Maggie Makes Four!

This journal started off documenting the adoption of our youngest daughter. It now follows the twist and turns of our lives as we raise these two amazing little creatures into the best women they can become.

Sunday, January 25, 2009


With all the talk last week of Martin Luther King, Obama and race, La Nina made a statement that got me thinking.  After watching something on Martin Luther King, she said, "Thank goodness I'm not black because Chinese people didn't have to go through any of that." She was referring to segregation.  

I answered, "Actually, they did," but then found myself at a loss to explain Alien and Sedition Laws to a six year old.  I tried my best to explain that in the past the Chinese faced a great deal of racism and discrimination and that the Civil Rights Act applied to the Chinese as well as the blacks, yet I could tell I was missing the mark terribly.  

With all this on my mind, I wandered into a bookstore and found this book staring at me entitled, "Coolies."  At first, I thought, no way, I can't possibly read a book with such a terrible title to my daughters.  Isn't "Coolies" the Asian equivalent of the "N" word?  But I started thumbing through the book and found the illustrations mesmerizing, so I bought the book.  

When I finally read the story, it was great.  It told the stories of two Chinese brothers who served as workers and helped built the railroad.  They tolerated all sorts of danger for lower wages than their white counter parts.  It also showed that the Chinese were not allowed to attend the ceremony at Promontory Summit simply because they were different.  In the end, it shows the Chinese brothers as proud, honorable men who worked hard, loved their families and accomplished an amazing feat.  

In honor of the New Year, I read it to them tonight.  The story absolutely captivated and shocked them.  La Nina kept asking if the Chinese were slaves.  And they weren't, they were more like indentured servants.  Maggie asked why the white people didn't like them.  I told her it was simply because they looked different.  Maggie left the room silent, something that has never happened before, and crawled into bed.  When I kissed her good night, she simply said, "It's a sad story, Momma, isn't it?"  And I agreed it was, but reminded her of the greatness of the Chinese accomplishment.  I suspect I'll hear more from her later.  

La Nina was a bundle of questions.  In the end we ended up talking a lot about Martin Luther King, civil rights and discrimination.  It's not an easy topic for a white mom who's never experienced these things first hand, but that's part of the deal with bi-racial adoption.  I get to try, so I did.  I do know what it's like to be the only woman on a team full of men and feel unheard and alone, so I tried to answer the questions from those emotions.  She's still awake, so I know she's thinking about it.  

In the end,  I decided to read it because I don't want them to hear this history at school and feel shocked.  I don't want someone to shout the word Coolie and have them not know what it means.  I don't want them caught off guard every time someone assumes they're good at math or whatever.  I'd rather them hear the stories from me, with me present and able to deal with any emotional fall out that may occur.   While I may not have faced discrimination, I know it still exists, and it's my deepest hope, that when they face it, they know they can come to me.  

For those interested, the book is entitled "Coolies" by Yin.  Published in 2001 by Penguin.


  • At 5:58 AM , Blogger Johnny said...

    Wow, that's a word that I haven't heard in a long time. But...I wouldn't say that Coolie was like the "N" word. I would say it is more like a archaic "colored". In other words.....the word is so old that bigots won't even know how to use it.


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