Where did the other non-whites sit on the bus?

I recently read The Help and then went to the movie.  Getting to read a book to completion while parenting young kids is a luxury all unto itself, so I am doubly pleased to have been able to do both.  I went with two other mothers, one Caucasian South African and one Caucasian American.  Ordinarily, their race is of little consequence to their identification.  They are my friends, C and S and two of the loveliest women.  In this case though, it is important to note who was in the car.  The question was asked “what would I do if I were there back then?”  It was really interesting to listen to their candor.  I was in awe of their willingness to challenge their convention as to how they would handle the race issue if they were growing up back then.

I was left with a different question.  “What would I be doing back then?”  Sure as hell, there would be no black nanny taking care of my children.  But I was wondering if I, and others like me, would have been there at all?  Actually, I know there were Korean adoptees back then, we started coming in droves in the 1950s by mostly very religious families who were “called” to save the orphans of the Korean War.  I have met Korean adoptees who grew up in the 1970s and 1980s in the South who were not allowed in stores, who feared the confederate flag and who would hide when a truck of White boys would come barreling down the street.  But where were we during Jim Crow?

This question has been burning in my brain for some time now.  My son came home fascinated and forever changed when he learned about Martin Luther King in school and is very diligent in describing the color of a person – brown, very brown, light.  I am actually proud that he doesn’t identify himself as being White.  Driving through Harlem, he will ask if he would be able to hang around and play because there are no light skinned people around.  But I am always stumped when I think about my Asian American history and realize we don’t exist in American History books during Jim Crow.  I know we existed.  There were laws in the history books before then prohibiting Asian women from immigrating here so as not to procreate.  Chinese immigrants were not considered full human either.  And the image of the canary being held by a “Yellow man” entering the mines is forever in my head as a sign of where we came from.

So, I have the dubious task of educating my sons about being Asian in America and adoption.  Like any other minority population, our home is full of books written by Asian American authors, pictures and paintings on the wall from Korea and I remain on the never ending quest to find someone who will teach Korean to my kids other than in a church setting.  My children are around close friends of all shades.   Is it enough?  I am left wondering what will stick in their heads and hearts.

To end, I found a book.  Partly Colored: Asian Americans and Racial Anomaly in the Segrgated South http://www.news.wisc.edu/18551.  Anyone else wonder about this?  What have you found?

7 thoughts on “Where did the other non-whites sit on the bus?

  1. I haven’t read the link posted by the other commenter yet, or heard of the book you cited, but I will definitely look into both. I did want to share the following experience, though:

    When my kids (Lili and Julian–you know them!) were s.omething like 6 and 3, while visiting my parents in Miami, we spent the afternoon at an old train museum next to the zoo. The “museum” was basically a bunch of vintage trains from different eras lined up on some no longer-used tracks that you could climb onto and explore (in other words, heaven for a train-obsessed 3 yr old). One of the trains was a 50s/60s-era segregated train from the American south, and different cars were actually labeled “White” and “Colored.” Growing up in the Northeast, I had never seen anything like it before and was completely fascinated (I even took pictures of the signs).

    When we explained to Lili (who is Chinese) what the signs meant, she thought for a moment and then asked, “What if we were on this train together? Where would we sit?” I (her white adoptive mom) looked at her and realized how complicated that simple question actually was. First of all, we would never have been a family back then, because it was decades before a China adoption program (or a one-child policy) even existed. But let’s say we were: Two white parents and their two Asian kids. The Asian kids certainly wouldn’t have been thought of as “white,” but were Asians included under the umbrella of “colored” back then? Were they even considered at all? Would they have allowed two white adults to sit in the colored cars? Would we have been allowed on the train at all?

    In the end I told Lili that I honestly didn’t know, and that I would look into it. Then we went back to our vacation and our lives here in multi-culti Brooklyn and the moment passed. I’m embarrassed to say that I never did look into Lili’s question further, but grateful that I now have this reminder and these resources with which to do so. I’m also grateful that although there is still a long way to go, it’s discussions like these that make me realize how far we’ve come and give me hope that progress toward unity and equality will continue to be made.

    By the way, I read your post about the Korean mother’s group and wanted to let you know that here in South Brooklyn, there’s a very active Korean playgroup/language group where all the moms speak English and they never meet in a church! The food is still great, of course. (I know this because 3 of the moms are good friends of mine and our kids have grown up together.) I know Brooklyn is a hike for you, but if you want me to put you in touch with Min, the mom who teaches all the kids Korean, let me know!

  2. Thank you for posting this. I am an adoptive mom with a daughter from China and we have always admired you and looked up to your wise words and experiences as a Koren Adoptee. When my daughter was younger she also asked questions about where she would sit on the bus and I didn’t have an answer. I told her that I would sit with her wherever that might be. I appreciated the article that was linked above about Chinese in Mississippi. I guess there may not have been enough Asians living in urban areas during those days to have made it into historical records. But I would love to know more if you find anything out.
    Thank you.

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