Saturday, March 22, 2008

Race & My Formative Years

In a memoir-writing class I took last year, I found myself writing about story-memories like these:

In the mid-1970s—when I was in sixth grade—the only African-American child in our class and I were the shortest kids in the room. For every line-up, every assembly, every class photo, this boy and I stood side by side. Funny how one gets to know a person. Thirty years have passed, but I often think of him—and about the day some classmates of ours tied his hands and feet together and left him outside while everyone else went inside at the end of recess.

In the 1970s, I learned that it was practice for certain Asian-American girls to have cosmetic surgery on their eyelids to achieve a Caucasian-like crease. My friend underwent multiple surgeries to correct scarring.

I remember another classmate of mine, in perhaps second or third grade. Unlike the rest of us, this boy had brown skin and black hair and black eyes. His ethnicity is unknown to me, but I remember his beautiful eyes—with the longest, thickest eyelashes I had ever seen. After the other kids began teasing him about his looks, he cut all his eyelashes off with a pair of scissors.

Of course, there are many, many more tales to tell from my predominantly white, suburban, American youth—but those three stories bubbled to the surface first.

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