Monday, March 9, 2009

"Chinese Eyes" Gesture Comes Home

Maybe it was inevitable, but I had hoped not. Zoe came home from school today with a story of two boys making the infamous eye-pulling gesture. They were in the gym waiting for the 1-mile run, Zoe tells me, when the two boys did it in front of her. Boy 1 was laughing and said, "I'm Chinese," to Boy 2. Boy 2 then did it back, also laughing.

Zoe said to them, "Hey guys, do you know you're making fun of ME? You're hurting my feelings." Boy 2 said sorry, and stopped doing it. Boy 1 didn't say anything and kept doing the eye-pulling thing and laughing.

Zoe was pretty satisfied with how she handled it. She doesn't think the gesture was directed at her in particular, but she's sure they were making fun of Chinese people and maybe didn't realize how a Chinese person would feel about it. She was particularly worried about how it would have been for two of her friends, from China and Korea, if they had been there, too. She was glad that Boy 2 listened to her and stopped, and unhappy that Boy 1 didn't -- but isn't completely sure he heard her complain.

She needed to go through it all over and over this evening, but was more focused on why they would do it rather than on how it made her feel. "Why do people make fun of other people? Why won't people say they're sorry? Don't they know it hurts people's feelings? Did that ever happen to you? What did you do about it? Did you ever stand up for other people?"

Other than saying it hurt her feelings, Zoe wouldn't say much about how she felt about the incident. She needed lots of cuddling this evening before bed, though. (In fact, as I said in my "talking adoption tips," she told me about it in the car (!). I told her I wished I could give her a hug right then, and as soon as we pulled into a parking space, she ripped off her seatbelt and leapt at me for a hug.)

My side of the conversation was pretty basic during all of this. I agreed with Zoe that what the boys did was wrong. I encouraged her to talk about it. I told her I was sorry she was hurt. I asked her if she wanted me to say something to her teacher (she said no, and I'll honor it at this time). I thanked her for telling me and asked her to tell me if it happened again. She promised she would. I told her I was so proud of how she used her words to tell the boys how she felt. And what I didn't say -- "What about kids who hold up their fingers and do bunny ears in photos? Should rabbits start holding town meetings to cry racism??"

I am so glad we've been pro-active about the possibility of racial teasing and negative adoption comments and the like. (We've role-played these kinds of situations several times.) Zoe told me she was glad we'd read the book "Chinese Eyes," because she felt ready to handle it when the boys did to her what boys had done to the girl in the book. (That's not really the point of the book, it's more about why the boys said that to a Korean girl, and about celebrating differences, but the book gave us a chance to talk about the eye-pulling gesture.) And she wanted to read the book again tonight.

I really am proud of how Zoe handled it. And I'm thrilled that she feels empowered to stand up for herself (and for all Asian peoples, apparently!). I'm not claiming it to be the worst incident ever; I think Zoe also did a good job of understanding just what the conduct was about and how it related to her and how it didn't (she knew, for example, that it wasn't directed AT her). And I think her response was nicely calibrated to the seriousness of the offense.

A milestone of a sort passed . . . .


Anonymous said...

Meredith and I have been reading "Chinese Eyes" lately and I agree that it is a good way to open up a conversation about eyes, eye pulling gestures, and how to handle it.


Lisa said...

Great idea to get that book. I would like to re-visit that topic, it has been a while. Malinda, it sounds like Zoe is so confident in her reaction. And, how kind of her to think of her friends. She does have a protective nature. Ya'll could probably have some "home style play therapy" with the silliness of it all, too. It's such a cliche, crazy jesture.

Laura said...

I think this is a great blog! I've started following it. I am a Korean adoptee who is now a young adult teaching English in Seoul, Korea for a year. I have spent a lot of time with my birth family and have a blog here in blogspot. You can view it at if you're interested in another point of view.

Also, were you told that your children were abandoned on a doorstep or another similar report?

malinda said...

Welcome, Laura! I'm glad I've found your blog, too.

Zoe was found on a pedestrian walkway near a bridge -- I think it was probably near the bus stop there, but the abandonment certificate is not that specific.

Maya was found at the front gate of the Women's & Children's Hospital.

Wendy said...

I am sorry she had to deal with it at all--when will it not become a "milestone"? It shocks me how many people do not see racist actions as such, even worse when you see AP's defending or at the minimum not fighting/educating against such behavior. It is sad that white priviledge is not acknowledged by those who have it.