Asian Pride and Our Heavenly Citizenship

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"Do you like being an Asian, Meg?" I asked my preteen daughter as we enjoyed Japanese-style hot pot dish shabu shabu at a hip restaurant in town. All of the workers are Asian -- Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese, or some sort of a mix -- although they probably all primarily speak English. More importantly, they are attractive young men and women wearing stylish jeans and t-shirts with the restaurant's equally stylish logo. The decor is decidedly Euro-modern sleek, and so is the background music.

Meg replied with complete certitude, "Oh yeah," as if to say, "Why, everyone knows that it's really cool to be Asian these days!"

What a difference one generation makes.

Meg and her friends from camp last week

When I was Meg's age, I was not exactly proud of my ethnic heritage. I spent many hours in front of the mirror wishing that my eyes were bigger and rounder, my nose pointier, my legs longer, and my skin whiter. Basically, I wished that I had been my best friend in 6th grade, Judy -- a gorgeous California blond. She was tall, beautiful, athletic, and popular. She had equally athletic and attractive parents and brothers, and they had fun conversations in English at her home which was bright and cheery, a gathering place for all the kids in the neighborhood. Even their golden retrievers were beautiful.

I spent a lot of time at Judy's home after school and only went home, reluctantly, when it was time for dinner -- rice, soy sauce, fish and vegetables. We were scolded if we didn't speak in Japanese at home. Parental respect was in high order, and we had to take off our dirty shoes at the front door. We rarely had friends over.

Maybe my inferiority complex began when I was a third grader in New York, where we had arrived from Japan during the previous summer. A blond classmate named Erik was on the swing at the playground one day when I walked by with another girl, also a recent transplant from Japan.

"Japs," he said, then he spat at us.

Unfortunately for him, his spit came right back at his shirt, more dramatically so because his swinging moved him right into it. He continued on with some tirade, but neither my friend nor I could understand English.

Erik was also the one who, the following summer at the local community pool, forced me and another friend into the boy's bathroom. After he cornered us, he crossed his arms and leaned back on the concrete wall. He then made a demand.

"Do the wee-wee dance."

Perhaps he was curious about that playground ditty which goes, "All the girls in France do the wee-wee dance..." We had no idea what the wee-wee dance was, of course, but the absurdity of such a request from a fellow 10-year old classmate made us burst into uncontrollable laughter. That's when some other guys walked into the men's room, and my friend and I used the opportunity to slip out, laughing and giggling.

He was never rude to us during school in our classroom, but he was a different boy outside of it. He probably had issues at home, but in my preteen mind, he was picking on me because I was Asian, and I deserved it.

Fast forward to today. Now, we live in a town which is heavily Asian but is mainly multi-cultural. Our kids now differentiate friends by hair color -- yellow (blonde), black, brown, red -- instead of skin color. Anime, toys, music, and wonderful Asian eateries surround us everyday, and our kids are proud to be a part of a culture that introduced Pikachu, Hello Kitty, Top Ramen, and Jeremy Lin. I'm also noticing now, at middle age, my Oriental skin is holding up better than those of my Caucasian cohorts.

It took me several decades of self-loathing and growing to become utterly okay with myself, which I am now. I also take to heart the verse in Philippians 3 which says, "But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ."

I'm just happy for Meg that she has a head start in being okay in her own Asian skin today.

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How do you help your preteen/teens gain confidence in themselves? Let me know!



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