Yesterday I had an encounter with a stranger that I will not soon forget.
While in Waikiki, a Caucasian saleswoman in her mid-fifties was chatting with Steve and me about our family.
She made a comment about how our kids must be so cute because they are half Chinese and half white. Then she mentioned her granddaughter is half Filipina and half white, and that before her granddaughter’s birth, she prayed that her granddaughter would be born with a “nice nose,” and not “one of those flat Asian noses” (while using her finger to smash her own nose into her face as a demonstration). She pointed out that my nose was luckily a nice, normal, non-flattened nose. Then she said that she also prayed that her granddaughter would not be cursed with “slanty Asian eyes,” (again gesturing by pulling her eyes out into slits with her fingers). She told us that thankfully, her prayers were answered.
This woman told us all of this with the ease of close friends sharing an inside joke together, as if we could totally relate.
In the moment, I was so perplexed by the woman’s comments, I was nearly speechless. I spent the rest of the day thinking back to the interaction with a mixture of horror, amusement, and confusion.
Now, a day later, I have some better-formed reflections.
- Much like my post about Chocolate Chip Cookies and Interracial Marriage demonstrates, we live in a time when racism and prejudice are still very real. Yes, they are real even in Hawaii, where there is an affectionate term for ethnically-mixed people (hapa), and there is the highest percentage (37.2%) of interracial marriages in the United States.
- It saddens me that our world decides on what physical beauty is, and that those norms are usually dictated by majority culture. People from various ethnic backgrounds go to great lengths to change their natural features in order to look more “beautiful,” or more “normal,” or dare I say it, more “white.” We would do well as a society to consider our perceptions of beauty, and how those perceptions are shaped by ethnic heritage.
- I love my Chinese features. The slanty eyes, thick black hair, dark skin, and all. Okay, there might be some days when I wish that I was an inch or two taller, but those moments are rare. And soon, I remember that my features are uniquely me, and tell a story about my family, history and heritage. Also, coming from an ethnic background that has good skin and minimal body hair is quite a perk.
- I really love my child’s blended Chinese and Caucasian features. My son has a beautiful smile that lights up his entire face, and when he’s really happy it’s almost impossible to see his dark brown eyes. He also has incredibly curly, light brown hair from his white side of the family. He is a true hapa child, and I think that is wonderful! I’m not sure what our soon-to-be-born daughter will look like, but I will lovingly embrace all of who she is and what she looks like.
- As a parent, I hope I will be able to help my children have a healthy sense of self as multiracial people. They will have to navigate a complex world of racial issues, and I want to nurture in them a love for their ethnic heritage, grace and compassion toward others, and strength of character and judgement.
I would love to hear your thoughts or responses to this, readers.