Mia and Maika and I went to the Beaverton Library park yesterday to play in the fountain. We were there, and I was scoping out the crowd, as I usually do, when Mia turns to me and says:
“mom, turn around.”
So I turned around and looked back at the various parents who were sitting on the concrete benches near the fountain. I saw an older woman who I had pegged as possibly Japanese when we first sat down.
So I say to Mia, “What?”
And she says to me “that woman is Japanese.”
So my immediate, knee-jerk reaction is to say to Mia, “How do you know she’s Japanese?”
“Her face. Something’s different.”
And then the good little Earlhamite in me says “you don’t know by looking at her face. we’ll see if she speaks Japanese”
But meanwhile the more truthful part of my brain is thinking about the fact that Naoto and I do this all the time. When we are out in public we are always “japanese person spotting” and talking about appearance and dress. And I think about the fact that I’m kind of proud about how often I can tell what language or at least the geographical region a language comes from is being spoken, etc.
And then I wonder why I was so defensive with Mia when she did the same thing.
And then I wonder if by pointing out these differences and calling attention to being Japanese if I end up teaching her the very thing I am trying carefully not to:
that being Japanese is different. That being Japanese is something people remark about.
Mia is not yet 5 years old.
(For those of you who did not grow up with showtunes, the title of this entry is a song from South Pacific where the the white army dude is talking with bitterness about how he doesn’t feel like he can marry his polynesian sweetheart because he’s been taught by his culture to think of brown-skinned people differently)