So, in my other life, I am a teaching artist in schools around the city. At just about every corner of this wide and beautiful city, to almost every last stop of every subway train. Schools showered with accolades and citywide attention and schools that are more ignored, but children everywhere. I’ll also say that because I’ve never liked formality, I have usually asked them to call me Carla. But, I’ll bend to the culture of a school and that the one I went to today, they use Mr. _____ and Ms. ______, so I obliged them.
But, color me shocked to say that, I got ching-chonged in class today.
“Everyone, can we all say thank you to Ms. Ching for doing this workshop with–”
“Ms. Ching-chong. Ching-chong.”
“What did you say?”
I haven’t heard that in a long time. A very very long time. Which given my name, I guess surprises me. But, it’s New York. It’s a pretty multicultural, pan-ethnic city. It’s the US. We’re still glowing because we elected Barack Obama president. The man with midwestern and Kenyan roots, raised in Honolulu. Come on.
When I have heard homophobic, racist or misogynist comments come out of the mouths of high school kids, I let ’em have it. Because they know better. And because they can take it.
It is my gut reaction when I hear comments of this nature. To let the other person have it.
He is a fourth grader.
He is mimicing things he’s heard without even knowing what they mean. This is what I tell myself. When it comes to children–actually, the big ones and the small ones–I am an eternal optimist and eternally patient. The reverse of how I am with adults. So I look at him steadily. He is smiling.
“You know, when people say, ‘ching-chong, ching-chong,’ they are usually doing to to make fun of Chinese people. Because they think the language sounds funny. But, I don’t think you mean to make fun of me, do you?”
He looks at me with wide eyes and shakes his head.
“So, just Ms. Ching will be fine, thank you.”
“Are you Chinese?” “Konichiwa!” “Where are you from? You look like one of those Los Angeles people?” “I’m learning Chinese, I think it’s a beautiful language.”
And here comes the rainstorm of curious questions of young children who haven’t known a lot of people like me. So I answer them in shotgun style, checking the clock on the wall to see if I can get to them all before the bell goes.
“Yes, I’m Chinese.” “Konichiwa is Japanese.” “Actually, that’s funny, I am from LA.” “Chinese is beautiful and it’s super-hard, so it’s awesome that you’re learning it.”
And I close the class and thank them for working with me.
And the little boy who “ching-chonged” me walks over. “I’m sorry,” he says.
“That’s alright,” I say.
I smiled at him to let him know it was okay. He smiled back.
I charged off to my next class.
Oh, I should mention that this happened two other times in a different class.
“Ms. Ching-ching. Ching-chinga-chinga–”
“Just once, thank you. One Ching. Ms. Ching. That’s it. Thank you.”