How I first learned about racism.
As a first generation Chinese-Korean-American, born at NYU Hospital and starting my socialization at PS-40, I had no clue what racism was. I lived amid a melting pot on Third Ave., just above 14th St. and went to school with kids that also had interesting lunches and unique names. Everyone played with everyone and I was well-liked.
My claim to Asian fame is my grandfather led the first march of Asians to City Hall in the late 1960s, protesting the closing of a local police department. Plus, he served two terms as the Mayor of Chinatown. He instilled the idea that the “squeaky wheel” gets the oil, knowing if Asians want equality, they need to speak out and take part in the government to make laws. This led my uncle to become the first Asian on the Supreme Court of NY and I even worked for his election. Yet, I had to overcome a level of shame to get to me—despite the positive examples in my family.
Moving to the suburbs, I got the crash course in racism through dodgeball. It was a shock to my system to see little kids filled with so much hate. Thankfully, being a New Yorker, I knew they were the dummies, but that didn’t stop my humiliation, confusion and anger. Every day was like a civil rights march through the hallways of middle school, with every racial slur chanted at me—along with the occasional taking of my things and breaking them. Even some teachers behaved poorly. I could count the times anyone helped on one hand, leaving me to a highly demeaning period of life.
In high school, the racism raged on, but took on different tones and not everyone was overt. I was stronger by then, good at ignoring, sticking it back when I couldn’t help it and knowing there was nothing wrong with me. Still, because of this, I expect racism more than I don’t, but know there is a spectrum to it. Not all racists are violent, but all are ignorant—especially those kids wanting to copy my tests, based on their stereotype. Joke was on them though, as I wasn’t “that type of A-sian.”
Kiki Tom is a Girls Write Now mentor. She was born during the darkest of nights, under a Scorpio New Moon, leading her to a mystical and mercurial life of astrology, poetry and world travels. From sea, snow to sand, she can shapeshift to fit any environment and lounge accordingly. In her next life, if she has to come back to earth, she chooses to be an applehead Siamese cat that will have two daddies. Her lucky number is three.