To Speak Or Not To Speak

English: The Dominion Building in Vancouver Br...It was 1983 and I was in Trenton visiting my brother Steve, Dad, his second wife and their two little boys (also my brothers).

“Steve told me you’re going away again,” Dad said. I studied his nicotine-stained fingers as he dragged a long haul of his cigarette.

My face lit up. I smiled with excitement. “The Orient. I’m going to China!” I was giddy,   happy. I wanted Dad feeling proud of me. How badly I needed his approval!

“Jeesus Christ!” Dad’s eyes had a look in them I did not like. “What do you want to go there for? All you’ll see there is a bunch of Ch—s.”

My eyes reflected deep disappointment. He had spoiled the light all around us; I felt the candle blow out. My mouth would not cooperate with slinging back a rebuttal. Even if I could, I was still scared of Dad’s temper and did not want to jeopardize our new relationship. Only recently, Steve had reintroduced Dad and I, father to first-born daughter; this was after a sixteen-year absence with no contact at all (no letters, birthday or Xmas cards, or even phone calls).

Also, I was so suicide driven back then, that I needed him desperately. He was the only parent who loved me as a little girl. Most of the time, I felt dead inside. Since meeting Dad, I could cry! In fact, it was hard to stop. I had to know if he unwittingly possessed the key to helping me save my life.

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Vancouver is a Pacific Rim city and, as such, has a high percentage of Asian-Canadians in the community. Personally, I love that; I was in five countries of the Far East for a short time but—aside from it being another culture (like my own) where women are discriminated against in some ways—I admire its people and many elements of their culture(s). One Tuesday in Vancouver, I got the chance to say so and stand up for what is right.

It was early afternoon and I was waiting at a bus stop at Main Street and South West Marine Drive. The day was sunny and the sky was a robin’s egg blue, with a few thin-lipped straggler clouds loitering about as if for fun. Their presence was just enough to keep the doomsday preppers and fatalists on their toes. Thinking this, I smiled.

I snapped to attention and checked out my surroundings. There was a young Asian-Canadian man standing by himself. About three feet away, stood two older Caucasian men who were speaking directly to the first, whose red face told me some of what was going on.

“Look at those slant eyes!” one said to his partner. They strutted, hands in pockets, and both erupted in raucous laughter, not caring how ignorant they sounded and were.

“And he’s even GAY!” the other gasped. “Look how he stands!”

That was quite enough. I assessed the situation quickly. It was not safe to confront them, so I took a few steps toward the young man.

When I stood beside him, the two men stopped speaking, in hopes of hearing our conversation, I thought. He was just a boy, really. He looked rattled and embarrassed. My voice was gentle and kind yet had a firm quality as well.

“You know you don’t deserve to be treated that way, right?” A bus whizzed by. It propelled itself through our stop with such speed, the wind swallowed any spoken words–as did the roar of two new, charcoal-coloured Mustangs that followed right after.

“Yeah,” he whispered, while casting a half-glance over his shoulder to see where they were.

I stared at the ground at a large grey pebble I had dislodged from the hoof of my left shoe. It was important I get this right. After one long breath, I tried just that. “You know, there will always be racist idiots out there but they are WRONG!” Our eyes met quickly. No doubt, he saw that I was dead serious. “Try not to let them get the better of you.”

We stood together in silence until the bus pulled up and threw wide open its doors, welcoming us both, different but the same. We were equally deserving of respectful and dignified treatment.

While I sat on a single seat, halfway down the length of the bus, I glanced out the window and studied the rusty orange, mustard and red coloured exterior of the Dominion Building; I used to pass it on my way to the Women’s Book Store, until they had to close down. How I missed browsing through their books. It was there that I first learned about the Japanese-Canadian internment during World War II.

As I exhaled, my contentment was still strong. I worried about the young man and looked at the back of his head occasionally. Also, I was in awe at the outcome of our chance encounter. When I spoke to him, I savaged a thick wall with a sledgehammer. There was no going back or a wish to do so. In my way, I had just stood up to Dad and every racist in my family who spewed their poison on me.

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Guess what? It snuck passed me! What? you ask. The second when I shifted from an apathetic, depressed, and terrified girl/woman, into a fully functioning, feeling and articulate person.

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Disclaimer –  Please forgive me for using and alluding to the racist content in this piece.  Although I know I need it to tell the story, those views are not mine in any way. However, it hurts people to read it and it hurts me to write it. I know very well how much damage words can do. My deepest apologies in this regard.

 

 

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2 Replies to “To Speak Or Not To Speak

  1. Hi Terry, I’m sorry I’ve been away from your blog for so long. What a wonderful piece of writing. Bravo for standing up and giving that young man the courage to embrace his ethnicity. He had no reason to feel ashamed and the mocking naysayers will have their due. You’ll probably never know the impact you made by standing up against injustice that day. All I can say is bravo!

    1. Thanks so much, Grace. I always remember how ‘tiny’ things like this often kept me from hurting myself. They’d play again and again in my head and I was so glad that ‘recorder’ never got tired or broken down. Just wishing the negative tapes would burn out for good. 🙂

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