People who know me have probably heard at least one of these stories, but this is a tale of two women when it once was a tale of just one. This is a story about race and racism in Southern California.
When I was an undergrad, I didn’t have a car so I traveled by bus. In order to get to Los Angeles to be with my then-boyfriend, I took a metro bus to the main Greyhound station. I arrived in time for my bus to downtown Los Angeles. I went to the counter and I could see two men (M1 and M2) in the office behind the counter. The office had a window halfway down the wall facing the counter so that the clerks inside could clearly see the passengers and the passengers could clearly see the clerks. It was early in the morning and both clerks were not doing anything. I was sure they saw me. I moved back and forth with increasing panic, waving and trying to get their attention. I was going to miss my bus and I confess I wasn’t dressed well.
A middle-aged lady (W1) stepped up to the counter and stood wordlessly. One of the two men looking out the door of the office and looking directly at the woman, he asked if he could help her. She calmly told him that she thought I wanted to buy a ticket. She then waited to make sure that the man sold me a ticket. I just made it on to the bus and was so flustered, I never thanked that woman.
Just this weekend another woman stepped up on my behalf. In this case, I was an invited guest to a private preview for which I was standing in line. Arriving later than I would have liked, we were not at the beginning of the line, we would eventually be the latter part of the first third. I was probably one of the best dressed sine I was cocktail party ready. We were all promised swag in the invite. The event seemed to be falling behind schedule and would eventually start 30 minutes late. During that time, a woman (W2) came by and gave everyone swag item #1. My husband and I both received one although we were sitting on the ground. Then a man (M3) and a different woman (W3) came by. Stopping in front of us, they gave away swag item #2 to people on either side of us, explaining that there wasn’t enough to go around. Then the same man (M3) and woman (W3) came by and, again, they didn’t seem to have enough of the item, swag #3, but passed them on to people on either side of us but seemed reluctant to give one to my husband even though the man (M3) was standing directly in front of my husband and my husband was, by this time, standing. My husband then took hold of one in his hand and the man (M3) handed it to him and I don’t believe the man was smiling.
If you’re keeping score, then my husband was two out of three and I was one out of three. The woman (W3) then came by with a box and again, stood in front of us and said there wasn’t enough to go around and although I said I wanted one (raising my hand) and I was by then standing up, she passed me up. She then went to the front of the line and passed out swag #4. I followed repeatedly saying that I would like one. I saw other people had received three out of four items and that some couples had received more than one of the different items (so it wasn’t one per couple). I continued to ask, even as other people were asking for specific sizes. I don’t expect to find my size in a giveaway, but that hasn’t ever been a problem (deciding factor) before. In the end, there was one of swag #4 left that no one at the front of the line wanted and still, the woman (W3) ignored my requests until woman (W4) noted that I has asked for it.
This time, I remember to thank this woman who didn’t have to yell or scream. She didn’t have to shout obscenities. She just had to take a stand on someone else’s behalf.
Now I ask you to consider the race of the people involved. You probably already know that I am Asian American. So what do you guess the other people were?
- M1 (at the bus stop)
- M2 (at the bus stop)
- W1 (at the bus stop): who spoke up for me
- W2 (at San Diego Comic-Con)
- W3 (at San Diego Comic-Con)
- M3 (at San Diego Comic-Con)
- W4 (at San Diego Comic-Con): who spoke up for me
I was politely angry and a little defensive for the rest of the day, even, into the next day. I knew that if I didn’t write about it I would have writer’s block. I love SDCC, but I grew up in San Diego. I am well aware that San Diego was a place that was deeply prejudiced against people of my race prior to and during World War II and that it wasn’t easy for Asian Americans, specifically Japanese Americans, to return and restart their lives in a city and a county that had essentially betrayed them. I have faced prejudice before in San Diego. And I am aware that it wasn’t just San Diego, it was most of California and even other parts of the Pacific Coast. During World War II, there were people who did say something and did help Japanese Americans.
Times have changed and yet when several people could have spoken up, in both these instances only one woman did.