Saturday, May 26, 2012

Standing Up

In Hawaii, white people are the minority. There is actually a derogatory term for them: haole. The word could be said in a familiar and sometimes joking way, but other times in cutting spite.

One day I was going on a fieldtrip with my eighth grade class to a local park. I usually sit in the middle of the bus - not too nerdy in the front, not too popular in the back - but when I boarded the bus for this field trip, I decided to sit a little further back than usual. My friend Kristen sat next to me.

When the bus revved up and we pulled out onto the highway, the boisterous and popular Hawaiian kids began to loudly poke fun at Kristen, calling her a haole, laughing loudly. Kristen and I kept trying to converse normally, but my anger began to rush to my face.

I turned around in my seat. With flint in my eyes, I said with steel: "Stop making fun of Kristen."

Some of the kids did a kind of "Oooooooo,"

I turned back around. Kristen said, "You didn't have to do that,"

"It's just not right," I said.

But then the kids started in on me. They knew I was a Hare Krishna - I had come to school in a sari once or twice. They knew it was a tradition from India, and so they started making Native American "hi-yah, hi-yah" sounds.

Immediately I felt - they're mixing up the traditions on purpose.

On the moving bus, I stood up in my seat and turned around to face them. My nose was tingling, almost numb, as well as my hands, which were balled into fists. My face was hot. My voice rose over the entire bus as I said, "Stop making fun of my religion,"

One of the kids shot back something but I said more, "You don't even know what you're talking about."

The whole bus fell silent. Students swiveled in their seats. I kept expecting a teacher to come and break it up, but all was still.

I went on, "First you're making fun of Kristen, now you're making fun of me, and you don't even know, you don't even know what you're talking about! No respect! No respect." I turned back around and jammed back down into my seat, breathing heavily. Kristen was quiet.

The bus remained silent until we pulled into our destination.

I quickly got off the bus to go cry somewhere on a cement curb. Kristen came with me. I don't ever remember a teacher coming to ask what had happened, to mediate at all. What I do remember is that one or two of the Hawaiian kids came over to apologize - to Kristen and to me.

One of them even asked me if I wanted to come play tennis with her.

I took some deep breaths and decided to give it a shot. I sucked at it. But the girl and I traded smiles. Her name was Malia.

Over a decade later, this experience is seared into my memory. I am reflecting on what it means to stand up for what I believe in. Literally, stand up.

And tonight I wonder, what do I stand for? What gets every match inside of my body lit and I rise to my feet?

I am in that question.

"I submit to you that if a man hasn't discovered something that he will die for, he isn't fit to live." - Martin Luther King Jr.


Scott McGregor said...

Thank you for sharing. I teared up as I was reminded of the hurt that I experienced as a child - being teased, judged and excluded... and the deeper pain of remembering how I did that same teasing and bullying to others.
I staffed a workshop - Challenge Day - that goes into high schools to raise awareness about the impact of bullying, gossip and discrimination, and gives the teens an experience of what love and belonging feels like.
Check it out>
hugs and dandavats, Savya

Balaram Das said...

Really nice post. Haven't read your blog in a while but this was a great post to come back to.

To write is to dare the soul. So write.