A Facebook post tells of a hospital patient who refuses to be examined by an Asian doctor. Prior to that, a different post tells of a Chinese international student at UNM in Albuquerque, who was distraught when going to his dorm room. Pranksters had draped his door with plastic and a sign, “Quarantine. Keep Out.” The student didn’t find it funny. He felt threatened.
For weeks, we have seen photos of empty Chinese restaurants whose patrons fear feasting there because of the Covid-19 Virus. And up to now, Americans have always savored Chinese food.
Did you know that Americans were first introduced to Chinese food during the 1849 California Gold Rush? That’s because many Chinese came over to participate in searching for gold.
Today there are over 50,000 Chinese restaurants in the U.S. and their appeal, in good part, rests on the large portions and generally inexpensive prices. Still, when I first tasted this delectable food as a child during the 1930s, I was hesitant already having heard the rumor about the unexpected finger found in the chop suey. That was a not-too-subtle attempt at looking down at the Chinese.
Irrational beliefs rise to the surface when panic sets in, and our culture has long been leery of Asians and their cultures. Most of you are probably too young to remember the anti-Asian sentiments of the last century when Chinese and Japanese were referred to as “The Yellow Peril.”
Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, Anti-Asian sentiments in Los Angeles soared. Most non-Asians couldn’t distinguish between Chinese, Japanese, or Korean residents. Los Angeles Chinese, fearful of being mistaken for Japanese, placed “Chinese American” stickers on their cars or wore ”Chinese American” pins or “ABCD” (American Born Chinese Descent) pins to stave off dirty looks or worse from suspicious Angelenos. Even Life Magazine, probably the most significant disseminator of public information at the time, was caught up in this preoccupation with distinguishing between different Asian populations. They published an article, “How to Tell Japs from the Chinese.
To demonstrate patriotism to the USA, Chinese American men in Los Angeles, awaiting induction into the regular military branches or unable to serve because of age or physical disabilities, created a special unit of the California State Military Reserve that they dubbed the “Chinese Militia.”
Although this home guard branch of service was short- lived, they designed a shoulder patch and pin to wear on their uniforms. The designs were based on Sun Yat-sen’s famous Three Principles or San Min Chu I, incorporating Chinese symbols of blue sky, white sun, golden pagoda, and the color red.
Parades were one of the most important activities of the Chinese Militia. When they marched, the Chinese American community always clapped and cheered them on, and the non-Chinese community enthusiastically received them, as well.
Judging by current behavior and the xenophobic commentaries posted on social media, we haven’t learned anything from past experiences about our irrational fear of Eastern cultures and the virus and China. Unfortunately, bigotry thrives. And we have no available badges to wear that identify us as non-threats to public health: “Free From Symptoms;“ “Never been to Wuhan;” “I haven’t visited Italy in 20 years.” “I Just Took a Purell Bath.”
Even though ugly memes come to mind during this pandemic, please make a strong effort not to pin it on any race or religion. Help your neighbors, and last but not least, “Stop Hoarding Toilet Paper!”
Folklorist Norine Dresser witnessed extreme anti-Japanese racism during WWII when her Japanese classmates were whisked away and placed in Internment camps. Those were ugly times. Let’s not have history repeat itself.
I invited an acquaintance over for supper, and as she walked through the door, she wrinkled her nose and remarked, “You people use so much garlic.”
I was at a loss as to how I should respond, so I said nothing. However, the recent massacre of eleven Jews at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh sharply brought my friend’s words back to me. I now believe that these not-so-subtle disdainful comments that separate people should not go unanswered. But what should I have said?
“You people,” divides us. Remember when Ross Perot unsuccessfully used those words during his bid for president in 1992?
As a Jew or member of any minority, we must not let divisive words be used without consequence. On November 4, 2018, the online version of The Forward revealed that the State of New York invalidated an anti-Semitic vanity license plate with the initials GTKRWN.
I had no idea what that acronym stood for, and it horrified me when I found out: Gas The Kikes, Race War Now. Thanks to Jay Firestone, who infiltrated an alt-right community and wrote about it in Commune magazine, Assemblywoman Nily Rozic of Queens contacted the Motor Vehicles Commissioner, Theresa Egan, and requested that the plate be cancelled. The words were a form of hate speech that incites violence, and the agency took appropriate action.
In the past, I have tried to be pro-active when my family felt the sting of anti-Semitic actions or words. I regret that I made no moves when a neighbor boy once told my son that he should have been burned in the ovens, too. I knew the boy’s family was openly anti-Semitic, and I felt inadequate to the task of confronting them. I felt so guilty that later, when a minister’s son accused my daughter of killing Christ, I took action.
I called upon the family and told the father what had happened and how this had upset my child. Sternly, the minister called in his son. “Stevie, didn’t I always tell you that we killed him, too?”
Even though the results were underwhelming, at least I tried. Then when my younger daughter’s two fourth grade classmates opined, “We wish Hitler had killed you. You should have burned in the gas chamber,” I reported the incident to the teacher who subsequently contacted the parents. What happened after that escapes my memory. Nonetheless, in this situation, I knew that I personally could do nothing other than turn to a higher school authority, and in retrospect, that was a good move.
No one should make back-handed criticisms of another’s ethnicity. I’m more convinced of this than ever before, so back to my original question: What should I have said to the acquaintance who said that my people used so much garlic?
I welcome your suggestions.
Norine Dresser is a folklorist who is on heightened alert to not ignore racial, religious, or ethnic slurs against anyone.
THE RETAILER WHO PROMOTED AN ANNE FRANK HALLOWEEN COSTUME?
WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?
Disgraceful exploitation of the young Dutch Jewish girl who perished during the Holocaust brought condemnation from the public and Jewish organizations, as well. Consequently, costume distributors removed the young woman’s name from the description and renamed it a “Girls World Evacuee Costume.” It was a change in nomenclature but the same tasteless costume for young women compelled to flee their homes during WWII.
THE COMPANY THAT CREATED THE LION KILLER DENTIST HALLOWEEN COSTUME?
WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?
Why would anyone want to emulate Dr. Walter S. Palmer, the Minnesota dentist who slaughtered Cecil, the Lion in Zimbabwe just to show off his hunting prowess? Not only that, but he and his local guides enticed the magnificent and beloved black-maned Cecil out of a protected national park by dragging an animal carcass tied to a vehicle. After the kill, the men beheaded and skinned the once-regal lion.
Four hundred protestors gathered in front of Palmer’s business, and one enraged animal rights supporter used a megaphone to protest outside his home yelling, “Murderer! Terrorist!” To avoid the public’s wrath, Palmer closed his office and left his home for almost a month.
Why would a costume company think this would be an appealing costume? Who would want to wear it? It’s baffling to contemplate such a loathsome party reveler.
ZARA CLOTHING DESIGNERS WHO CREATED AN OFFENSIVE SWEATSHIRT AND T-SHIRT?
WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?
My first speculation when I discovered these two highly obnoxious articles of clothing was that the designers were so young, they didn’t know about the Kent State Massacre (May, 1970). They may not even have been born yet when the Ohio National Guard opened fire on peaceful student demonstrators against the Vietnam War. The National Guard killed four and injured nine. So, whoever thought that wearing a faux blood-stained sweatshirt was an appropriate response to a crime?
And who possibly could not be aware of the symbolism of a yellow six-pointed star on a prison-striped shirt? Did that person not have knowledge of atrocities perpetrated against the Jews by Hitler and his Third Reich? Besides, ignorance is no excuse. And what about the bosses? Certainly, someone at the Zara company should have caught these insensitive creations before they were foisted on the public.
THE ENGLISH GIRLS WHO ATTIRED THEMSELVES AS THE BURNING 9/11 TOWERS AND WON FIRST PRIZE?
WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?
In this situation, we can’t blame a corporation for such a tasteless representation of a disaster, only the two ditzy dames who dreamed it up. Did they think it was funny to play off the tragic death of 2,753 human beings? Even worse, they were awarded a prize for the best costume? No one was thinking about the feelings of the 9/11 survivors. Shame on them!
THE SAMFORD UNIVERSITY (AL) SORORITY THAT DESGINED T-SHIRTS FOR THE SPRING FORMAL DANCE THAT DEPICTED A BLACK MAN EATING WATERMELON AND SLAVES PICKING COTTON?
WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?
Despite disapproval ahead of time by a university official, the girls went ahead with their T-shirt production anyway. Later, Andrew Westmoreland, president of Samford, wrote: “I was repulsed by the image. I lack the words to express my own sense of frustration.”
That apology seems sincere, and I trust that appropriate action was taken against the sorority.
IN JAPAN, THE MANUFACTURER THAT PRODUCED A TAMPON IN ANNE FRANK’S NAME?
WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?
According to Alain Lewkowicz, a French Jewish journalist, to the Japanese Anne Frank symbolizes the ultimate WWII victim. The Japanese identify with her victimhood because of their own suffering after the Atomic Bomb was dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
The reason they selected the tampon to honor Ann is because her diary reveals anticipation and excitement about her first day of menstruation. To me, it doesn’t quite add up: 2 + 2 = 5? I just don’t quite follow the logic. But then I believe cultural differences may come into play here.
SWISS COMPANY RECALLS 2,000 HITLER COFFEE CREAMERS?
WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?
“IT WAS AN UNFORGIVABLE INCIDENT.”
This apology came from Tristan Cerf, a spokesman for the Migos company. He blamed internal controls for letting this image by that was created by a subsidiary in charge of labels. Also scheduled but nixed in advance was a Mussolini label. That would have curdled the coffee even more.
THE TRAYVON MARTIN HOODIE WITH A TARGET IMAGE ON ITS CHEST?
WHAT WERE THEY THINKING?
OR WERE THEY?
WERE THEY COURTING THE RACIST MARKET?
I discovered this disgusting piece of clothing in the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia on the Ferris State University in Big Rapids, MI. The sweatshirt was manufactured and sold by the Hiller Armament Co. of Virginia Beach, FLA. To make money off of this 2012 tragedy is unconscionable. We all know the story of the 17-year-old unarmed Treyvon Martin, carrying only a box of Skittles and a container of iced tea, who was fatally shot by George Zimmerman. He claimed to be threated by the lad. However, the jury found George Zimmerman not guilty.
If one buys a sweatshirt like the one above, what is the message? You’re jealous and wish you might have done it? You endorse Zimmerman’s deed? Note that it was an arms company that manufactured it. DISGUSTING.
THE ITALIAN WINEMAKER WHO PRODUCES WINES WITH HITLER LABELS ON THEM?
WHAT ARE THEY THINKING?
THEY ARE THINKING PROFITS.
When challenged by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the family-owned winery (Vini Lunardelli) claims that their line of dictator labeled wines are historical and not propaganda. Their biggest seller is The Der Fuhrer line, accounting for 80% of the company’s sales. Labels show Hitler giving the Nazi salute, with his autograph, and a portrait with the motto that translates into “One people, one nation, one leader.”
Regardless of negative reactions, the winery continues with their plans glorifying other enemies of the people: Mussolini, Lenin, Stalin, Goering, Himmler, Eva Braun.
Finally, in China where the Ivanka Trump brand is avidly pursued, one manufacturer wants to name a sanitary pad after her.
WHAT ARE THEY THINKING?
Big bucks, no doubt, but I can bet that no woman, Chinese or otherwise, would have given a thumbs up to this idea.
Every example is a disgusting commercial exploitation of innocents’ deaths and torture. They are disheartening illustrations of man’s inhumanity to man. How low must we sink to make an extra dollar or win a costume prize or sell extra tickets to the dance? This is sickening to contemplate because it demonstrates indifference to the pain of others. Are we somehow complicit in these horrendous acts? I don’t think so, yet I feel guilty, too.
Norine Dresser is a folklorist who admits that never before has she punctuated with so many question marks. But never before have so many of her stories been so mind-boggling.
Visit her Gallery of Folklore and Popular Culture to discover remarkable multicultural artifacts, entertaining calendar corners, and amazing objects on loan from monthly visiting curators: flpcgallery .org
Given the prominence of Swastikas in Charlottesville, VA, and the reactions it elicited, the history of this symbol must be explored.
The original meaning of the Svastika (well-being in Sanskrit) was an omen of good luck. For Buddhists, it symbolizes the feet or footprints of Buddha, and for Hindus and Jains it is the most widely used auspicious symbol. Witness the availability of inexpensive jewelry incorporating this beneficial sign that I purchased in an Indian supermarket in Los Angeles.
The Navajo commonly used this same motif in their jewelry and with positive meaning, as well.
However, Adolph Hitler subverted the symbol’s connotation during his Third Reich. For the Nazis, it meant racial purity that called for the elimination of Jews and other groups deemed inferior.
In the 1960s, our family belonged to the Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles. During the overflow attendance at the High Holidays, we were sent to a welcoming Presbyterian Church across the street. Imagine my terror when I looked down at the floor and discovered a recurring abhorrent swastika design in the tile floor.
During that same time period, a friend of mine worked in an Indian sari shop in Beverly Hills. When an Anglo bride-to-be came in for a fitting of her Indian wedding sari, she panicked when, for the first time, she noticed a swastika motif in the border design. Her groom was Jewish, and she could not wear it.
Locally, New Mexico State University called their yearbook, the Swastika. It wasn’t until 1983, that they changed the name to the Phoenix. And believe it or not, there were some university folks who couldn’t understand the reason for the change.
In an article by Steven Brower, “Protesting Racism and Hate with Political Art (Print, August 17, 2017), he presents an assemblage of posters demonstrating the power of Political Art. Here are two that specifically deal with the Swastika.
However, I am partial to protests that use gross humor to combat racism. This headline appeared in the August 24, 2017 edition of The Guardian: Turd Reich: San Francisco dog owners lay minefield of poo for rightwing rally.
Peace Activists planned to fight the rightwing planned Patriot Prayer rally by covering Crissy Field, site of the scheduled rally, with dog excrement. They also agreed to pick up the dog poo afterward. However, the Patriot Prayer got cancelled and so did the Turd Reich. Do you suppose that the Turd Reich planned to clean up with these?
Norine Dresser is a folklorist who has a severe visceral reaction when she sees the odious Swastika symbol.
The results of last week’s election devastated me. As a Jew, I have always voted Democratic. That’s because my parents did and because their parents did. My grandparents experienced racism and bigotry in Europe, so along with millions of other refugees during the early 1900s, they fled to these shores for religious and economic freedom. Once settled, they became ardent supporters of FDR. They believed he cared about the poor and working people, and thus a family tradition of voting Democratic ensued.
I was born in California and only ten when WWII broke out, but I felt the fear in my household about being Jewish. Even though we had no direct confrontations, a wariness prevailed. For example, scared of publicly revealing who we were, we never placed a mezuzah on our outside door.
When my junior high school homeroom teacher made all the Semites stand up, I got a flash of what it might feel like to be targeted as outcasts. My infuriated parents threatened to report my teacher. That terrified me because I feared the backlash. My mom and dad promised not to say anything, but behind my back, my father met with the principal. He told her about the classroom incident and said, “This teacher is either stupid or a follower of Hitler.” The principal had no choice but to assure my dad that the teacher was stupid.
That was merely a taste of what it felt like to be considered an “other,” yet it marked me in such as way that I cannot stand to see others targeted as outsiders.
After Trump’s campaign of name-calling and enabling racists, he has reaffirmed his stance by appointing Stephen Bannon as his White House Chief Strategist. Bannon chairs Breitbart News, an ultra-conservative news source. They are openly anti-immigrant, anti-Planned Parenthood, anti-Muslim, anti-women, anti-gay, anti-semitic, are racist and believe in white supremacy.
A few weekends ago, I heeded the TV reminders about turning our clocks back one hour to adjust to Daylight Savings Time; Sadly, I also agreed with the internet advice to “Turn Back Your Clocks Fifty Years.”
And so it begins. Trump has empowered the bigots. This past weekend, an Associated Press column documented reports of increased racist incidents in schools and universities. For example, white students called Black students “cotton pickers”; a university student attempted to pull off the hijab worn by a Muslim student; a “whites only” message appeared on a bathroom door in Illinois; students in Michigan chanted “build a wall” in the school cafeteria; and in Pennsylvania, African American parents were told to, “Go back to Africa.”
I dread that the worst is yet to come negatively impacting women’s rights; the LGBTQ communities; the environment; people of color, Muslims, and Jews. Who and what did I leave out?
And what can I do about it?
Of course, I will make donations to Planned Parenthood and the ACLU. And although the thought of participating in the Women’s March on Washington on Inauguration Day appeals to me, that is much too daunting for this old lady.
Yet there is something positive that I can do.
After the 1992 Rodney King riots in L. A., I proposed a column to the Los Angeles Times, demystifying the cultures of people unlike ourselves. Called, “Multicultural Manners,” the eight-year running column received a 1998 award from the County of Los Angeles Commission on Human Relations. They recognized it for promoting intergroup understanding.
Now if I can accomplish something similar in this new environment of divisiveness, that would be fantastic. And best of all, I have a new platform.
Very soon a new community radio station will be on the air here in Las Cruces. Its call letters, KTAL (¿Qué tal?, meaning What’s Up? ), will be airing programs pertinent to community issues. Fortunately, they have accepted my proposal for, “Your Multicultural Minute,” where I will narrate incidents about people who have inadvertently confused, insulted, amused others and all because of cultural differences.
I believe that educating the public about the customs, beliefs, and values of different cultures will create respect for others.
Last Saturday Night Live’s opening skit nailed it. In her persona as Hillary Clinton, Kate McKinnon sat at the piano playing and singing Leonard Cohen’s poignant “Hallelujah.” Then she turned to the audience and said, “I’m not giving up and neither should you.”
Norine Dresser is a folklorist who specializes in rituals, customs and beliefs of global communities.