Guest Post by R. Scott Okamoto
I submit this post as a reminder to myself the state of things for Asians in America. Even as we support Black Lives Matter, fight for humane treatment of immigrants, and do everything we can to help white men adjust to their shrinking dominion (no, not really), I raise my hand and ask America, "Do you see us?" I still don't think you do. Things are changing, yes. Having a couple of television shows with Asian American principal casts has felt like a revolution in mainstream America. My congressperson is Judy Chu. In so many ways, life is great and getting better. And yet…
My parents tell a story of life in Omaha, Nebraska, where my dad went to dental school in the mid-1960s. While at a gas station, they noticed a family staring at them. The mother pointed and said to her kids, "Oh, look at the cute little chinaman!" Today, I live in Pasadena, California. I play guitar in a band. I played baseball. I grew up hunting and fishing. I was an English professor for 15 years, and I was born at Fort Dix, New Jersey where my dad was a Captain serving his second stint in the army. So much Americana, it is to laugh.
A few weeks ago, as I made my way out of a crowded taco shop, an older black man made room for me, put his hands together, smiled, and bowed. It seemed a genuine gesture on his part. When I didn't return the bow because I was still trying to figure out what the hell he was doing, he just kept smiling and bowing as I exited the shop. And then I felt kind of bad for not bowing back. And then I felt kind of pissed because he saw me as a foreigner. One block from my house. In Pasadena. In 2016. I'm a 4th generation American, but it often feels like this is how people see me (thanks to my son, Ethan, for the graphics):