I’m laying on the ground, staring out the door at the big, blue sky. The air has a sultry, sticky feeling to it. Outside, I see fleeting glimpses of palm trees, huts and a strange looking animal that resembles a cow. A water buffalo.
It is paradise.
But, yet, it’s not.
I’m aware of the filth, the noise, and a slightly moldy, dank stench that permeates the air. I see someone enter the building where I’m laying. They are dressed in rags, and are wearing a funny looking cone-shaped hat. They stop in a corner, squat, and urinate.
And then the dream stops.
I wake up, and realize I’m dreaming about Vietnam again.
I’ve had The Dream for as long as I can remember. It’s one that’s come and gone throughout my 30 some years of life. I’ll go for a year or so without having it, and then the images will appear again in my mind, as crisp and as clear as if I were actually there. The details of The Dream never change.
Some days, The Dream is the only thing that reminds me of how I appear outwardly to others. Asian.
I came to the U.S. when I was only four months old. I was adopted into a white family, in a town about as ethnically un-diverse as they come. To say I was a minority would have been a grave understatement.
But I didn’t see it that way. Because in my mind, it wasn’t a factor.
When I looked around me, I saw parents and family who loved me as if I was born of their own flesh and blood. I saw siblings who only cared whether or not I was crossing the invisible middle line in the car… and if so, I’d better stop… or else. I saw a regular suburban kid just trying to get through adolescence intact.
But not everyone saw me that way. When they looked at me, they only saw a person with jet black hair and almond eyes so very different from their own. Some immediately stereotyped me as someone who was good at math and knew how to use chopsticks. And still others labeled me as someone who was yellow on the outside, but white on the inside. A Twinkie, they called me.
I’ve experienced prejudice, stereotypes and labeling. And every time I did, it always jolted me back into reality a little. Because often, the only times I was cognizant of my Asian heritage was when I looked in the mirror. Or when I had The Dream.
Oddly, since I’ve become a parent myself, I no longer have The Dream. Perhaps it’s because every day I look into two little faces so like my own, and I no longer need subconscious reminders of the person I am outwardly.
Or, perhaps, it’s because I now have different dreams. Ones reserved especially for my children.
I dream that they will not be pigeonholed into acting a certain way based on what they look like.
I dream that they never hear the term “Twinkie” except for when it’s mentioned the context of a delicious, artery clogging dessert.
I dream that they remember who they are genetically – 1/4 Chinese, 1/4 Vietnamese, and 1/2 all funky white boy – and embrace that heritage. It’s an inextricable part of their being, and one that I am proud to call my own.
At the same time, I dream that they will recognize their heritage does not define who they are.
I dream that they will be not be judged by how they should act based on their race but, rather, by how they do act based on their character.
We do not choose our families, our skin color or the life that we’re born into. But all of those factors invariably shape and influence the person we choose to become.
And my children? They will be whatever they want to be.
At least, that is my dream for them.