Thursday, April 13, 2006

From Does the word "waeguk" bother you?

My answer: No. My ancestors were from Ireland, and were definitely discriminated against on moving to America. What did they do? Learned to live with it, and eventually overcame it. Watch "Gangs Of New York" if you really want to know what happened. I used to get upset in the Philippines when people would call out "hey Joe!" (traditionally used when referring to US soldiers, after WW2) as I walked down the street, but what can you do? Nothing. So I just learned to ignore it. One of my Chinese co-teachers in Liaoning province never could remember my name, so she just always called me, "Chicago". Which I found rather cute, actually. Now the people on the street yelling, "laowai!" (Mandarin equivalent of Cantonese "gweilo") on the other hand... definitely annoying. Once again, what can you do? There's a billion of 'em. Ignore it.

I used to hear "haole" all the time in Saipan, a US territory in the Pacific, this being a loan word from the Hawaiians (Polynesians) as the Chamorros (who are Micronesians) don't really have their own word for "outsiders" ("haole", meaning "ghost" - literally, "without breath" was used in Hawaii since time immemorial to refer to "Western" missionaries). And, more frequently, I'd hear "American" in reference to white people, which was ridiculous since Saipan residents claim US citizenship, so are by definition, "Americans" themselves (and even claim "Native American" status when aplying for college scholarships or admission). But what could I do? Get involved in a verbal debate or, God forbid, a fight, with some 350-lb. Chamorro guy juiced up on betel nut, Budweiser and soju? I think not.

I know non-whites in parts of America get called a lot worse. One of my African-American friends told me a few years ago he was considering starting a class for white people living overseas, since we're only just going through now what they've gone through their whole lives, at home. This is why minorities from Westen countries do much better... they've already experienced the staring, name calling, discrimination and much worse in their home countries, and are used to it already. At least the locals are only calling you "wayguk", or saying "hello" and giggling/running away, and leaving it at that. It's not as if they were burning crosses outside your apartment or lynching ESL teachers. Grow up.

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