This poem reminds me of my own discomfort when meeting someone new and trying to think of the best get acquainted questions. Many people do persist in clinging to misinformation when it comes to “others”. My advice? Differentiating is good for you!
Lexicon Amy Uyematsu
try not to be insulted
when they call us oriental.
let exotic be a compliment.
even the most educated among them
will ask how long we’ve been here,
be genuinely surprised we speak English so well.
don’t expect other wrongnamed people to be any better.
immigrants from Guatemala and Mexico
will keep calling us Chino,
even when we explain we were born here.
“you know what we mean,” they’ll say,
and we’ll tell them our parents were born here too.
“you know what we mean,” they’ll insist,
so we tell them our grandparents came from Japan.
they’ll nod their heads,
still calling us Chino when they talk among themselves.
don’t let these daily misunderstandings get to you.
learn how to differentiate.
slant eyes is o.k.
but not you slanteyes, tighteyes, sliteyes, zipperheads.
to most of them Jap, Chink, or Gook all mean the same.
don’t let them tell us that “kill
the fuckin Gook,” spoken in combat,
to separate from “too many Chinks moving in”
to Anaheim, California, or Biloxi, Mississippi.
watch the mouth and eyes carefully as they say the words
maybe our closest friends can call us crazy Japs,
but be cautious when their talks turns
to those sneaky Japs who attacked Pearl Harbor,
who deserved to be put away in camps,
bombed at Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
pay close attention to headlines
which warn about “influx,” “imbalance,” “invasion.”
don’t consider any place safe anymore.
watch what they hide in their hands.
in Raleigh, North Carolina, Ming Hai Loo
was gunned down by two brothers
who hated Vietnamese. Loo was Chinese.
and it didn’t matter if Vincent Chin
was clubbed to death
by two Detroit autoworkers
who mistook him for Japanese.
don’t expect them to ask us our real names.
don’t even try.