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The Oblivious Asian
By: Editor,

One of my roommates after college was a sensitive young woman, and had a habit of constantly worrying if someone was discriminating against her for being Asian. If ignorance is bliss, then I might be the perfect testament to that, except I don't consider myself ignorant, just oblivious.

I actually experienced a great deal of torture for being Asian. I went to a predominately Hispanic middle school in South-Central Los Angeles, where the kids were mean, rough, and amused themselves regularly by picking on little Asian kids. It hardly bothered me that I was always the last one being picked onto one of the two opposing soccer teams during PE. I was far more concerned with getting through the day not being kicked out of my seat in the middle of eating my lunch, having gum purposely stuck in my hair, or being spite on, which was my least favorite. I dreaded going to school everyday.

I was horrified on my first day of high school. Those kids were much bigger than my tormentors from middle school. Lucky for me, despite what people say about high school kids, they were more mature than middle school children, and the feared giants didn't bother me nearly as much. I spent my high school years making very few friends, and boycotted all school social functions, such as dances including the prom. Instead, after class on most afternoons in my junior and senior year, I drove a very used and a very large Lincoln Mercury to nearby Cal State Los Angeles to take college math classes. I wanted to go away to college and never return to LA. The city had traumatized me.

I got to go away for college, and I went to college very pleased with myself. My middle school and even high school might have taught me to be cautious, but I decided that wasn't racism, just torture. I went on with my college life, and enjoyed my four years of College experience. (Although I disappointed my parents by switching majors from Chemical Engineering to Business Economics right after freshman year.) In my college years, I had many and all kinds of friends, and was able to convince myself that connecting with people had little to do with me being Asian or not.

This belief stuck with me in the years that followed, including the converse: that not connecting with people might also have little to do with me being Asian. Even as an oblivious person, a couple of times, I did recognize blatant racism. One such experience was a business trip in Kansas City with my also-Asian boss in a cold February in the mid 1990's. We finished our meeting early, and had a few hours to kill before our flight. It was bitter cold out on the streets. We went to a small bar/coffee shop and sat down to enjoy a couple of hot and heavily caffeinated drinks. As soon as our waitress came with the drinks, she also served our bill, then came back constantly asking us if we are done. We had told her no many times, but she persisted in asking us “to pay the bill.” There were hardly any patrons there, just a couple of people sitting at the bar looking at us while our waitress harassed us for payment. We got the clue, but finished our drinks, then headed out to the cold again. I walked away with the passing thought: “So, you don't like us here because we are Asians...too bad for you.” I was eying their desserts.

On most occasions, I rarely interpret a rejection, rudeness, or set back as having anything to do with my race--rather I attribute most unpleasantries as random experiences for being human. As a parent, I do feel blessed that I now live in a place where my children have yet to come home with questions or incidents relating to their race. While there are some valid reasons to educate young children about race and racism, I choose a deliberately oblivious path for my children by not making a preemptive strike concerning the issue of race. I have no regrets for my lack of action, especially when my then 4 year old described an African American girl in her ballet class as her “Chocolate faced” friend. A young child's view of her colorful world can be so charming.

My practical mind tells me that the world we live in is not colorblind, and the best defense is to teach our children to not only embrace who they are, but also develop a strong sense of pride in themselves. So, when they do cross the path of those who are not fortunate enough to appreciate the beauty of their color, our children can simply be oblivious to them, and not allow those individuals to affect their sense of self, happiness, and dreams.

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