I was the first us-born child of my sino-vietnamese father and vietnamese mother. We lived in the Bay Area – a region with a well-deserved reputation for diversity. In the 80s though, the people and institutions I was exposed to still had a lot to learn.It was the pre-”PC” era when Institutions defined your race as “Black”, “white” or “Other.” I spent my kindergarten and 1st grade at a school where there were just as many kids of Latino and Asian ancestry as there were African-Americans and kids of European ancestry, yet we struggled to be able to give a name to our origins.
Among people I had day-to-day contact with There was no “Asian-American,” “South Asian,” or “Latino,” we were either Chinese, Japanese, Indian “with a dot,” or “Mexican.” If your parents came from any other country it didn’t count and you just had to pick the next closest option in this Ethnic multiple choice. My family later moved and put me in a Catholic school whose Euro-leaning demographics did not reflect the diversity of the area.
I remember one day in 6th grade having to fill out a standardized test. At this point, many institutions began acknowledging that the racial and cultural makeup of the US wasn’t binary. Yet on this exam, there were still only three options to choose from: “Black,” “White,” and “Other.” the boy who was sitting next to me, who was Korean-American, heard me sigh. We both began laughing, and without hesitation we stood up and expressed our outrage over the form. Our teacher, tried to get us to shrug it off, but we continued to counter everything defense she gave us. of course, we were not only insulted, we also wanted to postpone having to take this exam and improvised speech after speech weaving social mockery and self-DEPRECATING admission of our more slackery agenda.
What happened next I can’t recall…but I remember a couple years later at our 8th grade graduation this classmate and I were both voted “Most Likely to Become Stand-up Comedians.” Glad to know our classmates could empathize, or at least be entertainment, by that experience.