These Colors Don’t Run
Basically, why we were in Fangshan was that the Principal runs a school for the children of under privileged migrant workers, the Boshi school. She was working with Irene’s NGO (non-governmental organization) to put together a project where the teachers who work at these schools for migrant children use the WAYK method for teaching their students English. We were coming not to work with the Boshi school, I’m assuming because it was being renovated, but to work with another other school about fifteen minutes away called Chuangwei Xuexiao
The next four days went by quick. We’d get up, Lo Fan would meet us at Boshi and take us to breakfast a few blocks away. The breakfast place was literally a hole in the wall. The hole was round and you’d never know that it was a restaurant if it weren’t for the steady stream of locals going in and out to get their morning meal. Good, simple food and not a terrible way to start the day.
When we reached the school, we’d spend the morning working on the curriculum, explaining and demonstrating it to the teachers. David did an excellent job teaching the teachers and a handful of the students the WAYK game and the techniques, Irene would help him with translating some of the ideas and reasons behind it, and together they got a lot of the concepts across.
Something happened the first day, though. During the morning when we were explaining the game, we had planned to have the teachers lead the language circle in the afternoon and we’d help guide them through it. Then at the lunch break Irene came up and said that she was just talking to the teachers and they said that they wanted a white American to lead the circle in the afternoon. David turned to me and asked if I’d like to lead the group. Then I said, “But I’m not white.” David’s face dropped and he looked to Irene and asked if that is really what they said and are you serious. She said yeah, there’s this mindset that a lot of Chinese have about foreigners and the perception of who Americans are. I don’t know how well I hid my disappointment, and I know David was upset by this, but I said “don’t worry about it, it’s alright. I can film.” And I did.
I was a little dejected, and for a brief time I was questioning why I came. But I got over it well enough. I don’t hold anything against the teachers or the people here, it’s just that It’s the same kind of shit as back home. I’m not saying that things like this always happen, but it’s a similar experience with what non-natives go through working with Natives. This is the same thing that members of differing tribes have to go through working with tribes that aren’t their own. I’ve seen it happen and been there when this has happened to Evan, and witnessed the way he was treated for trying to do something good, because he was white. And like back home, there is a lot of historical baggage here that I won’t get into, but it is a deep a weighty topic that I encourage anyone interested to look deeper into. Incidents like this aren’t isolated, or limited to communities battling colonization.
As language and community revitalizationists, being aware of these sorts of sensitivities is an important component of that revitalization process that we are constantly trying to improve upon and learn from. David and I talked about what kind of techniques we could use for this, and we came up with a few. A few that we would put into practice during the next week.
Still, after that I was a bit upset and figured if anyone wants to give me problems, to hell with them. I’ll go smoke cigarettes with Lofan and talk about music. Then I’ll learn how to do that in Mandarin.