Monday, March 16, 2015

The Twinkie Chronicles … Bullies Galore

“Stop dragging your feet.”

“I wish you would wear clothes that fit you.”

“Don’t slump. Stand up tall with your head up. You are making yourself out to be a victim.”

These words from my mother are replaying in my head, as I watch my son move into his high school days. When you are belittled, you try to make yourself smaller. My mother did what she thought was right and helpful; she also supported me when I dyed my hair and cut it wildly to distract from my otherness. I find myself doing the same for my son, and I am sure one day, he will revive my missteps.



I worry that my son will inherit the low self-esteem from my young adult days.

Back then, I believed that no one would want me, except to use me. I had dated men, only to have them dump me for a blonder, whiter version of myself. When I turned 21, the man I thought I would marry, became a man with a secret life and a fiancée in Appleton, WI. While I had lived my life thinking I would use men before they used me, I just didn’t. I knew my Asian self wasn’t good enough “to hold a man down” in Tennessee. I was masquerading as a white person but always reminded that I was another kind of other.

I heard:

“Do something with your hair. It’s so greasy looking.” Because I couldn’t achieve the Aqua Net Big Hair of the 1980s.

“Does your cooter look different, like is it slanted from side to side?”

“Can you EVEN see with your eyes like that?”

“So, that guy who brought you to the prom … did your parents hire him as your escort?” My high school companion in those days was a Wake Forest college man I met while waiting tables at the Cracker Barrel. He was the only person I could write honestly and expect an honest, kind answer back.




And then, there were the misnomers: “Chinese,” “Cambodian Swamp Rat,” “Jap,” “Dirty Diaper Food Eater” …

I kept many of these things from my family. When I returned home for my father’s funeral, my cousin asked me why I didn’t return to Tennessee every year. I had to be honest with her and tell her of my discomfort and how I felt traumatized when I came home. There were too many bad memories. I felt inadequate and strange in my hometown. She was floored. “I never knew this. Who would say such things to you?!” she asked. I told her that some things were said to me at church. Again, she was floored.

My white family members insist they do not see my color or race. I know they don’t and when I was very young, I tried to ignore that fact too. It worked just fine when the safety of their whiteness was within earshot, but that safety inevitably left with them.

Let’s fast forward. Today, we think we have it better. We do not. The racist comments are now more politically correct, but they are still racist. The Twinkie has begat another Twinkie. This one is more authentic but nonetheless still viewed as Asian.



We moved to liberal, “most livable” Madison, WI, in 2009.

My kids quickly became aware of the prevailing air of racism. At first, I thought they would be immune, that their father’s whiteness would save them. But just like their Twinkie mother, my Asian genes would betray them as well.

I recently found this drawing of my son’s day tucked away in his papers.


Trying to combat racist bullying is hard. Without proof (a witness or video footage) there is little the school can do to stop it. My son returns home with holes in his pants, bruises and anger. He is fearful of school.

My son’s bullies come in all colors; mine did too. I always said, “Shit rolls downhill, and I am the smallest minority.”

For me, the biggest wounds came from whites. Their superiority and power scared me. They ruled the hallways and campuses. They still do. White America continues to beat people of color down, pit us against one another. This fact was emphasized in the first episode of Fresh Off the Boat, in this line spoken by Walter, the only black kid in school, “You’re at the bottom now; it’s my turn.”

Why must anyone be at the bottom?


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