Visiting my 95 year old grandfather is always a treat. He tells me small stories that don’t seem to have color until the next time I see him. Perhaps it’s the fact that it started as a story to me, the second time its story finally bleeds through as an emotional experience that transcended decades and even generations. The stories keep knocking at the door…being told as excerpts…hoping that its words will penetrate the soul of the generation being told. Hoping. And finally, when the time is right, it does. It hits straight to the heart, straight to the soul, straight to understanding the pain and frustration from generations before. This time, it was after the election where Donald Trump beat Hilary Clinton in the November 2016 presidential election.
Yeh Yeh (grandfather, in Cantonese) told me that he has always voted Republican. (I can only assume for the tax considerations). But this time, he voted for Hilary. He couldn’t stand to put a man who created the perception of being a racist – to run our country. He felt like he had gone back to the 40’s and 50’s. Seeing him shake his head in disappointment completely broke my heart. Completely.
He told me about post-WWII and how after Japan surrendered (after the 2nd A-bomb was dropped), he realized how lucky he was. Because after Japan hadn’t surrendered after the first A-bomb, he and the rest of their B-24 bomber crew was getting ready to be sent to Japan. But after the 2nd, it was over. The war was over. But a new ‘war’ was starting.
That’s where the fight to be accepted started… because he wasn’t “white”. It was a different time. Even though there were Asian-Americans and Black-Americans fighting for the US, they still weren’t being treated equal. I get that many Trump supporters would never say they voted for him because he may or may not have positioned himself to be racist, but rather because they were tired of the same ole’ political landscape. They’re tired of all of the taxes, tired of Obamacare, tired of “fill in the blanks”.
I understand that but sadly, Trump’s campaign also gave voice to an interesting demographic (who I thought were done and gone) who don’t truly understand or appreciate the melting pot that America has grown into. That is what any “minority” who has dealt with ignorant people judging on skin color and ethnicity feels. I may not feel it to the extent that others have, but nonetheless I feel it. I feel it through past experiences, I feel it now as a result of the stories my grandfather has told me. He kept his mouth shut because he didn’t want to cause any trouble – even though there were people saying, “how did that ‘China man’ get in here?!” or, “the only reason he must be here is because he has some pull somewhere”. Little did they know that he had the highest scores on the tests the Air Force had him take to be a mechanic. Post-war, he had to figure out what he was going to do. He was told that he could re-enlist and eventually move up in the ranks. But in his heart, he wasn’t up for the fight. He felt that if he were a white man, it would have been a level playing ground. But he just didn’t want anything more to do with it.
History has a strange way of repeating itself even in brief moments of time.
Fast forward 70 years, visiting Seattle for Thanksgiving, I heard more than a few stories of Asian-Americans (whether or not they were Chinese) being approached by people saying, “Go back to China!” We’ve progressed so far yet haven’t progressed enough. This is today’s truth from a granddaughter that listened and finally…understood viscerally.