Thursday, December 18, 2008


This week's lesson had to do with Studying and Working as a Nurse in the U.S.A. Before starting the class, I asked who of the students would like to study in America.  A hush. A silence. A stillness. No one would like to study in the U.S.? Another hush. A twitter. Some movement. Really. That's interesting. Tell me: why?

The students are reluctant, as if they'll hurt my feelings. O, they are giving me face.

I ask with more enthusiasm: Really, I'm interested to know. Of 8 classes, the first response was: too far. Then surveying the classes, I learn: it is expensive. Then: you have to learn English. Across the board, the classline: you need so much money and you have to learn English. It's like any job, I tell them--you have to invest and sacrifice to make lots of money. I tell them, if you know you are happy in China, and you don't need so much money, then that is best for you. Some people are only happy making money, so they are willing to leave China.

Then I hear something in Chinese. I understand 2/5 of it. Wait, the life style is good but...and she says it in Chinese again. I ask what that means. O, you don't feel secure. She nods. Because you see so many guns in so many American movies. Yes. Fantesy, a boy student from Class 6 who never answers any question, responds: It is our motherland.

Yes it is. And it is at this moment that I realize I can never be Chinese, because I do not have this kind of devotion to the motherland. This frees me.

During the very dry class material, there is a statistic about how on the West Coast of the U.S., there is a larger number of minority nurses than in the rest of the U.S.: 23%.

Does everyone know what 'minority' means? The usual silence, and then a whisper: shaoshu minzu. Yes! I say. (This is the '2' part of 2/5 that I know in Chinese.) I have them say it a coupla times:  Mi-nor-ity. Mi-nor-ity. And what is the opposite?  Majority. Let's say it everyone: Ma-jor-ity. Ma-jor-ity.

Who is the majority in China?  They answer: Han Chinese. That's right. Who is the majority in the U.S.? Usual silence, but interestingly enough, 2 of the only 6 male students in all of my classes answer: Indians. Really. They smile. Well, you know the majority of the U.S. is white. Bai ren. White People. The White People have thrown the Indians off of their land for the past 400 years. This is news to my classes. 

And then I continue with the demographics: The U.S. is 65% white, 15% black, 12% latino, and 4% asian. And I make it clear to them 4% is not just Chinese, it's all of the asians: Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Thai, Cambodian, Laotian, Hmong, Filipino. All of them together are 4%. I've struck a kind of dumbfoundedness in my classes. Although on the West Coast, in my home state of California, it is different. The majority is latino, with 60% and 10% of the population is  asian. All asians.

I tell them that I grew up in the U.S., so I am of the U.S. The language that I understand life the deepest in is American English. I grew up as a minority in the U.S. seeing more white faces in the society and culture than my own. But now, here, in China, I am in the majority, and that is a very strong feeling. (The classes universally chuckle). My face is in the majority, and that gives me a kind of feeling that I have not had for most of my life. 

I tell them the coasts have asian faces but in the big middle of the U.S., it is white, very white. In fact I had been to the middle, to Kansas, to a small town to teach, where they had mostly seen asians on TV or movies, doing kung fu. The people of the midwest are very friendly, and they say what they mean. It's not like they think I'm a freak, they just don't have a lot of experience with live asian faces, just like you students don't have any live contact with white people. There were some International Korean students at the school, but mostly it's white. Some might think think that asians do kung-fu just like you think that everywhere you go in the U.S. it is unsafe.

Even if there are students in my class who wish to study Nursing in the U.S., they are in the minority and will not speak up for the majority to hear.

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