We have a special treat for you Capstone Connect readers today. In honor of National Diversity Month, Here I Am author Patti Kim shares with us a story about race and learning to stand up for yourself.
The momentum continues to build for her wordless picture book, recently receiving STARS from Publishers Weekly and Kirkus Reviews. We have a few copies of Here I Am to give away to readers, so be sure to leave a comment on this post for your chance to win one!
Here’s Patti’s story...
I'm at Target. I cross paths with a young woman in her twenties. She pushes a cart while her two friends stroke their phones.
Instead of "excuse me," she calls out, "Wong-chung-chung-chung!" By now, I'm about ten feet away. Do I ignore and walk on? Do I stop?
I stop, turn my head, look at her, and see that she's looking at me. I walk to her, and when I'm close enough to use my inside voice, I ask, "Was that directed at me?"
"What?" she says, refusing to look at me. She has a lot of red lipstick on. It nearly dominates her face. As distracting as "seeing red" can be, I try to look into her eyes. Her friends continue to stroke their phones.
"You were mimicking an Asian language. Exactly what language were you trying to speak?" I say.
"Oh, I got friends who are Chinese," she says.
"So, you were trying to speak Chinese to me?" I ask.
"If you took it the wrong way, that's you're problem," she says.
"We both know how you meant it. You need to stop that," I say.
I walk away.
This incident made me think of Arnie.
We went to the same elementary school. Everyone noticed him because he had a significant speech disorder.
Looking back, I think he may have had cerebral palsy. The condition didn't keep him from speaking up. I remember one day after school two boys were laughing at him, teasing, and calling him retarded. Without hesitation, Arnie corrected these boys. Earnestly, loudly, slowly, he explained, as clearly as he could form the words, "I'm not retarded. Don't use that word. I'm not retarded. I have a speech problem. I'm not retarded." I noticed how Arnie really wanted to educate these boys.
He kept at it. But the more he spoke, the more the boys laughed. I wanted Arnie to stop and go away. Be quiet, Arnie. Why prolong the torture? Cut it short. Make it stop.
Go home. Run, Arnie.
As a 10-year-old, I couldn't understand why Arnie chose to seize that moment and speak up because whenever I got teased, I ran for the hills.
I fled, taking with me my fury and my shame. But Arnie was determined to make sure these boys got it right, not so much for his sake, but for theirs. They needed some help. They needed some light.
I think I've finally caught up with Arnie's spirit.
About Patti Kim
Patti Kim was born in Pusan, Korea, and immigrated to the United States on Christmas of 1974 with her mother, father, and older sister. At the age of five, she thought she was a writer and scribbled gibberish all over the pages of her mother’s Korean-English dictionary and got in big trouble for it. Her scribbling eventually paid off. She earned her MFA in creative writing at the University of Maryland. She is the author of A Cab Called Reliable. She lives with her husband and two daughters who give her plenty to write about every day. Here I Am is her first children’s book.