Mysore, India and have been here for two years.)
I read some feminist books that helped me: The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan;
Sexual politics by Kate Millet; Moving Beyond Words by Gloria Steinem.
Right now I live in India and I work on married women with AIDS. I remember one of my students who drowned when I was in Dalian, China. He was 18 and he was trying to keep up with the other kids who knew how to swim. He didn’t. He was from Inner Mongolia and came from a poor family. At university, they didn’t teach students how to swim. They DID have state mandated military training. So he knew how to shoot a gun but he couldn’t swim. It wasn’t just water that killed that boy. It was poverty, ignorance, prioritizing military training over common sense safety, and machismo. That’s when I understood that you need to look beyond the immediate causal factors, water or even ability to swim and understand the roots of suffering. And in a way, that’s what I work on now – the social political, and cultural roots of people’s suffering. What are the circumstances that led to these women’s vulnerability to infection?
My hope for women here in India is that they can
1) Choose their husbands;
2) Go to school;
3) Go to university;
4) Wear a bathing suit and learn how to swim;
5) Be free from violence in their lives.
Sophia has graciously offered to give advice about school or travel: RussianSophia@yahoo.com.
Monday, December 19, 2005
Diabetes: You Can't Catch Me
I love fruit juices, but this weekend I realized that even those expensive 'fancy' juices have as much and sometimes more sugar than soda. Even the 'no sugar added' juices have a lot of sugar. And then there is the fact that all sugar is not made equal. My brother introduced me to some kind of cactus sugar (agave I think) that diabetics can drink. So this weekend I bought almond milk (I've bought it before, but not as a staple), organic pear juice (the least sugar in the lot), something like a V8 juice (different brand though - this one is fresh) and water of course. Man, is it painful. I've probably gained weight since cutting out caffeine (I'm substituting sugar and salt.) Now, I'll just cut out another vice.
Wish me luck!
Friday, December 16, 2005
Chinese Class: LO Wins An Award
Last week there was a speech "competition". All the students, as a group, recited their little puppy and duckling poems. Today they receive little medals for their accomplishment. So cute! Today, the painting cultural class had a competition by age group. The students displayed all their masterpieces from the beginning of the semester. They even broke artwork by age groups up so everyone got an award. LO got a blue ribbon (he's the only four year old in this class.) Needless to say he was thrilled!
One interesting development: two of the parents in the language class wanted to know if we study Chinese during the week (or, as one put it, does LO have a fantastic memory) and isn't it nice that LO is the favorite student? I'm not sure what that's about. I'm working on my sarcasm, so I said that I didn't think LO was the only student who knew the poems (all you have to do is say the poem a few times the day before and the day of class - sheesh!) And, I said, I'll consider her comment a compliment. Then she said it was only a "left handed compliment"...Whatever. Can't we all just get along? There are several parents though who are extremely kind to LO and I (including the teacher). And, that's life. It's not nice, or fun to deal with, but it is what it is. So, we'll keep it up until LO tells me he'd rather not go.
The Question of the Day: Encouraing Critical Thinking for the Underpriviledged
CRITICAL THINKING. Wow.
It can be compensated for, but hard to make up for if you weren't encouraged to question things, norms, etc. as a child. (That's an assumption, of course.) I wish I could convey this better. I don't just mean ask questions, but to go through the mental exercise of questioning everything. Education, love, spiritual grounding are also important pillars of growth and learning. What about the ability to question your worldview, think it through and then know where you stand and why?
Here's my question...What can be done to encourage critical thinking for children who aren't getting that at home? And, (O.K. I'm going to squeeze in a few other questions) can you really teach that to someone in class? And if that's not your parenting style today, how DO you incorporate that 'question everything' mindset in everyday living???
Thursday, December 15, 2005
Bush Supports Law to Ban Torture
After being a prisoner of war for 5 years in Vietnam, Senator John McCain has convinced enough of his peers that torture as a government strategy is a bad idea. I happen to think so too. It's a loose-loose situation.
Both the Senate and the House are in favor of the bill that bans prisoner torture. McCain says his amendment will prohibit "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment." That includes the CIA. The good news is that the law is also supposed to protect prisoners in U.S. custody regardless of where in the world they are being held. Today, according to Secretary of State Rice, detainees are sometimes (who knows how often) flown abroad for "interrogation."
As Americans, we love to hold ourselves and society up as a role model for democracy, respect and fairness. I'm O.K. with holding ourselves to high standards. It's the right thing to do and we could use a little global image repair.
Wednesday, December 14, 2005
Finding My Way: Another Personal Story (Part II)
When I arrived in Madison, only 186 out of 40,000 – 50,000 of the students were Asian -that didn’t count foreign students. By then, I had regained some pride in being Asian. (Before I’d wanted to be white.) What radicalized me was how the police treated the protesting students. You ended up protesting because the police were beating the sh*t out of the students. I began to read up on the war and I realized we weren’t being told the truth.
My consciousness was growing all over the place. I was a sponge, soaking up so much. I led two distinctly different lives. Madison was the probably the best place to become politically educated because everything was happening. I started the Asian American organization on campus. My white friends would say, “Why are you starting that group? You are American like me.” I would say, “That’s because you know me, if you didn’t know me you would treat me like I’m a foreigner.” I had heard them talking about ‘foreigners.’ Everyone knew me as head of the Asian American group. I used to be out there making speeches about how Vietnam was a racist war. Then, in afternoons or evenings, in bathrooms, I was meeting closeted gay man. Men’s library bathrooms were places where closeted gay men met. Nobody was out of the closet. I didn’t go to a gay bar until 1973 when Kenny dragged me, and Kenny was not even gay. We got there and the men weren’t in dresses.
Even though I was in the closet and didn’t tell anybody, I didn’t stress out. I knew I wouldn’t tell my parents, so that wasn’t an issue. Once I began going to gay bars, I realized I needed to come out to other demonstrators. There weren’t many of us, people who were political and lesbian or gay. You didn’t get a sense you could talk about it freely. You got the sense you were in two different worlds. The people in the anti-war movement were pretty much white accept for me and a few other people. Then in the end, in late evening, I was going to gay bars every night. Most of the guys were white and didn’t want a foreigner so I hung out with the African American and Latino gay and lesbians. I decided there was no way I could fully come out in Madison. I wanted to do progressive work. People were fine that I was gay, but they were just polite. It was their own homophobia playing out.
There was a whole movement that supported looking at alternative values and overthrowing the establishment. It wasn’t just being anti-establishment, it was overthrowing the establishment. It was a very exciting time to be in. Even though there were conservatives in power, there were enough radicals in place to counteract that. I got involved in the anti-war movement, and the local labor movement. At that time, Gardner’s bread workers were on strike; Holmes Tire workers were on strike. What happened was a lot of people involved in the anti-war movement were connecting with local people. I learned that things were interconnected. It was not just about the war over there, but how people were treated here.
I know that our student groups wanted to support local workers. Madison was one of the three college campuses supporting the war through defense contracts. University of Michigan at Ann Arbor was the second institution and the third may have been Princeton. Intense research was happening on campus’s, on computerizing the war. I didn’t finish school right away and moved to San Francisco. I came back to Madison to finish my degree later. I went to San Francisco for two reasons. 1) I wanted to work in China town and 2) I wanted to come out (this was before we knew about AIDS). It was a 1 ½ - 2 year vacation. I was on new turf. I went out in evenings and met people. My first jobs were with gay employers. I submerged myself in the gay community. I also tried to work in Chinatown. When they found out I was gay, I was kind of blacklisted. Someone once said, “In some ways he is more politically on target than anyone else. Too bad he’s gay.”
One of the students I had worked with in Madison came to New York. He was a historian and came to New York to become a professor. He became a professor in Asian American studies at Hunter. I co-taught a course in Asian American studies. We had 20 students and broke them into 3 work groups. That was my introduction to New York. I had a ball! I had quite a few jobs after that. After I worked in the public school system for a year, I was offered an opportunity at Project Reach, and saw it as an opportunity to start my own program. The director of Project Reach at that time was my classmate at Madison. I had heard of Project Reach before. Everyone knew it dealt with Chinese gang groups. I ended up talking him into hiring me to run the program. They do a lot of good social service work for Chinese Americans. The director knew I was gay. Initially, it was only a counseling program. In the summer program, I started to do anti-discrimination training. I included other young people of color. It made sense to do lesbian and gay stuff too.
The AIDS epidemic began as we know it in 1981. For myself, when I first heard people were dying, it was gay white men, not good but at least I felt it didn’t include me. Four years later two Pilipino men were infected and died. Everybody that I know that was diagnosed with HIV AIDs died within two years. It was really scary. All these guys, it was unbelievable how many people were passing away. It didn’t hit too close to home for me. Most of my closest friends were O.K. Every time I had a cold, I would ask my brother [a doctor] if he thought I had HIV. He would say no. He never said get tested. He had treated me for an STD. In the gay male subculture, there were no standards. We weren’t accepted anyway so it didn’t matter. Some gay men who were catching this disease, I heard on the news, had 1000 partners in one year. Well, in San Francisco, in a bath house, I would play with four to five guys. Even you added it up, even five people a week is 250 people. And I thought Uh-oh. I fit the profile - that also made me not want to get tested.
In 1983/1984 I had two incidents that happened that were unexplainable. I got very sick and dehydrated and had to go to the hospital. And, I got a really bad cold. My brother said it’s O.K., it’s just ‘walking pneumonia.’ My brother was in denial. I ended up going to get tested. I was seeing this guy who was really in the closet. I didn’t start using protection until 1984. I had been with this guy for two years. We had played without protection, and then in 1984 we thought we better start using protection. My friend decided he would go in with me. We went in together. Fortunately he came out with negative result. I tested positive. It was 1992.
In terms of my daughter, Alice, she is 28 now. You know when I raised her with Steve, I think what was most important for us, that she be in as multiracial community as possible. I had never thought of raising a white child. I had always worked with children of color. When we started raising her it was pretty clear that she kind of took a liking to me. Steve was more of the disciplinarian. I was all about giving her space and decision-making. I always wanted to expose her to as much as possible so she could make her own decisions. Also I wanted her to be critical because there is so much propaganda out there. Her being a white child, blond hair, blue eyes, she fits the stereotype of the attractive female. As she was growing up, I realized she had every right to have black role models and Asian role models. I think there were times I scared her, from my own anger about racism. She didn’t understand it because she didn’t experience it the way I did. When she was 13, she asked me,” what would you do if you if I told you I was pregnant?” I said, “I don’t know Alice, let’s wait till you come home and tell me.” I wanted her not be afraid to tell me something. I wasn’t going to give her the answer. She would have to think about it. I always believed that by her and I communicating in an ongoing sort of way, she would develop a complex sense of the world. I always gave her the sense that I trusted her to make good decisions.
Tuesday, December 13, 2005
Finding Myself: Another Personal Story
My parents were born and raised in Northern China. They met when they were in medical school in World War II while the Japanese occupied China. Their school was constantly on the move in freight trains to avoid being taken over by the Japanese.
My parents came from an upper middle class background. My father’s father owned a silk factory. During that time, rayon came to be, so he went bankrupt. My mother’s father was mayor of a town. He was killed trying to escape from the Japanese. He tried to jump into the river and was shot. My mom lived in a compound. All of her relatives were in the same compound (about 40 people). It sounded like a very large area.
Finally the war ended in 1945. By 1947, my father, a surgeon, opened up a hospital during Chang Kai-shek’s regime. The hospital ended up being taken over by the communists. My parents came to the U.S. to study and wanted to take their knowledge back to China. While they were in the U.S., the revolution happened. They were devastated, and couldn’t go back. The hospital they worked in became a nationalist hospital. If they had gone back, they probably would have been killed. The other tragic thing is that my older sister, who was only two years old when they left, stayed in China until my parents could bring her out. She is seven years older than I am. I didn’t meet her until 1978. So I was 27 when I finally met her.
In 1951, I was born. I have a twin brother. We were born in Wilmington, Delaware. My mother ended up doing geriatric research as a biochemist. At the same time, my father was trying to learn as much as he could to go back to China. He ended up going into private practice. We lived in Florida until I was six. My mother was away all week until the weekend and my father was interning at the local Tuberculosis hospital. Then, my parents decided we couldn’t live in Florida. We packed up, drove north and stopped in small towns. My father would get out and ask if they needed (general practice) doctors.
We made our last stop in Brunswick Maryland near the Appalachian Mountains. It is a small, railroad town. We were about 1 ½ hours outside of Washington DC. There were only 3500 people. There were probably 200 blacks and 5 Asians. From the time I was 6 until 14, I lived in that town.
In Maryland, we attended school in a one story sprawling school building. I remember the first day of school. My brother and I were walking down the hall. The students were calling us names. As we were walking down the hall, we first encountered the 6th grade and then 5th. What bothered me was that none of the teachers stopped them. It made me and my brother think that there was something wrong. What I learned was that I was a foreigner. I was born in this country, but whenever I walked into a new space, I never got the sense that I was American. I always felt like I was a foreigner.
Of the 100 students that graduated from high school, five went to college. My parents were worried, so they sent us to a boy’s boarding schools for high school. From the time I was 14 we were away from home in boarding school. It was like going away to camp but not coming home. I remember every night in bed thinking how lucky I was. I could go home. School was easy. It wasn’t that competitive. At the first boarding school, my nickname was Chink. I remember inviting a friend from childhood to the school. I remember walking behind the school. A bunch of seniors leaned out and said, “hey chink how are you doing?” It was almost a term of endearment. It didn’t bother me. My friend said, “Do a lot of people call you that.” I said “Yeeeeah.” (Even though being called that earlier in my life was so painful, it hadn’t occurred to me that this wasn’t a good thing in high school until then.) It wasn’t until I went to Taiwan, that I realized many Asian Americans either we grew up wanting to be white, or if you wanted to be Chinese, you weren’t Chinese enough because you didn’t speak Chinese.
I was there for three years and then transferred to Lawrenceville [an extremely competitive private boarding school] in my senior year by my own choice. When my brother and I arrived at Lawrenceville, they stereotyped us as being exceptional in math and science. The counselor put us into AP Chemistry and AP Physics. I didn’t know that Calculus was a prerequisite for AP Chemistry and AP Physics, and we weren’t prepared. They put us in all three of the classes at the same time. I dropped from #1 at the first boarding school to 125 of 170 at Lawrenceville.
I remember until 18, I wanted to be white. It seemed like it would be so much easier. I always got the sense that we [my twin and I] didn’t fit in. When we came into town, the mayor welcomed us and put us on the front page of the paper. My father got introduced to the church, a southern Baptist church. I joined the Royal Ambassadors, kind of like the Cub Scouts. As we got older, you were really a goody two shoes if you became a Boy Scout. A number of us, instead joining the boy scouts, joined the Royal Ambassadors because it was easier. We did whatever we wanted. I invited Kenny who was black to become a member. The church never stopped me, but black people were never allowed to come to church. They were always teaching us “Jesus loves all the children of the world, black and yellow red and white their all equal in his sight.”
Basically, the Royal Ambassadors were all white, me and my brother and Kenny. Kenny’s father was an alcoholic and was poor. He lived in the closet of his parent’s bedroom because the house was so small. That changed when he got to be of driving age.
I was away at boarding school. It was a big deal for seniors to go to Atlantic City. I got a letter from white kid (It was 1968 – things had gotten much more volatile). It said he wouldn’t be able to go on this trip to Atlantic City if Kenny goes. How can we sleep in the same bed with a ni**** and how can we go to a restaurant with this ni**** and it went on and on throughout the whole letter. I was so upset, I was shaking. I sent him back a letter. In the letter, I said, George using your terms, you’re the blackest person I know. Needless to say he never talked to me again. I held on to that letter. I ended up meeting with Kenny. I was afraid if I told Kenny, he would beat the sh*t out of George. I just felt like I had no one to talk to. I felt the only person I could talk to was Kenny. I didn’t know what to do. We went without Kenny, and I felt so badly. That next fall I shared that letter with Kenny. I told him, “you have to promise me you’re not going to do anything.” And then I showed him the letter. “ I’m showing this to you because we didn’t tell you about the trip last year.” That’s why I’m not going this year. I tell you he was in so much shock. Kenny later told me that he first learned about racism from me. He never thought any of the guys would ever do something like that to him. From that time on, Kenny and I just became really close. He followed me to Madison Wisconsin. His knowing me was his ticket out of Brunswick. He followed me to California and then went to Chicago.
That set the tone for my race consciousness. After my first year of college, First Baptist Church had me speak at college night. I invited Kenny to go with church with me. Kenny sat down and no one said anything because there were parents and children. People all knew me because of my father. I incorporated Kenny into my speech. The speech was about anti-war demonstrations, but I wanted to talk about racism. I said, “There is only one black person in the room, and I invited him.” I told them, “It’s the same reason that black people live in a small part of the town as if they will blemish our part of the town.” That was my last time in church. They didn’t ask me not to come. They wouldn’t have done that because my father was the doctor in town.
When I went to college, my first semester, students were already protesting the war. I was definitely raising my only awareness of race, but race was still a black and white issue. I didn’t know where I fit in.
Monday, December 12, 2005
Mr. Tookie: Rest In Peace
I'm not a big fan of capital punishment. I feel like it's not man's job to determine who lives and who dies. But, it's fair to say I might feel differently if someone hurt let alone killed my LO. I understand and freely admit that our justice system is flawed. I don't know if Mr. Williams killed those people. He says he didn't. Some others believe he did. O.K., the man DID co-found the Crips. This guy is no boy scout. And then there's this:
WHO WOULDN'T 'REHABILITATE' IF THEY WERE FACING DEATH ROW? (I would.)
Here's a conversation I had with my husband this evening:
Me: Sweetie, what do you think about the pending execution of Stanley 'Tookie' Williams?
Mr. Jones: The Crips guy?
Me: Yeah, the Crips guy.
Mr. Jones: I've got no problem with him being executed. People think criminals are dumb. They're not, just crooked.
Saturday, December 10, 2005
Back from the Movies
Only one criticism: a few times, the picture looked like the kids were acting in front of a screen. Mostly though, the characters, especially Aslan, looked authentic.
The war between Aslan army and the White Witch's was all action, but not bad for kids. LO could watch it. Aslan's murder was not shown (thank goodness, I was worried as the build up is intense).
Overall, a magical film, worth the night out.
Friday, December 09, 2005
Universal Preschool and the Good Preschool Experience
IT HAS LONG been an American article of faith that early schooling for poor children can work wonders. A word-rich classroom gives poor 3 and 4-year-old kids the basic tools for learning and for sharpening their talents for solving problems. A nurturing environment teaches children, many of them from worlds in disarray, how to work and play well with others. Such an experience can create something close to a level playing field, not only in kindergarten but for an entire lifetime.
The article goes on to quote the "landmark study of Perry Preschool" which tries to quantify the benefits of preschool to the individual and society. To me, this is a bit of a stretch. And, later the article refers to a National Institute for Early Education Research report that discusses more benefits of a "good preschool experience" like vocabulary growth, math scores, knowing more letters and teacher qualifications.
Then there is universal preschool. Beware of hidden costs. In Quebec:
Much of the increased spending has gone not toward increased access, but increased costs. Day care worker unions, on the threat of strike, negotiated a 40 percent increase in wages over four years. The cost of care has doubled since the program began, with the annual per-infant cost now exceeding $15,000.
Most useful for me, as a parent, more important than universal preschool or even word associations or knowing letters is quality of preschool. The NIEER study lists the things that people want to hear: quantitative scores. I bet these quality preschools, if the preschool themselves could create some kind of long term benefit, strongly encouraged reading and childhood discovery. That's difficult to quantify, but is the difference between a "day care" and a quality program. I remember LO's preschool. It wasn't perfect, but was committed to reading kids 10 books a day and had all kinds of interesting things happening: digging for worms, then ordering a shipment of worms for the kids, ordering ladybugs, bringing in bird's nests, music, and magic shows performed by the teachers (which cup is the ball in?). You can do that via preschool or at home, but it's hard to do this via 'universal' preschool.
Thursday, December 08, 2005
Finally...Movies to Get Excited About
The Chronicles of Narnia (a C.S. Lewis classic) and Memoirs of A Geisha (a beautifully written life story of a Geisha). See Yahoo.com movies to watch the trailers. Both look beautiful (if you fall for the theatrical trailers like I did) and seem to capture the mood of the books that inspired them. Warning: The Chronicles of Narnia folks were a little stingy on their clips.
Don't get wrapped up in the comparisons being made between C.S. Lewis's book and the Bible. If you've read the book in your childhood or to your kids, you know what makes this allegory wonderful is its magic, not its 'religious content.' Just enjoy it for what it is.
In Memoirs of a Geisha, Ziyi Zhang plays the Geisha, Sayuri, and Michelle Yeoh plays her 'mentor'. Do you remember the female half airborne sword-fighting scene from Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon - the two women are back together again. If you choose to watch one trailer, see "Formal Training." If you haven't, read the book too. I've read that it's written by a guy from Tennessee who spent 10 years studying the Geisha in Japan.
I must go see them THIS WEEKEND, but I need to figure out how to do it without standing in line. Maybe we'll go to the theater Sunday afternoon. And then there's Christmas shopping. I have ideas, but no purchases. Don't get me started!
Wednesday, December 07, 2005
Here's my version:
1. Seven things to do before I die:
*Grow old and have grandchildren
*Be my son's buddy in his adulthood
*Travel to China with my husband and son
*Learn another language
*Publish a book
*Drop my 9 to 5 and work for myself
*Make a cake from scratch
2. Seven things I cannot do:
*Cut out caffeine (although I'm trying, again!)
*Resist a good hug
*Like the snow
*Throw together an awesome dinner
3. Seven random memories of her parents.
*My dad making my mom crack up laughing
*Mom sitting on the couch, listening to me practicing the piano
*Playing at my grandmother's farm
*My dad telling bad jokes and laughing uproariously
*Dad singing: U R the B-E-S-T best of all the R-E-S-T rest and I'll L-O-V-E love you all the T-I-M-E time.
*Mom learning the "electric slide"
*Dad making fun of my mom trying to learn the "electric slide"
4. Seven things I say alot
*Coco, hush (Coconut is our Bichon Frise.)
*Sweetheart (to all my sweethearts in the house)
* I love you
* I need to clean this house
* I need to wash more clothes
5. Seven books I love (O.K., so I list 12)
*Autobiography of Malcolm X as told to Alex Haley
*I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou
*Spring Moon by Bette Bao Lord
*The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan
*Long Walk to Freedom by Nelson Mandella
*To Kill A Mocking Bird by Harper Lee
*Everyday Zen by Charlotte Joko Beck
*West with the Night by Beryl Markham
*Composing a Life by Mary Catherine Bateson
*Man's Search For Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl
*Power Of Myth by Joseph Campbell (CD)
6. Seven movies I love to watch
*Look Who's Coming to Dinner
*Walking with Dinosaurs (BBC DVD series)
*Jazz by Ken Burns (PBS)
*The Color Purple
7.Seven people she wants to join in, too
*I have no idea, sorry.
Tuesday, December 06, 2005
Advice on Mentoring
I had a terrible problem with my oldest daughter’s learning. I said, “What do you want to be? Now, break that down to what you have to do now.” What do you think it will take to do those things you want to do? What is it that you are doing now to get there? By your own logic, you have to do this (then they are more likely to come back for help).
They have to feel like you care. Once you show them that you care, they are more willing to accept help from you. They have to be reassured you love them and you will help them out. Even then, it’s not an easy thing at all. You are not assured of success. It depends on the kids, but you try it.
I understood that when she started down a road I didn’t like, I would have to have a tough conversation to break her down. They have to understand there is a certain threshold they don’t cross. If they cross it, it won’t go down easy. Respect me, work hard in school, be a good person. I give them latitude. I tell them I am disappointed. Sometimes I scream. Then I wait a little while (I let them stew). I give them a kiss and tell them “I love you.” But I won’t tolerate this because I love you. The more you go down the wrong road, the less you get from me. If you don’t want to go to school, you don’t have to. There is no TV, no computer. There are no video games. Quickly, they realize it is too hard. They think, I have to do what he wants. Next week, we get our report cards. You don’t get anything until I see your report cards. I talk to the teacher. I make it painful and I stick to it. If you make bad decision in life, you have to pay for it just like now. It’s really, really hard. It’s a hard lesson. I call it ‘tough love’
How do we break a bad model? My oldest daughter got therapy. She was better, but she never broke out of it. She had anger issues. She was also very stubborn. Therapy helps in a way. She always felt like an outsider. Even her extended family tries to help her feel like a part of the family, but she acts like an outsider. They are still there for her. You can try all of those things. Sooner or later they have to smarten up.
I tell my kids, “You are so smart. I’m proud of you, but I’m disappointed when you do this. I expect more from you.” You create expectations so that they want to strive. “I’m going to help you hit it.” You pick them up and push. They have to rationalize it in their own mind. They have to take the leap in life like I had to take the leap. A lot of people are not mature enough to grow up and take that leap. You give it your best shot. If she doesn’t accept it and grow up, nothing will help.
Saturday, December 03, 2005
I'm off to PA and More on the Question of the Day
As for the question of the day, Intellect (below) says the feeling of succeeding is critical and I agree. It's funny that he should say this because just yesterday someone else said the very same thing to me. I wasn't going to post it, but this come from another friend (who really struggled as a young person). Here are some of his comments:
Confidence that you can do something is important. You want them to feel like it is possible to fulfill their dreams and go forward - a lot of this lies in past experience. I had a conversation with someone at work that was pissing me off so much. The whole conversation someone was giving a talk entitled, ”fake it till you make it.” That's easy for the person who has actually accomplished something. Usually, that’s not the person who will have a problem. It’s the person who doesn’t think they can do anything that needs a strategy. For me, everything was encapsulated in the game. Usually what I was willing to do was about how much of the situation I could 'control.' What does 'control' look like? Me getting you caught up in my story. Another example is, 'how can I distract you?' When you are really getting into my stuff (like what I am not doing academically or getting in trouble in school) I could distract you by talking under my breath or trying to do whatever that I think will be a trigger for you. ..There’s a kid throwing a temper tantrum because he’s angry, and then there’s a kid throwing a temper tantrum because it’s a trigger for you. You should be able to tell the difference. That's about control. Maybe your mentees are saying to themselves, 'If you really saw what’s going on in side of me, you wouldn’t like me and this would end.'