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Monday, January 26, 2009

Phantoms & Shadows


You said, ‘She’s got the map of Japan all over her face.’
But when I looked up at her I only saw skin.

My welted, wet face reminded you of a big, fat Indian squaw.
I thought we were Italians.

Shineola, blue gums, Sambo?
They’re only shoe polish, Halloween teeth and pancakes to me.

Like watermelon seeds, you spit out ‘Those kraut bastards!’
cleverly confusing your wife’s blond hair and blue eyes
with the sauerkraut barrel.

Filthy gypsies, no-good Greeks, yellow Chinks:
Your mother taught you that people are mean.
In embracing her, even to the grave,
You set this legacy spinning into the next generation’s fragile orbit.

If you could see how hard I’ve tried to dispel these lies,
your ideas like an unopened gift left behind
Would you be proud of me?

You can rest now in the gathered satin of your apathy
knowing I have slowly untangled the knots that were once given to you.
But at what price?
~~~
After the past campaign, my living in south Chicago for fourteen years, and finally in seeing history being made at last week's inauguration, I have jotted down these few thoughts. Presumably the are submitted to Sunday Scribblings--late again--but more importantly as a note to my daughters and future members of our family: I didn't get here overnight!

[collage photos from Bannock County archives
of Asians in Idaho in the 20th century,
when my dad was growing up]

10 comments:

gautami tripathy said...

Very strong piece.

phantasmagoria

Daryl said...

So well said ...

anno said...

Noni, this post speaks to the independent perspective I always find here Battling our way to our own beliefs is never easy, but I'm glad you found your way to your own generous heart. Beautiful post!

floreta said...

haunting and sad!

Strider said...

Many things in life take time...it is definitely a process. Strong post. Humble.

Jeeves said...

Well said!!!!

Judy Merrill-Smith said...

Oh yes. I've been a little surprised as I've talked to people over the past few months, at how unaware some are at the extent of the racism, esp. in the white, rural north of this country. I grew up hearing phrases that I NEVER want my child to hear. I am so glad that he has a puzzled look on his face when I try to explain some of this to him. Thanks for writing this!

Granny Smith said...

I think most of my generation were fed a lot of racial untruths. Untangling knots can be difficult. I know your daughters appreciate this post, as do we all. I admire your generous spirit.

xoxo Phyllis

Tumblewords: said...

Powerful piece...I'm somewhat ashamed to say that my children untied some of the knots for me or at least helped me look at them in a new fashion. Thank you for this writing!

bluebethley said...

A moving piece. Our parents give us memories that burrow in and influence us, even when the memories are ones we would not choose. You turn this legacy around. I'm thinking the world is celebrating this transformation as we put our hopes in Obama. Thank you, as always, for visiting and for leading me back to your posts.