California Educator

April/May 2021

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A S I W A T C H the news and see segments about violence tar- geted at Asian Americans, I am in tears, as I too am Asian. I feel sadness in my heart; however, in reality, this is what a person like me has felt throughout a lifetime of growing up in America. As a fourth-generation Japanese American, I know the sting of inequality. Th e re c ent sh o otin gs in Atl ant a re sult ed in the deaths of eight people, including six of Asian descent. Local and federal authorities are still investigating whether this was a hate crime — a travesty, considering the shooter targeted these massage parlors and knew they primar- ily employed Asian women. Less than 10 days later, another mass shooting occurred, and the Atlanta deaths were no longer in the public eye. Do we matter? All four of my grandparents were in the Tule Lake internment camps during World War II. My grandmother instilled in me that not everything is equal. Being a young bride looking forward to all that life had to oer, Grandma Helen had so much taken away — a house, her and her husband's life savings, and everything she owned packed in a small suitcase as she departed to the unknown, which would be the next four years of her life. ree of her four children would be born at the camps, and it will always sting for them to write "Tule Lake" as their birthplace. Growing up Japanese American was still a challenge in the 1970s. In the small agricultural town in which I lived, there was no shedding the features that make me uniquely Asian, and I always felt I was judged by my outward appearance. Being dif- ferent forces you to keep quiet, to be shy, and I lived my entire childhood that way — not wanting to stand out. Who would have thought I would become a high school English teacher? As a kid I never felt that I was on an equal playing eld. Not only did my appearance make me dierent, but my religion did as well. I never wanted to let people know that I was Buddhist, as many parents of schoolmates didn't welcome someone who did not believe in God. For this reason, religion is a topic I sel- dom discuss. As a child this was dicult to compartmentalize. I remember thinking: It wasn't that I didn't believe in God, it was just that I was Buddhist. I remember the teasing on the playground. Boys always called me "Dina Cheena." Discrim- ination on the playground was a part of growing up, but experiencing it from adults was also demoralizing. Not making sports teams or being chosen for extracurricular activities as a teenager further brought me face to face with the inequali- ties in a small town. Moving to Southern California for college opened up opportunities for me to feel accepted. I was nally able to be me. However, there were still remarks about ethnicity, and the bias about speaking perfect English . I can remember a college professor asking a student who spoke Hawaiian Pidgin English to leave class, stating, "There is no place for that here." In addition, much of the English curriculum in college was based on stories from the Bible, which also left me at a disad- vantage. I remember a professor saying, "If you don't know the Bible, you shouldn't be an English major." is brought me back to the uneasiness that I felt about being Buddhist and thinking, "Darn it for throwing a wrench into my potential as an English teacher." Somehow, I managed to muddle through the course, but it ingrained in me a feeling that I might not be a legitimate English teacher due to my religion. After years of living in Southern California, I remember land- ing my rst teaching job. e department chair's rst remark was, "at's odd that someone like you is an English teacher." I had the nerve to reply, "It is the only language I speak." An Race, Religion and Politics The complexities of being Asian By Dina Tsuyuki 20 Spotlight Dina Tsuyuki Y O U R V O I C E

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