Monday, October 22, 2007

My Uncle Frank

The first person to really talk to me seriously about race--about the way race really is--the trickiness and stickiness of race, the things that seem so difficult to talk about and explain, beyond a rhetoric of multicuturalism and "racism is bad"--is my Uncle Frank.

My Uncle Frank pushed me to think about race and racism, about what it means to be Asian American (and not just Chinese American). He encouraged me to take classes in chemistry and physics BECAUSE I was an English major and wasn't taking those classes--and he wanted me to stretch my mind in a different way--to have the feeling of discomfort and of being challenged in a discipline where I'd really have to work. My Uncle loved arguing--certainly he seemed to enjoy the times we would spar, verbally, about a variety of things: Frank Chin, inter-racial relationships, whether college was really important, politics, class, gender, race.

My Uncle pushed me to do better--he was the guy who pointed out the single B+ on a report card full of A's. He is the one who wrote me a humorous poem congratulating me from graduating from college as a magna cum laude but chiding me for not getting summa. And throughout graduate school he mailed me articles about all things Asian American--scraps from newspapers and magazines and postcards and newsletters. I don't know that he ever told me that he was proud of me, but I know he was, from the reports I got from others and from the things he did rather than said--the many kindnesses he showed me in his own way.

My Uncle died last night a little before midnight after struggling with cancer for four years. I offer the above words as a small memorial to what I owe my Uncle--what he gave to me--how he made my life richer--how he helped me become the person I am--how my interest in race and anti-racism developed, in large part, due to his influence. May you rest in peace, Uncle Frank. You were loved ... you will be missed.

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