Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Internal Workings of a MK

The life of a MK has a uniqueness to it that is not visible.  An invisible other.  A world within worlds.  In my case, worlds within worlds.  Various cultures from various places.  I react at different times differently.  I react in many ways.  In silence.  Inside my head.  From these feelings and reactions, I chose which is appropriate to the situation, to the event, to the people involved.  Chosing to show one does not negate the others exist.

Generations of cultures live in my head, some so distant that they are vague, unidentified.  Recently I said to someone that, "oh that is my Hispanic background."  They gave me a blank stare and said, "you are a little dark, but I never knew you were Hispanic."  I smiled.  I didn't stop to explain that it is my white side that is Hispanic.  My dark side is German and Native American.  But I am Hispanic by culture from three generations.  My father was raised there.  My cousins are all partially Hispanic.  I grew some years there also.

I did not confuse the questioner by explaining that my white Chinese grandmother went to Mexico and that is why we are now Hispanic by culture, too.  Too much explanation.

My white, Chinese grandmother was by genetics Canadian, although she did not go there until she was more than half grown.  Her trip there was sudden.  War and uprisings came, and they evacuated.  She grew up Chinese and was suddenly Canadian.  Later she immigrated to America for a time.

Today I finished reading the book Obasan by Joy Kogawa.  I set it down and stared off into space.

 Thinking of my grandmother.

Japanese were treated horrifically on both sides of the border, for sure, but it seems that in Canada, the treatment was worse.  They were stripped of their possessions which were then sold at auction, sent to work camps, separated from each other, and forbidden to re-enter BC for several years after the war.  Not until 1949 were they permitted to return to BC.  Four years after the end of the war.  Four years.  For citizens of their own country.

It is the rhetoric of the government that amazed me.  The angry talk about eliminating the "Japs" and making BC only for the "whites".  This was not in the 1800s.  This was recently.  It was while my father toddled around in diapers.  While my Chinese born grandma lived in BC.

I wonder about her.

Years later, I watched her be a tireless advocate for the Vietnamese boat people and other refugees from East Asia.  She did not simply raise money or speak.  She took them into her home, gave them the furniture and blankets, dishes, and food she had when they were able to get apartments.  She was their family as long as her memory lasted, visiting, eating with them, being a grandma to their children and their children's children.  And when she died, her service was attended by a sea of Asian faces.
I wonder about her during these war years when a war was being waged in Canada against Japanese.  A different country, but faces so similar to the land of her birth - her identity.

I wonder then if this passion to welcome and care for those who arrived on her shores came from those years.  If that passion was born out of pain.

 My grandparents took in people.  One day my grandpa made a quick run across the border to buy milk and gas, and came home with a woman from Guatemala.  My grandma made a fuss over her and moved a bed in my room where she stayed for nine months.  She was caught up in someone else's crime, attempted the cross the border (but she didn't even know she was), and was arrested.  My tall, Swedish/Irish grandfather saw her and offered to translate for the bewildered border guards.  Somehow, somehow, he convinced them that it served no one any good purpose to put her in jail for months until her hearing, and talked them into releasing her into his care.  And he brought her home.  At that time, I was living with my grandparents for a year, so we became room-mates. She and I picked blueberries side by side that summer.  She could not work, but I could, so we worked together.  When her deportation came, my grandparents and their church filled her bags with gifts for her two sons, linens, towels, clothes, and the church took a collection and sent her home with an envelope full of money.

Whatever you think of illegal immigration is irrelevant to me.  She was a mother, a widow.  Her crime?  Wanting to make enough money to send her sons to a Christian school.  A more honest, respectful, and fun roommate would be hard to find.  And she returned my grandparents love with delight.  Together we worked in their garden, cleaned the house, and cooked for them.  We laughed and talked many happy hours in Spanish.  I so enjoyed her warmth after my sudden introduction back to a province that was so cold and segregated.

Perhaps I could have just ignored it.  I fit in.  I could walk the streets and not be noticed.  Even my background was partially German, so I could be accepted if I said that... at least pegged.  You should be either German or Dutch.  And you should not be American.  And strangely, even those groups remained at a slight distance from each other.

I did not want to fit in to that isolation.

The other group were the "East Indians".  Indians from India, and opposed to "Indians" who were really Canadians... the Canadians to whom that land belonged before the British, French, German, and Dutch moved in.

(It has never ceased to amaze me how people immigrating from one continent to another and totally taking over the land can be so opposed to immigrants from other countries doing exactly what they did - only not so bad... they are only moving here, not slaughtering and rounding up and relocating those who were already here.)

But at that time, the East Indians were the unspeakables.  They did not mix.  They passed each other in the streets, in the stores, at at the same McDonalds, but they did not mix.  They did not greet.  They did not know each other's names.

I had grown up, not in India, but in Central Asia.  Who was I?  Was I the priviledged or the unspeakable?  I did not yet know.  At times, I was accepted as long as I did not open my mouth or speak of my history.  If I did, I was an "other".  At times called racial slurs.  "You dirty paki".  I stared back silent.  How blind can people be?  My skin is as white as theirs.  Yet I was glad I was not them, for to be the racists would be far worse than being the oppressed.  I was shyly smiled at by East Asians, but their eyes would watch me confused.  Why does this white girl talk to them?  Never completely accepted either. Only with one close friend who knew my history was I accepted.  But I paid a price for my friendship with her.  I chose to sit with her, to eat with her, to study with her.  And I was isolated for that decision.  "She stinks, why would you sit near her?"

So during that time of living in racism, I was thankful for my Guatemalan friend and the open warmth, laughter, and fun of our relationship - a relationship untouched by the world of strict racial lines outside the door.  She and I fit neither group, so together, we could step outside this odd culture and into our Hispanic sides.

Perhaps this is how my grandmother felt living here.  By culture Chinese, by skin white, watching mass hysteria and hatred against Japanese, and by default anyone who looked Asian.  Those people were not "other" to her.  Their faces looked like her auntie's, her friends', her countrymen.

My grandmother never recovered in one way from living in China so long.  She was utterly untouched by the "normals" of western culture, of what was "proper" to wear.  She happily wore her orange and pink flowered shirt with her green and red striped skirt, and threw a blue checked blazer over that.  If we protested and tried to get her to wear matching clothes, she'd look puzzled and say, "Matching?  This shirt is so cheerful, and the skirt is cheerful, too.  So colorful, so cheerful.  Cheerful matches cheerful."  We groaned and gave in.  But it was simply her Asian side.

This is also a part of my heritage.  My Asian side.  My Hispanic side.  My Central Asian side.....  oh, I have so many other sides, too.... places I have lived since childhood, where I am now, where we work...

I have not yet decided what shape I am.  It is not so easy, like a bi-racial child to say "I am Irish/Swedish".  Two sides of a coin.  Perhaps I am like a dice, but even that does not cover all sides.  Yet, like a dice, I am thrown - each side spinning and flipping, now seen, now not.  Which will win this toss?  How will I react?  I wait till the dice lands, look at the reaction, and smile inwardly.  Perhaps it is not the appropriate answer.  So like someone peering into a magic eight ball, smiling at the answer, and going on to do what they think is best, I see the reaction that comes, smile, shake my head, and try to act ....... it depends on who I am with and what they expect out of me.

Hidden behind my appropriate-I-hope response lies a world hidden within a world, something unique and wholly other.  Not only my history, but the rich and varied history of my parents, grand-parents, and great grandparents stretching behind me.  So many cultures woven together into a tapestry that shimmers as one holds it to the light.  Is that blue?  No, purple.  No, look there is some yellow threads; oh, look some greens!  Every way you turn it, it looks different.  Dupioni silk woven with the warp and the weft in different colors. Oil spilt in a rain puddle. A kaleidescope on constant rotation.

I will watch you talk and have six to eight different reactions to what you say.  I am not a multiple-personality disorder off drugs.  I am a MK.  If you see a tiny smile flit across my face, don't assume I'm laughing at you.  I may be laughing at me - at one of my reactions and realizing it is so totally inappropriate to the situation.  I smile, and shake my magic eight ball again searching for the response that fits in your culture.  The color that you live in.  The kaleidoscope piece that fits you.


Joyful said...

Wow! You really do have a kaleidoscope background. In some ways I'm sure that is conflicting for you but in other ways it is probably a great help, especially as a missionary.

I don't know when you were last in British Columbia or whether you still have ties here. It has changed. It is better in many ways though I always say, racism lurks under the veneer of acceptance in many cases. But I do actually also see other changes, many inter-racial marriages and with that comes better understanding and acceptance of people, as simply people.

I hope things are improving for you day by day with the issues you've spoken of from time to time.


Ellie said...

HI Joy! It was years ago that I lived there. I have visited since then, but even that was when my kids were babies, and even in that time, I saw changes. Also, in the cities, I knew it was different, some. I lived in a smaller city, a unique place.

I always thought that in a generation or two, it would change. It would have to. These kids would grow up from kindergarten playing with each other, and things had to begin to change. I know that now there are many mixed marriages, and that will bring down racial lines.

But I haven't been back since my grandmother died. I'd love to go and see some friends, but while we were away, my grandfather also died, so there are few ties left.

BC is however, one of the more beautiful places in the world, and you can not live there, even for a short time, without missing is beauty.

Joyful said...

Yes, I am blessed to live here. If ever you want to come this way, give me a shout!