As requested by a blog reader, I am writing some more personal experience stories. Thanks for the suggestion. Here you go…
I grew up in the 80s and 90s in the American Midwest, a place generally deserving of its reputation for friendliness, but probably more so if you are white. I like visits out there. Still, if I had a kid, I would not raise her there.
Like all things with childhood, it takes some time to figure out just how common or uncommon one’s particular experience was. By bad luck, I would live in fear of physical violence both in and out of the house, and it took me awhile to find out that this wasn’t normal or healthy. It was not about the physical pain compared to the beatings I would take at home. Rather, the pain associated with fighting peers was the pain of social isolation. They were reminders that I was not wanted, and that they would not befriend me anyway because I was Chinese. They were acts of public humiliation and social dominance for little primates to practice for when they became big primates.
My sibs and I were targeted, harassed, and assaulted frequently. It was a degrading existence. Once, two bigger boys knocked my sister over from behind (grade school at the time), she hit her head on the concrete, and they scraped her face against it more. She was so embarrassed for weeks as it healed. I was on the losing end more than I wanted to be, and I got hit with rocks and shoes and yelled at for being a “chink” or mistakenly a “gook”. My brother tended to do a little better since most kids knew he had an older brother who fought with him. He took some hard shit too though.
When we moved to a new school district similar in racial composition and temperament, both my sister and I got in fights in public and ended them brutally. We didn’t talk about it until we were adults, but it was like we both knew what we had to do. It was twisted that my sister, the most peaceful person I know, felt like she had to resort to such a display of violence just to stay safe. She’s never struck me ever, and I was an annoying little brother. She doesn’t even yell at people, but you can only keep a boot on the neck for so long. One unfortunate girl found out. Sis ended the fight by grabbing the other girl’s hair and pulling her inward, using a swinging locker door to strike her face until she fell. Like I said, fucking brutal. Anyone that thinks a “girl fight” is anything less violent than two guys fighting obviously never saw the ending of that one. She feels awful to this day about it.
After the move, two older boys target and started harassing my brother and calling him, of all antiquated slurs, “Chinaman”. When he said the physical assaults started, I asked bro if he could find out where one lived, and we went over to one guy’s house. I knocked, yanked him out, and getting a nod from my brother, I threw him off the balcony. He was in no shape to fight after that so we left. The fights did get fewer, and we started coming out better each time. I never knew why we were hated so much. By mid to late high school, Bro and I were serious wrestlers and things died down.