Tuesday, August 25, 2009
Another Camp Triumph: Wasian Pride
This will be a briefer post on another camp triumph – and one that hits even more personally.
It’s about Wasians.
Specifically, it’s about two Wasians: myself, and a camper.
If you’re unclear on what a Wasian is, it’s a bi-racial, White and Asian person. You should already know my mix, but the camper’s mix is White (mother) and Cambodian (father).
This particular camper happens to be one of my middle school students who I had all through last year. The same kid who asked me about my choice in music, and when I told him I listened to “pretty much anything,” he answered, “is that because you’re Wasian, and we don’t really fit in anywhere?”
Outside of his brother, I’m very likely the only other Wasian this kid knows. And so he – being a conscious being – has attached to me. Because he is trying to figure out his Wasian place in the world, and there are not a lot of places to look when trying to find this answer. Especially in Portland.
So I’ve assumed a lot of responsibility for this one kid – because I understand just how important it is for him to have a Wasian role model (since I never had one). Somebody to help show him how a Wasian can be in the world.
And we’ve talked about it a lot. Talked about not fitting in and how our mix determines how other people perceive us. And we unite over it (he often would yell “Wasian Pride!!!” when he saw me arriving at school in the morning) and share a very overt connection over our specific mix.
So when he made it out to camp, we came to a decision: we were going to write a “Wasian rap” and perform it together at the camp’s big Open Mic night.
I’m not really going to go into much more detail than that. It’s not necessary. Just the fact that this kid – self-identified “Wasian” (I’ve never used the term until he started referencing it) – wrote a piece about his own identity and life, and I had the honor of being invited to share the stage with him as he performed it for a crowd of his peers (none of them Wasian, of course).*
I saw his pride. I heard it in his voice when he spoke into the mic and introduced our performance with, “We’re both Wasian . . .” And so I couldn't control the sh--eating grin that spread over my face when the crowd went nuts for him, afterwards. Because he's a great kid, and I get excited for all of my kids when they get to have a moment like that (a moment of bravery when they stand up in front of their peers and share a piece of themselves). But it was even more sweet because I couldn't help but think about my own youth, and how cool it would have been if my specific way of identifying could have been validated like that - so strongly and positively - before I grew into adulthood.
I complain a lot. A lot of this blog is full of negative experiences. But this was not one of those. I got to be a role model to a kid who is currently living an outsider life – one that I can directly relate to - and share a moment of triumph with him.
And he’s not going to follow in my footsteps – Hell no. No, instead, I hope that he can jump past a few years of my own insecurities and, as a result, walk his own path more strongly and effectively. And wherever that takes him – that’s exactly how Wasians do it.
Because that's the ultimate goal here, as a role model: to validate the kids' experiences and identities (however they are) while showing them that those very experiences and identities don't have to be strict guidelines to how they end up living their lives.
Yeah - he's Wasian, and proud of it. And that's a very positive thing. And, more importantly, having grasped that so early, he is now free to do whatever he wants with it.
And that's that.
* The two pieces we spliced together for the performance didn't end up being about being specifically Wasian, but they regarded our identities and how we are as individuals in the world - which, in the end, is about being Wasian for both of us.
** The photo is of Kip Fullbeck, Wasian author of "Paper Bullets," sometimes spoken-word artist, and creator of the Hapa Project.