Thursday, April 10, 2008

Vignette: Multicultural Living

I: On the Bus.

Michael5000 (age 39) and Niece#3 (age 12) take a seat. Asian-American kid (age 19ish, fidgity and/or stoned) comes back from his seat in the front of the bus to talk to them.

AAK: Hey, how you doing?

M5K: Fine.

AAK: Where are you going this morning?

N#3: To the Zoo.

AAK: That sounds fun... (a moment passes) Is he your father? (a moment passes) Are you her father?

M5K: Heh. Am I your father, Bug?

N#3 (confused):

M5K: No.

AAK: Are you, like, friends then?

M5K (losing patience): Umm...

AAK: Because --

M5K: I'm her uncle.

AAK: Oh. Oh. Cool. (to N#3) Is that true? Is he really your uncle?

N#3 (baffled): Uh, ~yeah~...

AAK: OK, cool. It's just that, I'm Asian too, and I thought, uh, uh....

M5K: Yeah, I know what you were getting at. It's OK.

AAK laughs nervously, looks around, and gets off at the next stop.

II: On the Bus, moments later.

M5K: Do you understand what that was about, Bug?

N#3 (emphatic): Not really!

M5K: Well, he was confused about why we were together.

N#3: Uh-huh....

M5K: You're a young girl, and I'm an adult guy, and we don't look like each other, so he wanted to make sure I wasn't kidnapping you or something.

N#3: Oh, I see.

M5K: So, he was kind of a busybody, but his heart was in the right place.

N#3 (laughing, pointing out the bus window): Oh! Look at that squirrel!


Added 4/12/08: After this post appeared, fingerstothebone posted a story that is kind of like this one, only more so. It's great, and it's here.


fingerstothebone said...

Wow, interesting vignette. He's probably too young to be able to observe your niece's comfort level with you and to decide whether you're a threat or not.

The Calico Cat said...

I guess he never heard about adoption...

In a weird way it is nice to hear that someone was at least trying to check it out... Sad commentary that this may be necessary...

d said...

on the one hand, i'm appalled that that was his first reaction. on the other, that took a TON of balls for him to walk up to you and ask those questions.

i'm glad it didn't traumatize your niece.

mhwitt said...

My sister (who is generally Northern/Western European in appearence) is married to a very fine Filipino fellow. Their two children look much more like him than her, if you go by skin tone first -- as most of us Americans (and perhaps others) are conditioned to I believe.

While visiting the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry (OMSI) with child number one, an employee approached and asked her to produce ID proving that the child with her was her own. She had none and told the person so. ("Who carries ID for a three year old?" she asked when retelling the story.) The OMSI employee promptly dropped the matter.

Maybe this person was just looking for nervousness or some other tell-tale sign that my sister was a kidnapper of Asian three year old girls. The experience rattled my sister a bit, if only momentarily.

Michael5000 said...

@fingers: Yes. I think that, as the conversation went on, he was realizing that maybe a few minutes of surreptitious observation before acting might have been a good idea.

I suspect he might have issues of his own around his Asian-American identity -- that "I'm Asian too" is kind of a revealing non sequitor -- and that might have been part of his reaction.

@Calico: Necessary? I hope not. I'm very close to Nieces #3 & 4, and I don't relish the idea of having to establish my right to be with them to any random stranger who wants to challenge us.

@d: A ton of balls, yes. But also, I strongly suspect he was tweaking.

@mhwitt: Terrific story. I'm not sure whether Niece #3 packs ID, but during our bus trip she was wearing a school sweatshirt with her last name, "5000," printed on the back. I didn't feel the need or inclination to offer our new friend any physical evidence, but if the bus crowd had gotten ugly (instead of just observing in puzzled silence) I was glad to have an ace in the hole.

mysterymoor said...

This made me do a lol

Anonymous said...

You know, I'm sort of with the stoned kid. This sounds rough, but as a parent and teacher, I tend to always think the worst of situations. My students are out in the community a lot and they will often comment on the creepiness of certain people in elevators and parking garages etc. (MK5, I'm not saying you're creepy, you understand?) I tell them that a good person with good intentions will understand why you feel uncomfortable talking to them, and not to worry about hurting anyone's feelings. It is a fine line between nosy interference, and the "village" required to raise a child safely.
The "I'm Asian American" comment makes me wonder if he wasn't a vigilante, just a curious stoned kid.
The squirrel part is the best, however.

Rebel said...

I love bus vignettes - such a window into the heart of America!

I think he was just checking you guys out. I think if you'd responded to his question "Are you her father" with "No, I'm her uncle" it would have cut out a little of the awkwardness. Not that it's any of his business... but on the other hand maybe his little sister got kidnapped & he's still traumatized by it. You never know what's going on in the minds of the bus people.

I have a few bus vignettes I should share.

Michael5000 said...

@Rebel: Undoubtedly it would have. But

a) he asked N#3 first, and I wanted to, um, empower her to be able to speak for herself in public, and...

b) I was deliberately hanging him out to dry, so that he would come to an understanding that his behavior is out of line. That is because....

@Sandy: I agree with you in principle, but you are wrong in the specific instance. Although N#3 is fine with the facts of her adoption, many children are not, and it is wildly unfair to them to rub their adoptee status in their face in a public setting. (Don't even get me started on people who think it's OK to ask "Oh, where did you get her" or "Where is she from?" Answer: "Washington"). As a preventative against the vanishingly rare crime of pedophiliac abduction, it is neither worth it nor likely to do any good.

Dug said...

I just think it's cool that in your neighborhood you can take a bus trip all the way from St Johns to Milwaukee-now that's multicultural!

Michael5000 said...

Have been feeling bad about the unequivical tone of my response to Sandy.

But consider: the vast majority of crimes against children are perpetrated by their close relatives. So if you want to fight crime, statistically speaking, you are better off to accost people who are obvious biological parents of the children who are with them, and ask them if they are abusing their kids. The responses you would get, though, would probably be a lot less friendly than the one I gave to our young friend for asking essentially the same question.

gl. said...

you call your niece bug? :)

i thought you handled it fairly well: it may have been unsettling, but i think you were right in thinking his heart was in the right place, so you didn't yell at him and you processed it with your niece immediately afterwards. weird, but not too traumatic, i hope.

fingerstothebone said...

I have my own "where did you get her" story to share (I'm the "her" in question), but later. Gotta get back to my gardening. (And more about racial/cultural stereotyping -- I've been pegged as the hired garden help in my own yard!)

Chance said...

I'm a single male kindergarten teacher, and I seem to be alone in this reaction:

If that Asian young man was honestly worried that you were a kidnapper, simply because you were with a girl who didn't genetically resemble you (a girl who clearly was comfortable in your presence --- then that guy is a total asshole, and I would have dismissed him with some extremely angry words.

How DARE he or anyone jump to conclusions of that sort just because you're male and with a girl? It's like approaching a black man and asking nervously, "Listen, uh... I don't want to be rude or anything, but are you a criminal? Because, heh, you know, statistically..."

Frankly, I think he may have been a pervert himself. It sounds like it.

Anonymous said...

I don't get offended by people emphatically disagreeing with me, don't worry. And yes, any individual situation is more complex than my blanket generalizations about stranger danger.
I didn't realize this was an adoption story at all - you framed it as a pervert story, so I thought your answer to N#3 summed it up nicely - kind of a busybody but his heart was in the right place. But it doesn't sound like you actually think this at all? Until you described how you explained it to N#3, I thought perhaps he was a stoned kid who inappropriately wanted to bond with strangers about what it was like to have one asian parent and one caucasian parent. I'm having difficulty interpreting his "I'm Asian too" comment, without having been there.

Anonymous said...

At the risk of way over processing this, when I said I was with the stoned kid, I didn't mean I would have done the same thing, by any means. But sitting on buses, my mind tends to wonder why any two people are together. Plus, I have a fear, perhaps irrational and not based on statistical probability, of abduction, date rape, abuse by near relatives, all that stuff. I also look at "mixed race" families and wonder about the stories that brought them together. I also wonder about fat people, people with silly hats, people who play their ipods too loud, old couples who still seem in love. I've also done very stupid stuff when not quite in my right mind. So I just didn't see him as in anyway a bad person.

Michael5000 said...

Although the kid made me angry enough that I can understand d's reaction, I don't share it.

What I told N#3 was in fact the truth as I saw it, minus only a little of the edge of my emotional reaction. The AAK seemed like a good kid to me.

The [Cherry] Ride said...

Geez. It was good that you explained it to your niece though. Sometimes it's just not easy to explain whacked-out behavior.

Dr. Kenneth Noisewater said...

Friggin' busy-bodies! If a guy wants to take a 12-year-old Asian girl out on the town to look at some squirrels, that's his own business!

Anonymous said...

Maybe he was amped after just hearing something sordid and projecting.

I've seen it happen that way before and you have my sympathies as it is the most offensive assumption to make.

And really, if I was that so sure of a situation I would wait until there was an official authority nearby and tell that person. Very few children in those types of situations are going to go with a danger they do not know as opposed to one they do. From a damaged kid's perspective, the boy is equally if not more dangerous than the accompanying adult.

Yep. It was likely false courage mixed with over or recent exposure to uckiness.

In any event, I think you handled it with grace.