Monday, August 29, 2005
When I was a child, I did not know that it was too soon after World War II that my father married my mother, Nellie Kim Yuen Ching. When my father took her home to meet his parents in Cabot, Arkansas (just north of Little Rock), my grandmother looked at my mother, then at my father and said "We sent you over there to kill them, not marry them." After I was born, the first grandchild, my Grandmother warmed up. When I was two, she used to put me on her lap as my granfather drove around downtown Little Rock and have me yell out the car window "HEY JIGABOO!" to the Black people.
I'm what we call "Chonky", half Chinese, half Honky.
I was called "Chinky-loo" on the playgrounds in elementary school. My father was transferred to Taiwan in the early 60's and I was a half-breed there too. The Chinese kids saw me as "White", the white kids saw me as "Chinese". It was just wierd to both of them that I brought peanut butter and jelly sandwiches for lunch in a brown sack and not rice in a rectangular tin box.
By the time I got to high school we were far enough removed from the War that only the reddest of the rednecks would make fun of me. Then Cheech and Chong put out their first album and Bruce Lee became popular. For once in my life, I was actually racially cool. For the last 35 years I've not experienced anything like my childhood. Here in Arizona people ask me if I'm Mexican sometimes, or Indian (casino Indian, not tech support Indian...). Some guess Chinese. It is no big deal, but there always seemed to be a part of me that was like some old pictures and souveniers of a nearly forgotten time and place pushed far under the bed in a shoebox. You know its there, you even know what's in it, but you only think of it at odd times, and you never take it out to look at it or show anyone.
I became Orthodox and learned about all the great Saints of the Middle East, Russia, the Balkans, and even America, but even they were Russian or Aleut. I was a stranger of race once again. Then I saw an icon of the Saints of the Boxer Rebellion. Chinese Orthodox Christians, martyrs. One of my kids bought it for me for last Christmas. And it drew me in.
So tonight at the supper table my wife says, "Its time to cut your beard." She has seen me looking at the icon of the saints of the Boxer Rebellion. At 53, I'm Chinese. I'm white bread American. I'm Orthodox. And I'm home.