Monday, September 29, 2014

The Mei-Lei Incident

As much as we like to believe that everyone lives their lives equally, without judgement, and with no preconceived notions or assumptions, it simply isn't true. To be more specific, I am talking about women of roughly the same age and socioeconomic backgrounds. An incident occurred last week at Small Human's toddler/parent class that left me feeling like my exoticism stuck out like a sore thumb in an unnecessary way. I'm really not talking about human rights violations or anything, but just the subtle differences in the way that a woman of colour lives life in America in comparison to how a white woman would live.

Since it was the first day of class, we all had to wear name tags, which one of the three teachers was in charge of making. I told her I was "Elizabeth" and she made it for me easily, and then asked me for my child's name. "Noah", I said, while she started to write out the name "Mei-Lei". I am quite certain I never said anything that sounded like that, so I repeated, "Uh, Noah? N-O-A-H." She looked a bit flustered and then wrote his name out for me, paused, and asked me if I had another child named Mei-Lei. I assured her that I didn't, and went to put Small Human's name tag on him.

There was nothing malicious in her intent, but the fault was that she couldn't wrap her mind around the fact that the Asian sounding name somehow didn't belong to the woman with the Asian face. For the record, Mei-Lei belonged to a white grandma.

I thought I was just another mommy of a toddler. I didn't want to be reminded that other people didn't see me as just one of the other mommies, but as the Different mom. It made me sad, annoyed, and honestly a little defeated. I felt like the little girl in the playground all over again, being cruelly teased and getting called a Ching Chong by the mean kids. It hurt because to the rest of the moms, it was just another class, but to me it was an exercise in restraint and drove in the fact that ignorance still exists and persists.

I love being Filipino Canadian. I love being a woman who was raised with French Canadian influences by immigrant parents with an Italian sounding last name, and grew up in a predominantly Jewish neighbourhood. You can't put me in a box. I am uniquely me, just like you are uniquely you, and that's the way I like it. The world ends up being a more beautiful place when you can see things that way.

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