Monday, March 24, 2008

Year of Dog: Posessing the Best Traits of Human Nature

Subtitle: Not the Year of the Rat: "People born in the Year of the Rat are noted for their charm and attraction for the opposite sex."

Eight and I are reading Year of the Dog, by Grace Lin.

We got hooked by her books a few years ago. BioMom bought me a few of the board books (for readers 4-6) for Father's Day because the father in the stories is called Baba. After that, we've just loved the stories and only recently found these two newer books for older readers (Year of the Dog and the Year of the Rat). Once we even took the book Dim Sum for Everyone to a dim sum restaurant to make sure that we were trying all of the kinds of dim sum that we had been reading about!

Year of the Dog is really an interesting read. It is about a young girl (I suppose she is around 10) whose parents were born in Taiwan. She has decided that, being the year of the dog, that she will 'find herself' -- or at least discover her talents, maybe what she wants to be when she grows up. The chapters are peppered with her Mom's great little stories about growing up in Taiwan.

Last night though, one of the chapters tackled the issue of race in America in such a subtle and expert way that I forgot I was reading a children's book.

In the chapter the girl is excited about trying out for Dorothy in her school's upcoming production of the Wizard of Oz.

She is so excited about the tryout that she practices "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" day and night and thinks about the production constantly.

At one point a friend of hers says incredulously: "YOU are trying out for Dorothy?" and then follows up with "Dorothy is not Chinese!!"

Our protagonist doesn't question her friend, does not end up trying out, and, ultimately, plays the part of a dwarf (were THEY Chinese???). She asks her Mom that night why Chinese people aren't important, explaining that she doesn't see Chinese people as the main players in any movies, books, or television shows.

I literally teach this (as it pertains to women and/or people of color in the labor market and/or women in economics), or attempt to, in my Gender and Economics class. But I should give up, because I can't do the subject an ounce of the justice that Grace Lin did in that one, short (3 page?) chapter.

Eight and I started discussing what that would feel like, to be Chinese, or African American, or some other minority and to not see yourself on television, or in the movies or whatever.

Then, I asked, not so subtly, if she ever felt like that because she had two moms.

Me: How does that make you feel?

She: I guess I feel like it makes me unique. We're different, and I like that.

I let it sit a bit.

She: Can I tell you something that happened?

Me: Sure!

Aside: this is the largest (and only) piece of parenting advice that I can give someone. If you give them the space, they MIGHT talk. Without it, they WON'T.

She: [Snotty, OVERderprivileged girl at school with a cell phone and divorced parents in Second Grade*] said '[a]re [Eight's] moms LESBIANS??????'

My heart skipped a beat in the way that it used to when I was in high school and heard that word and just KNEW that it wasn't about something or someone good.

Then it resumed. We have started using the words 'gay' and 'lesbian' with Eight, in a fairly natural way. As in, "Ellen is a lesbian like your mom and I. You know, she dates women, instead of men. . . . Isn't she cool???"

Me: Oh. . . And what happened? How did that make you feel?

She: And another time, I overheard [another girl] saying something to someone like '[d]on't be so gay!' and I said to her '[girl], you know I have two moms. . . Why would you say that?'

Me (beaming inside): Wow. . . ! I'm proud of you for standing up for yourself! Did you ever say anything to [first girl]?

She: No, a friend of mine told me she said that about me, so I couldn't talk to her without hurting my friend.

Me: Well, I want you to know that I've known about myself for a really long time. Maybe since I was 11 or 12 years old. . . And I am comfortable being a lesbian. . . I am proud of who I am.

She: . . .

Me: You might hear people using terms like 'gay' or 'lesbian' to be mean to other kids. . . . I guess what I'm saying is that you don't need to protect us. . . Okay? We love you and want you to be happy and comfortable.

She: I know. . . I know. . .

*I wasn't judgmental about this girl, well not THIS judgmental, until I heard this story. Now all hell's broke loose.

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