Thanks for standing with me, y'all; I'm blessed to share this with you: my family and I are coming full circle with each other and between us and Hong Kong. The generations of my family and I are going to make peace with this city in Jesus' name.
Last night, after I felt indignant because of a discriminatory language practice at the track, and after I felt Father's love so that I could forgive the unwitting young man, I felt compelled by Spirit to call my mom and ask her about her first few years in the United States. My mom is 64 and I don't believe she has ever shared this part of her life with anyone. This is what she shared this evening:
White Plains, New York. White Plains high school. 20% black. 8% white. Six Asian people: my mom and her siblings; three Japanese students from the same, wealthy family. The Asians are all recent immigrants. My mom’s closest friends at the time were those Japanese students.
My grandfather owns a restaurant in White Plains. My siblings work at that restaurant after school. My grandmother and grandfather do not figure into my mom and her siblings' high school experience.
1966. September 1st or 2nd, or was it the 3rd, my mom wonders. Regardless, a few days after my mom arrives in the United States from Hong Kong, she enters high school.
The great challenge in the first year is finding the classrooms. My mom compared her experience in Hong Kong, where students stay in the same classroom for lessons, to her experience in White Plains, where students move from one classroom to the next for lessons. (I said the stationary practice for Hong Kong students remains unchanged after 47 years.) My mom always got lost, and was late for class. She laughed. Some people were helpful and guided her to classrooms.
Black kids. My mom remembers that the black kids argued for Black history to be taught in schools. These black kids were successful in bringing Black history to the school. Black history became an elective subject. However, my mom bitterly notes that although the black kids lobbied furiously for the course, black kids did not take that course. The black kids perhaps assumed that white kids would take the course.
Black kids did hurt my mom. My mom recalled the hurtful incident in which black girls with water guns shot my mother in the women's bathroom, and drove her out of the bathroom. This was senseless violence. I asked my mom if she forgave these girls, and she says that she has because she chooses not to remember it.
The system also hurt my mom. No sooner had my mom and her siblings arrived than a student teacher was assigned to them for extra English lessons. My mom didn’t understand why she and her siblings experienced this discriminatory practice. (And I did not remind her of how I experienced the same discriminatory practice when I was in kindergarten, although I was born and raised in the United States. I also did not mention my belief that imitating her English pronunciation and not my peer group’s English led to my extra English lessons.) She found these lessons useless. My mom has described herself as very practical. My mom has also described herself as shy. (And I note that in Hong Kong to this day I hear people describe themselves in this way.) She said she barely spoke in her first three years in United States.
She said that she only really began speaking English when she became a real estate agent about 15 years ago. She forced herself to speak English.
I asked her if anyone laughed at her when she spoke English. She said no because she never spoke English! I shared my receiving active discouragement and discrimination in Hong Kong when speaking Cantonese. I shared how communicating with others in this place has been challenging because of great fears and lies in our hearts.
I asked her if she learned anything about spoken Cantonese while she was in school in Hong Kong. She said no. I said some things never change! Although she said she didn’t want to think too much about the implications, I asked her to imagine my siblings and me growing up in the United States and not learning explicitly anything about spoken English in twelve years of compulsory schooling. She agreed that this scenario is strange.
Back to White Plains high school. After lunch, my mom and her siblings were assigned extra American history lessons. She also didn’t understand why this discriminatory practice was the case. She felt sleepy during history lessons, because she had just eaten. My mom hates history. She does not find any history interesting. I told her that perhaps the teaching and learning quality, and not the subject, was poor.
My mom then angrily recalled learning Chinese history in Hong Kong. She described how her teacher forced her and the other students to memorize textbook chapters word-for-word, with no room for error. My mom was agitated and said this was all she got from Hong Kong education. (And she spoke with relief when contrasting that with her American education.) She and I agreed that this was unreasonable. I laughed as I shared how some things in Hong Kong education do not change. However, I added that the system was changing, albeit slowly. I am a part of that change. Maybe 47 years from now, rote memorization will not be as heavily emphasized in the Hong Kong education system.
Nonetheless, she did well in her Hong Kong secondary school, generally finishing third in her class. She also graduated from White Plains high school. She was a mediocre student. Cs and Bs. All this without speaking for three years, I added. The wonders of text-heavy assessment!
We prayed. My mom is becoming more open in sharing prayer requests. Praise God! In addition, my mom asks me how I am, and what is going on in my life. She is slowly learning how to affirm me when I share the good in my life with her. Hallelujah!