While we don’t want to overschedule our daughter, we have signed her up for a couple of fun activities this summer. She will be a part of our church’s VBS, of course, and a really cool day camp at SeaWorld later this summer — but today marked the beginning of this fun season. My wife and I tried to play it cool as we dropped her off this morning for the start of her two-week day camp (it’s still harder on us than it is for our daughter).

We like to interact with our daughter’s teachers. As people who have been involved in youth & children’s ministries for awhile now, we value the participation and input of parents. When we returned to pick up our daughter, the main teacher (out of three) greeted us with a big smile and said that our daughter had done really well. I was relieved to hear this; some of the older kids in the Pre/K group at church are pretty mean, and it has kind of given our daughter a complex about making friends. She is still a very friendly & outgoing kid, but this stress about not being able to make friends surfaces from time to time — resulting in huge heartache & frustration for us. A quick aside: if you find time to pray for us, this is the one thing that is constantly on my mind. My sincere thanks.

My relief was short-lived, though, as the teacher completed her thought. It went something like this: Your daughter did really well… I mean, her English is pretty good. It took me a second to realize what she had said. We explained that English is actually our daughter’s first language, because she was born here. The second teacher followed this up with, “Where are you from?” With wide-eyed disbelief, my wife responded, “Well, we’ve lived here in the States our whole lives, but our parents are from Korea.” The main teacher tried to brush it off with, “Oh, I could tell you were pretty Americanized, since your daughter brought pizza for lunch. Some kids bring those Hello Kitty lunchboxes with sushi, you know.”

A couple of caveats: I realize that they probably meant no harm. I’m sure they’re nice and all; just a little bit ignorant. I also realize that they probably don’t deal with many non-white people. This neck of the woods can be a little bit like that. I also understand that this is the world in which my daughter will be living for the rest of her life — I can’t shield her from ignorance forever.

Nonetheless, I am still extremely frustrated. This line of questioning — “Where are you from?” — reinforces the idea that of course we’re not from here. I mean, how could these Asian-looking faces be American, like the rest of us? Now, don’t get me wrong — I don’t want my daughter to assimilate, to feel like she has to run from her Asian-ness or push it aside for the sake of fitting in. Later, if one of her well-meaning white friends says to her, “I don’t even think of you as being Asian,” I don’t want her to take it as a compliment. I want her to be very confident in who God made her to be. While alienation and self-hatred has been the unfortunate story for many Asian American youth, I don’t believe that it must be part of the equation — and I am hoping & praying that my daughter can be spared as much of this heartache as possible. So, when her teacher asks her, “Where are you from?” and thinks it is really funny when she responds, “San Diego,” perhaps you can see why that would bother me.

On a personal level, I am really praying that I would have a thicker skin about things. Sometimes, the intensity of my emotional reaction to these kinds of situations precludes any kind of reasonable, constructive, or appropriate response. I don’t want to live with some kind of chip on my shoulder — I don’t want to give ignorant people that kind of control over my life. And, in all honesty, I think I have been better able to handle these kinds of things — at least when they deal directly with me.

For example, I am usually pretty patient with older Caucasian people who ask, “Where are you from?” just because they come from another world (these teachers from today, however, are not old at all — thus compounding my frustration). I can very politely tell these people that I think I know what they’re asking, but that it is actually pretty rude to ask in that manner (and, if they ask why it is rude, I will explain the whole alienation deal to them). I’m not sure why our racial ethnic background matters so much to some Caucasian people — I don’t often hear them asking each other, Are you German? Irish? Dutch? If one must know, then it is marginally better to ask, “Where are your parents from?” although this still carries much of the same outsider-connotation with it. Probably, it’s best simply to ask the question directly: What is your ethnic background or heritage?

However, when it comes to my daughter, my father-bear instincts kick in big time. I held back today because I don’t want to bias these teachers against my daughter just because they might perceive me as being some uppity Asian person.

Despite protests to the contrary, ignorant and racist attitudes persist today as systemic and institutional issues.

Remember the Skit Guys controversy from a little while back? I don’t mean to dredge up the past — certainly, the response of Youth Specialties, Marko, and the Skit Guys themselves showed that something good could come out of a bad situation. But, judging from the response of many people both at Marko’s and the Skit Guys’ blogs, we still have a long, long way to go. Some highlights:

Part of humor is laughing at ourselves. I hope we don’t become so sensitive that you guys can’t even minister. You guys characterize pastors, janitors, deacons, blondes, Christians, girls, boys…and all of those on purpose. And I love it! Is an Asian character not supposed to speak with an Asian dialect? I have not read the skit, but…at this rate you’ll be writing more apologies than skits.

Well, I have read the original skit and, though it might be pointless to try to help this person understand the underlying issues here, there is a world of difference between poking fun at a Caucasian pastor/janitor/blonde, etc. and laughing at the Engrish-speaking “oriental” buffoon, who clearly is not from here and does not, and could never, belong.

Or how about this little gem:

I pray that you don’t let this discourage you because in today’s society everyone is offended about something. God has truly blessed you two with the gift of ministry through comedy. I have seen you 3 times at the International Church of God Youth Conventions and you were awesome. Just remember that satan will use anything or anyone he can to try to keep us from glorifying God and spreading his Word. Just keep doing what you are doing….showing the love, mercy and grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ through the gift of christian comedy that he has given you!!!

Right, right… now I see — It’s the fault of uppity people of color that they are offended by blatant, degrading racial stereotyping. And speaking out for justice is obviously satanic. Our God (the same One who said, “Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream” and commanded His people, “You shall not oppress a stranger, since you yourselves know the feelings of a stranger, for you also were strangers in the land of Egypt”) would clearly not approve of this.

I’m really hoping this works out.