Archive for December, 2011

I rarely watch TV since I started watching Korean dramas (subtitled in either English or French) on the Internet in order to at least make myself familiar with the sound of my mother tongue that I lost after my adoption.

But these past weeks, I turned on the TV a few times and each time, I came across different TV shows (such as TVA en direct and Denis Lévesque) that was talking about bullying at school. The first show’s discussion was about a 15-year-old girl in the Gaspe who committed suicide after three years of bullying by her peers. The second was about parents and bullying.
I actually heard only the last minutes of the first show when the host interviewed a boy who had been a victim of bullying at his former school. He talked about his experience as victim and the big march against bullying organized as part of bullying prevention week in Quebec.
These few minutes of listening were enough to make me cry as it reminded me of my similar experience at school or at any other place when my parents were not with me particularly during my first four years in Quebec.

I thought that these children were still luckier than I was since they can at least describe their experiences in one word, “bullying”, for I had no one-word to describe mine and no one to talk to.

I could never talk about my experiences because I had quickly forgotten the little bit of English that I had learned during my six months in the USA, because I didn’t speak yet French, and then because the one-word I used was considered inappropriate.

Today I’m borrowing the word “bullying” to write about the difficulties I went through in lonliness after my arrival in Quebec.

My parents moved back to Quebec, Canada, in early summer 1976, six months after my arrival to the USA.
I had a nice summer playing with the street neighbor kids although I couldn’t speak to them, nor understand them. As French speaking Quebecois, my parents wanted me to speak French. I’d better learned their language as there were only French speaking families in the neighborhood except one. My mother found a tutor to teach me French before the beginnig of school. She found it convenient to enrol me in the private school where he was teaching, because he could drive me to school with his two children and two other children.

My first morning in the playground of the school, I was found in the middle of a circle formed by younger and older children who were pulling their eyelids and calling me “Chinoise! Chinese!” I didn’t know yet the French word “Chinoise”, neither the English word “Chinese”. The same scenario was repeated during the breaks. During the school hours, I had nothing else to do than copying several times some unknown words prepared by my mother, as there was no welcoming class in the private school.

Day 2, day 3, day 4,…, it was always the same. They would say the words “Chinese/Chinoise” in a tone full of hatred or contempt. Sometime, they would say in a mocking tone “Look! She has yellow skin, the skin of a Chinese girl!”

My life at school was like living in a hell.

What bothered me the most were their gestures. Some would pass near me, too close to me, to yell “Chinoise!” at my face. There was one little girl who would swing back and forth, again too close to me, pulling her eyelids and humming “Chinoise, chinoise, chinoise…” to the rhythm of the swaying, and a boy started imitating her. It wasn’t only borthering, it was irritating and frightening.

This always took place in front of an adult, as there was always a teacher to supervise the playground. But they would only watch without intervening. Even the teacher who had been my tutor during the summer wouldn’t say a word.

I cried every evening. The only word I knew then was “moquerie (mockery)”. I told my mother in English, “They mock at me and call me ‘Chinoise’.”
My mother spoke to that teacher. His response was that I needed to defend myself. While driving to the school, he yelled non stop against me. I didn’t speak French yet, but I understood one sentence he said. “I’ll untie her tongue!”

Nothing changed at school. I wished every day to return to Korea.
I was always stressed and feared the breaks. I was so stressed that I couldn’t eat. After weeks of seeing my lunch box intact, my mother began to cook hamburgers or fishes for breakfasts to my pleasure as I wasn’t used to the western-style breakfasts yet.

Throughout the school, there were only four children (riding the same car to go to school) who wouldn’t bully me. Two of them would pass their breaks with me to play with me. They were like my proctectors. They would tell me to ignore them, but how could I ignore them when they were passing so near to my body. At the end of the breaks, they in turn would bring me to the right place to get into rows before entering to classes. Then all my classmates would say in turn, “No, I don’t want to be next to a Chinese.” And I was always found the last in the rows. Once a girl freaked out and yelled, “No, I don’t want to be next to a Chinese! Chinese people are dirty!”

After a few weeks, there was a slight improvement thanks to my teacher who spoke to my classmates. All my classmates stopped bullying me oppenly, although I knew some of them were still laughing at me. Many of them became nice. My two protectors decided to let me cope alone. Bullying continued during the breaks from children of other classes, but some of my classmates would defend me against them. I even managed to make a “best friend”.

My teacher assigned a girl to help me during the class hours. I admired her and considered her as my friend, although she didn’t considered me as her friend. One day, I brought the photos of my orphanage friends to show her that I had many friends in my country. I wanted to show her how some of my orphanage fellows were cute and pretty. She said, “They all look alike, don’t you think? Can you even differentiate them?” I didn’t know why she was saying they all looked alike, but I said nothing. I decided not to show the photos to anyone, and put them away.

Many weeks later, I looked at the orphanage photos again. I understood what the girl has said to me. All my friends had the same Chinese eyes than mine. They all looked alike. Even the nun and the housmother were ugly with their Chinese eyes. I looked in the mirror and saw my “slant eyes”, as my mother would say. What I saw was beyond my comprehension. I thought, “How can this be possible? Not long time ago, they were so beautiful. How come it’s only now that I can see our ugly slant eyes?…”

It wasn’t only at school. I would face the bullying as soon as I would go out of the street where I lived. As instance, during the summer vacation, at a swimming lesson, a girl deformed her face with her hands to show other children how ugly I was, “with her flat nose and Chinese eyes,” she said. Ugly, crushed face, crushed nose, flat nose, Chinese and yellow skin, were few of the words I’ve heard.

“I want eyes like yours and dads,” I would often say to my mother. “I want blond hairs like yours or brown like dads,” I would say sometime.
“I don’t understand you, I find your eyes are beautiful. I would love to have your slant eyes,” my mother would reply…
I knew she didn’t understand me.

Second year of my adoption. My mother had a comestic surgery to make her look younger.

“When I’ll grow up, I’ll have a surgery to get rid of my slant eyes and to make my flat nose bigger,” I would say.
“I don’t understand you, I find your eyes are beautiful,” my mother would reply.

“Why do you want to change your eyes?” my mother would ask sometime.
“Because all the Quebecois hate me for my Chinese eyes,” I would reply.

My mother would then tell me how the Quebecois love the Chinese children for their slant eyes. “Every Quebecois love Asian people and their slant eyes. I know that because when I was at school, we could buy a Chinese for 25 cents. The nuns would sell us photos of Chinese children to help them. They would ask us who want to buy a Chinese. I would always raise my hands, I was so happy to have a Chinese child, everyone was happy to have a Chinese.”
“You don’t understand,” would be my last reply.

My first thought about my future. I then believed I had to be married at the latest at 25 years old, and I had the following thoughts before falling asleep.
“Should I marry a Canadian or a Korean?”
“If I marry a Korean, my children will have slant eyes and everyone will mock at them.” My heart ached at the idea that my children would go through the same experiences than me. “I’d better marry a Candian,” I thought.
“If I marry a Canadian and my children have normal eyes like their fathers, they’ll be ashamed of me, their own mother.” I couldn’t even bear the idea of being mocked by my own children. “I doubt a Canadian would ever love me, anyway,” I thought.

For a few weeks, before falling asleep, I imagined cutting myself from my throat to my lower abdoment with a knife to extirpate the dirty Chinese from me.

Second year at school. It became much better. Having a sixth grader cousin at the same school helped me alot. I understood that having a Canadian family would make me less Chinese. There remained only a handful of children who continued to mock at my slant eyes during breaks. In addition to calling me Chinse, some started calling me Japanese after learning John Lennon’s song, Yesterday.
There was second Chinese boy, actually Vietnamese. To my shame, my friends would say, “Lets go play with your little brother.”
Other kids would say, “The other Chinese is your brother, right?”
“Do you like eating rice?”
“Do you eat with chopstick?”
I would say no, no, no, to all of their questions.

On the third year came the fashionalbe Chinese shoes and the question, “Do you like the Chinese shoes?” to which I would answer vehemently, “No, I hate them.”

Fourth year in Quebec. I started attending a private Catholic school, which had mixed-sex Primary education and Secondary education for girls. I believed I had become normal (which in my vocabulary meant white) as there was no mockery. But after two months of Secondary 1, I was put back to the 6th grade class of Primary school. Hearing boys and girls calling me “Chinoise” in low voices made me understand I wasn’t normal yet.

While I was riding bicycle to go the convinient store, a teenage boy threw a basketball from a driveway to my direction. The ball passed an inch from my face. I continued riding faster, because I was scared. The boy was with two adults and many other children.
Another day, I was walking in the street, when a tall teenage boy headed toward me with a huge box he was holding above his head. I was scared to death while he was approaching me to throw the box, saying “Hey! Look at me, the Chinese girl!… I’ll hurt you! I’ll kill you! ” My fear suddenly changed to anger, and I yelled “What!? You want to hurt me? You want to kill me?… OK. Come kill me.” While the guy was running away cowardly, I started chasing him, yelling, “Come kill me! Come kill me!” I stopped as he was running much faster than me. My fear came back at the thought that he could get the help of his father to defend him. I felt my heart beating fast in my throat, and I struggled to hold back my tears. That day, I hated the whole world; I hated Korea for sending me to a foreign country where I was different of everybody, and I hated Canada for receiving me despite their hater of slant eyes.

I came back home smiling. I never told about these two last “incidents” to my parents because I knew they wouldn’t understand me. And I never went out alone the next 10 years except to go to school.

After I learned the word racism, my parents and I had a chat about racism. My mother said, “We could have adopted a black girl, but we didn’t, because a black girl would have suffered of racism. We didn’t want our daughter to suffer of racism.” My father added, “Yes. You don’t know how black people can suffer of racism. What you have lived on your first year in Canada was nothing compared to what black people endure.”

Years later, I talked to a friend about the mockering I’ve been subjected to at school, but she said it had nothing to racism when I haven’t even used the censored word “racism”. I talked again to some other friends, as I needed to talk, but they all answered, “You know, kids are mean.” or “You know how kids are, some kids get mocked at for being fat or having big nose…”

Today, I’ve borrowed the word bullying to write about my experiences as transracial adoptees. This is only small part of the bullying I’ve lived since my arrival in Canada.

I live in a white world where the word racism is defined by the white people, and according to their definition, it had nothing to do with racism. When some elderlies call me in a parking lot, “maudite Chinoise (damned Chinese)”, it has nothing to do with racism. Be it, there is no racism in Quebec. Canada belongs to the white people, and it is the white people who has the right to decide what is racism and what is not.

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