By Wayne Chan
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
If you believe my wife Maya or son Tyler, apparently I have a lousy memory.
How do I know that? Well, probably because they keep saying things like, “You can never remember anything!”
I can understand why they’d think that way. There are a few Italian restaurants that we frequent. But I can never remember the name of them. And that’s not really my fault.
You see, here are the names of the restaurants (I looked them up for the sake of this column):
- Villa Capri
- Capri Blu
- La Cucina de Capri
You’ll notice that each restaurant has the word “Capri” in it. I don’t speak Italian, and even for the purposes of this column, I didn’t look them up to see what it means. Therefore, it means nothing to me. So, I’ve never bothered to remember the names. When I want to go there, I just say something like, “Let’s go to the Italian restaurant next to Target.” Or, “Let’s go to the Italian restaurant where we sat by that huge dog out on the terrace that one time.”
I trust Maya will know which Capri I’m talking about.
Something in the headlines made me realize that what may be the key to remembering things is that it has to mean something to you.
If you’ve been following the news recently, you know there’s been a lot of tumult surrounding President Trump pronouncing that four congresswomen of color should “go back” to where they came from, even though three of the four women were born in the United States and the fourth immigrated to the United States and became a citizen in her teens.
The same thing happened to me—nearly 45 years ago.
I was in the fifth grade. Two of my best friends at the time were named David and Jeff. They, along with nearly everyone in my elementary school, were white.
The three of us got along really well. But, I’d say that what brought us together was that the three of us were really good at playing tether ball. Tether ball, for those who haven’t played, is where two people stand around a pole and hit a volleyball tied to the pole to see who can wrap the ball all the way in one direction or the other.
David, I remember, was particularly good at it. Once he got started, he could tap the ball repeatedly as it swung around the pole and keep it completely out of reach from his opponent.
My technique was basically to hit the ball so hard that it would swing around the pole four or five times, before my opponent could even touch it. We were the kings of recess tetherball.
One day, at the end of recess, Jeff announced that he had learned a new word for me. The word was “chink.”
He was amused with this new word. With a smile on his face, he’d shout, “How’s it goin’, chink?”
At first, I tried to laugh it off. But then, when David heard it, he started in, too. For the next few weeks, I was bombarded with the word.
They thought it was hilarious. They thought it was especially funny when they would address me with something fairly mundane and end it with that word. Something like, “Did you finish all your homework today, CHINK?” Or, “What did you bring to lunch today, CHINK?” They would double over in laughter each time.
On one of the last days of school before summer break, the two of them were pretty relentless. I tried to play it cool, but there was nothing I could say that would make them stop.
And then I heard, “Go back to where you came from, Chink!”
I remember as if it were yesterday. I turned away from them, because I didn’t want them to see me cry.
After a moment, I thought to myself—I’m 10 years old. I’ve never even been to China. At the time, I’d never really been out of the state.
I didn’t see them during summer break. I really didn’t want to. When we came back for sixth grade, I’d see them at class and by that time, the taunting had stopped. But so had the tetherball, and any friendship at all.
Can you simply chalk it up to juvenile behavior of some kids? I don’t.
All I can say is, I still remember agonizing over the thought that these two were my best friends, and for the first time in my life, I felt like an “other.” It’s been 45 years, and while I love my life with friends and family that I truly cherish, that pain from my childhood has stayed with me all this time.
It’s a memory I’ll never forget.
To connect with Wayne, email firstname.lastname@example.org.