Poverty story 1: ‘lectric Man Blues
A light Manoa drizzle tapped gently on our roof. I was laid up with an asthma attack, trying desperately to breathe. Mom was with me, gently rubbing my back, singing. My brother’s cocker spaniel, named Ronnie Hansen Shimabukuro after the Baltimore Oriole shortstop, lay just off the futon as close as he could get to us without being shooed off. As was usually the case with mom, my undivided attention was not expected. Often I just drifted off. But this time I felt her anxiety as a car drove up our driveway.
Mom stopped singing, got up, peeked out the window, returned quietly, gently petted Ronnie, and sat down next to me again. “Electric man,” she said softly. “Shhh,” she admonished Ronnie.
The bill collector pounded on the door. “Anybody home?” he asked loudly. Ronnie growled softly, looked at mom, who again warned him to be quiet with the old “stink eye.” Ronnie calmly went back to his spot, stretched out and carefully watched my mom with his inquisitive eyes.
After about five minutes of absolute stillness inside the house and a racket outside our front door, the “electric man” left.
“Good dog, Ronnie. I guess you can stay in the house today,” sighed mom with relief as she went to the door to pick up the all-too-familiar termination-of-service notice.
“Well, at least we gained another 24 hours by sitting still … and tomorrow’s payday,” she said as she laughed softly.
Poverty story 2: Watah Man Blues
The dreaded knock on the door. This time the younger kids had come home from school already, no way Mom could avoid the “watah man.”
“You get the money?”
“No,” Mom answered.
“Oh, no, I got to shut you down, you know.”
“Yeah, I know.” Mom sighed.
Watah man look very uncomfortable. He could see all the kids in the house. After a pause he say, “ Tell you what, I come back in an hour. Get all da kine containahs you get, fill ‘em up wit’ watah. Okay? Maybe get enough so last till tomorrow.”
Sam and I wen’ fill up a lot of stuff. Don’t know what Mom did, but the next day, the watah man came by about noon in a much better mood, because he could turn on da watah. My mom thanked him for his help. Someone had paid the bill. Mom w’en figure out a solution.
Poverty story 3: School Daze
First day, teacher w’en pass out list of stuff we need for class. I already nervous. I know mom going have hard time buy all the supplies for everybody.
I ask Mom, “Can I get the color pencils. Can do more stuff than crayons. Can mix colors nice. Smudge stuff too.”
“We’ll see,” she says, not committing herself.
“Just the 8-pencil pack will be okay. I’ll take good care of them. Make ‘em last a whole year.”
I was so happy when I found out that Mom did indeed buy the 8-Pack.
The next morning at school a classmatemate, Sandra, asked, “What kind of colors did you get, pencils or crayons?”
I showed her my box and she was elated. “Great!” she said. “When I asked my mom if I could get the color pencils, she said, ‘if Bob can get pencils, I guess it wouldn’t be so bad if you bought some too.’ “
I smiled, but inside my stomach was churning. I felt that my purchases had become benchmarks for needs and extravagances. That bothered bothered me. “Poor Bob can afford this, then so can I.”
Poverty Story number 4: Palama Settlement
Teacher say, “Good news. Everybody turned in their OK cards. (Dental cards, brought from the Dentist, to ensure every one had no teeth issues. The rest of the class had gone to their family dentist during the summer for checkups.)
“Well, everyone except Bob, but he doesn’t count, because he goes to Palama Settlement for dental work, and he has to wait until his turn comes up.”
“What’s this about?” I asked myself.
“So, since everybody else has turned in their OK cards, we were the first class to turn in the 100%,
which means that we will get some ice cream.”
“Will Bob get some too?,” asked some kid.
“Of course,” teacher answered.
“Well, that’s nice,” I thought to myself. But I didn’t dare look around to find out who was looking out for me. I wanted to hide. And “Bob doesn’t count,” and “Palama Settlement” meant one thing: it had something to do with being poor.
These events occurred often, especially when I was in school. I didn’t know then how much they affected me. They don’t fit the categories that were offered at the Seabrooke racism workshops, but they do reflect that an internalized oppression that still puts me on the defensive and still hurts, even after life past 72 years.
Another of these oppressions is language, and after being challenged by a friend about language, and the King’s/Queen’s English being superior than pidgin English, well, I can’t let that go without a reply.
So that’s next.
In the meantime, I’d like to leave you with this story about my grandson Mako’ told by his dad Wayne:
Yesterday, walking home from school, I asked Mako (2nd Grade) if he had learned about Columbus at school. He said, yes, and so I asked him what he had learned. He said he had learned that Columbus stole from the Native Americans and killed a lot of them.
He later said that learning about those things kind of bummed him out, which I did understand. Columbus was a real bummer.
“Yes!” I thought. That 2nd grade class has more fo’ real information/knowledge than our President, his cabinet and over half of Congress. A very good start! It also affirmed that the coming generations are going to be all right.
Postscript: Internalized Racist Oppression
BS: “Zenwa, you ever hear about IRO?”
ZS: “Not the Oppression part. But the ‘Internalized Racism’ part, yeah.”
“Well, what does it mean?”
“Internalizing our own racial stereotypes.”
An inferiority complex based upon treatment by the dominant culture. —BS
How to deal with yourself in a world of crap is a major part of coming to terms with internalized racial oppression. —Alice Ito