Monday, August 14, 2017

Living with Racism

I wanted to write a post in response to everything that I've seen over this past weekend. It's going to be a long one, so fair warning.

I'm a Japanese American. My mother was adopted, which means that as much as I wish, I don't have a strong connection to my Japanese heritage. I don't fit people's expectations. I love pasta and I love bread. I eat a lot of rice, not because of my mom, but because of my Bolivian husband. I watch a lot of cartoons, but until I married my husband (an anime aficionado), I'd never watched a single episode of anime. (Though I might have binged a whole series last week.) I was good at math in school, but I preferred English. I took Spanish in high school, and although I tried to audit a college Japanese course, I didn't learn much. At home, I speak Spanglish.

I feel like a fake. I feel like I'm not 'Asian enough' for the Asians that I meet. Yet, when it comes to the American culture, I'm too Asian for them.

I'm quite lucky, actually. My whole life, I dealt with very little racism. At least, that I noticed. Most of my friends didn't act like I was different, other than a few jokes here and there, and I think I was too shy to put myself in a situation where I met a lot of strangers.

That all changed when I became a nurse.

On a daily basis, I'm exposed to complete strangers, some of whom are incredibly nice. Others who aren't as much. But even when someone's nice, there's still an underlying difference in the way that they treat me. I would say probably about 80% of my shifts, I have at least one patient who asks me some version of 'who are you.' They may ask where my family comes from, where I come from, what my heritage is, or who my 'people' are. (That last one tends to be a little harder to take than the others.) I try and stay positive and pleasant. Usually, I just say Japan or let them know that my mom is Japanese and they drop it.

Then there are those that don't.

I've written a few posts in the past about things my patients say, but I'm going to condense this into things my patients say that refer to my race.

Are you here all night? And you're Chinese? Oh, Japanese, interesting. Well, we'll enjoy each other tonight.
There's my dark-haired beauty
How do you say pee-pee in Japanese?
Am I in a Chinese hospital?
Get out of here, Yoko!
There's my little Indian girl.
Oh, are you sisters with that other Oriental girl?
I see 'you people' didn't waste any time.
Good job, Short-round!
I had a vision I was going to marry a little Vietnamese girl.

Those are just a few that I've written down over the years. It's nowhere near everything I've heard.

I've had patients who have asked not to have me because I make them flashback to WWII. (A much older lady with confusion. Apparently, I scared her every time I went into her room.)

I've had patients be especially vulgar to me because of my race. One patient told me he had a 'vision' he was going to marry a 'little Vietnamese girl' and then attempt to get me to hold his hand.

I've even had coworkers unwittingly leave things for me because they assume that it will be easier for me. The moment when this was most apparent was one night when I came on shift, and the previous shift told me that they left an admit for me because the patient didn't speak English. When I asked what language he did speak, they told me Laotian. He was Asian, I was Asian, so obviously, it would be easier for me to communicate with him. (By the way, I don't speak Laotian, or any other Asian language, for that matter.)

I can usually laugh it off. In fact, I try and beat other people to the punch, so that they know that I'm not offended by their comments. I tell my coworkers that I work nights because my ancestors lived on the other side of the world, and that's what time they were awake.

Honestly, I don't get offended easily.

But it gets tiring. Being treated as 'someone else' isn't fun, no matter how you spin it.

Recently, I had a super sweet patient who was a little confused. She made a few comments, which were fine, and I even joked about them with my coworkers.

At first.

The comments never stopped. Every single time I went into her room, she referred to me as 'The Japanese.' When I went into her room while she was on the phone, she told them to wait because I was in the room. Except she didn't refer to me as her nurse. She referred to me as 'The Japanese.' Like I said, she was sweet, and she was confused. As a nurse, I try not to be confrontational with people, especially when I know I'm not going to see them again after a few days. If they want to ask about my heritage, I'll tell them. But this sweet lady was my undoing. After two nights of being addressed by my race, and not my name, or my profession, I broke down crying on my way home from work. I couldn’t understand why she couldn’t see me as just her nurse. As just another person. It was always different, and she always had to point it out.

I'm a person. I'm a nurse. I'm a wife, and a sister, and a daughter. I play the piano and I hate to exercise. I've got a weakness for cream puffs and I'm terrified of ghosts. But when people see me, they don't see that.

That's what racism is for me. When no matter who you are, no matter what you do or what your interests are, you're classified by what you look like. Who your ancestors were. The stereotypes you fit into. 

Maybe that's why I joke about it with my coworkers. Why I write about it on my blog. Because it exists. Even if not everyone sees it.

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