For some, the murder of Treyvon Martin is a story on the news to decry but one you will move on from- but for The Fairy Princess, it hits a bit closer to home, because she has had Great Grandfathers, on both the Irish and Chinese sides of her family, murdered.
Not many people know that about me, but it’s true.
My Great Grandfather, William Fang Yuen, was murdered in 1922 in Innisfail, Australia. He was killed by a Caucasian man who was his Foreman. The Foreman was stealing, and he had been caught, there was an argument, the Foreman left. Later, my Great Grandfather was shot as he prepared the payroll.
The different reasons given for the murder are similar to reading RASHOMAN, the play. There were rumors of infidelity, of embezzlement, of jealousy….no one bothered to get the story straight, least of all the Authorities. What I was told as a child only grew more complicated as I became an adult, but it remains a blot on the history of The Chinese in North Queensland. My Cousin, William Yang, actually does a show called “Sadness’ on this very subject.
There was a trial, but it was superficial – much like the Zimmerman case, it allowed someone who was the acknowledged killer to go free, because, essentially Australia’s treatment at the time of their ethnic minorities and other immigrants was shockingly biased. I mean, if one could go to prison for killing “A Chinaman“, then what would happen if people were examined for their treatment of the Aboriginals! One of the reasons that the defense said that the fellow did not murder my Great Grandfather, was because my Great Grandfather had a very distinct large gold ring that had gone missing when he was killed – and they could not find the ring in the Foreman’s possession, ergo it had to be someone else. This was part of the case they made, and, he was acquitted.
When my Grandfather was a young man, he went walking in the town of his Father’s murder and he saw the son of the Foreman wearing his Father’s ring. A ring so distinct, that he would remember it from childhood. And, apparently, this was a ring that had been worn frequently in that town, once the trial was over – so everyone ‘knew’ that he was guilty, but nothing was done about it.
My Great Grandfather was a very wealthy man – he owned all the sugarcane farms in the area. He was ‘the bank’ for the Chinese community there, as none of the regular financial institutions would loan money to local Chinese who wanted to start a business. My Great Grandfather built the church and helped found that town. He was murdered, leaving behind a young wife and four children…and he was not accorded the dignity of his murderer being incarcerated. His wealth did not protect him. Money cannot protect against racism.
This changed the Family in many ways, perhaps, had his Father been around, my Grandfather and his Brothers would have made different choices – in careers, in who they married, perhaps they would still own the majority of the sugar cane in North Queensland, perhaps I would not even be here – but my life is a legacy of that murder.
On the Irish side, My Great Grandfather O’Shea was set upon by British soldiers as he made his way home from the pub in Kerry, Ireland. They beat him near to death because he was a member, in some fashion, of the Resistance. When he did not come home as expected, his sons set out looking for him – he had seven children. They found him and brought him home, and he lingered for three days, dying slowly of internal injuries.
During that time, as he faded in and out, he told his children that they were all to leave Ireland, immediately. After he was gone, they all stole away in the night and everyone took a different ship leaving Ireland – and they did not tell each other where they were going in case they were captured.
Some were never heard from again. At least one ended up in Australia, married, coincidentally, to an Auntie of my Mother. My Grandmother found out, after about 30 years in America, that she had a sister living but two towns over from where she eventually wound up.
Again, the legacy that I have inherited was based on the murder of someone who was not going to be given justice by any legal system. I have to, as a Parent, consider that my Child’s heritage is based on murder, and now I have to consider that, should he wear the wrong piece of clothing and venture out after seven p.m., it could be his future.
There is 90 years between the murders of my Great Grandfather and Treyvon Martin, but nothing seems to have changed. The statement of a Caucasian is valued higher than the evidence of a crime, the eyewitness testimony, and the presence of a dead body. A dead body who is…was…a minority.
The Fairy Princess has a child. I am the Mother of a Son. I am the Mother of a Son who is, in the United States, considered a minority.
My Son is many things that I can see right now, at the age of one – he is smart, he is quick, he is physically advanced for his age, and he has a wicked sense of humor that in the future is definitely going to be an issue. That, he gets from me – the humor. Otherwise, he looks like his Dad.
There are many things about my Son that I cannot tell yet, but his being viewed as a Minority in the United States is something that I know right now, will follow him his whole life. Being viewed as a Minority is an issue that both his Father and I have dealt with on a personal basis.
Growing up for my Husband, as an immigrant from South Korea who was then transplanted abruptly to a small town in Virginia, was difficult. To say ‘difficult’ is an understatement. However, my Husband survived.
Growing up as a multi-ethnic female in New York was not without it’s own problems. Add to that a tendency to be chunky and like musical theater, and you can see that I was in for some stressful moments. However, I survived. (Power ballads are particularly useful under duress)
One day – much sooner than either his Parents, his Immediate Family, and his extended LGBT Family will like – my son will be a teenager.
Yesterday, with the verdict in the Zimmerman trial, what it means to be the parent of a teenager who falls into ‘the minority’ changed how we are able to feel when our children leave the house.
They could be leaving to go to sports practice, or to play computer games with a friend. They could be leaving to go and sketch a particularly interesting tree they saw on their way to school. They could be leaving for a million creative and interesting reasons, or they could just be going to get some candy and a drink, and they might wear a sweatshirt.
But they will, we now know for certainty, never really be safe – even if they walk the streets they grew up in. Because someone who lives in fear, or in hate, or in combination of the two will see my Son, your Son, our Sons, as ‘the other’. They will see our Sons and they will see opportunities that they feel they missed out on, or they will see someone to focus their anger on, and they will take a shot, or take a knife, or use their hands – and they will attack our Sons. Perhaps they will maim them and our Sons will recover. Perhaps they will kill them, and our Sons will become another news story.
Should such a horrific thing happen, our Legal System will then allow the Murderer to gather a Jury ‘of their peers’ who will let them go. Because their Peers will understand and make excuses for their racism, fear, and hate – because they too, have it as part of their makeup – even if they do not think so.
My Son is not African American – I am not trying to co-opt that experience. But one need only to look at the news this past week to view how America views Asians in this country.
It seems it is perfectly acceptable to many to mock the names of people who have just been through a horrific airplane crash where people died. It was blamed on ‘an intern’, but think about how many channels and levels those ‘approvals’ had to go before they wound up being reported as fact, on the nightly news. It was not ‘just a mistake’, it was racism.
This past week on a television show, Big Brother 15, some of the “Houseguests’ told the Asian American contestant to ‘go make some rice’ and were shown degrading the other contestants on the live feeds. They were not ‘jests’ or ‘all in fun’ comments – it was racism.
The name, Vincent Chin, may not be as familiar to mainstream America, but to Asian Americans it is ‘our’ Treyvon Martin story – it vibrates with the reminders that every time we hear someone yell “Chink” or “Jap” or “Gook” from a car, from an alley, in a bar….. we could be moments away from be bludgeoned to death simply because we exist in this country. This is a fear that is shared, in some respect by every person in this country who is a minority – either due to their race, gender, or sexual preference.
Apparently we, the pesky ‘minorities’, are only in this country on very specific terms, which can be challenged at any time by a man – usually a Caucasian man – who has been somewhat of a failure in his own life. So of course, instead of working hard, or studying, or taking responsibility for his own actions, it’s much better to ‘blame’ the minority for his own shortcomings.
“That chick is a BITCH” because she will not date you, “That Gook took my job” because you stopped your education at High School, “That Fag wants to touch me” because you have latent attractions you are unable to deal with in a constructive way. We, the minorities, are cluttering up ‘their Country‘, so we better ‘watch ourselves‘.
This country, which so many seem content to claim, but which was stolen from Native Americans by men whose Napoleon complexes resulted in Manifest Destiny.
This is America. Lest we forget, us ‘minorities’.
Ok, Angry Undereducated White Guy, you sure told me!
What do we, as minorities in America, take away from this horrible lesson? What is our next step?
I will tell you what I am going to do….
I am going to hold my Son tonight – as I do every night – and I am going to worry more now. I will probably go to the ‘dark place’ quite a bit – but I will teach him how to grow and achieve to his fullest potential.
We must empower our Sons to live full lives filled with achievement, education, and art.
We must teach our Daughters that they are shining examples of courage, education, and self-sufficiency with the right to control their own bodies.
We must teach, in spite of all the terrible things that we are being taught right now, about America through this case, we must teach our Children that in America, we expect them to treat people equally regardless of their race, sexual preferences, or gender.
America, as a country, is not ‘there’ yet – but Our Children may get the chance to make it so, as long as we, The Parents, do not give up. We need to work to change laws, we need to empower our educational system, we need to continue to invest in our communities through the Arts and through Social Programs. We need to show one another respect and tolerance and understanding.
We all must do this, because if we do not….the shitheads win.