It is not often that I have to read an article or essay several times before I can make an appropriate response. As I read Wendy Lee’s article, Peeling Bananas, I found myself side-tracked by my own thoughts and feelings of being an African American here in the United States. As I read and reread, there were several areas that seemed to jump out at me and make me want to respond – what was so important about being referred to like peeling a banana, what in my own upbringing is attributed to the African culture and how Lee’s experience could easily be my own.
In the beginning of the essay, the author speaks of a friend whose father referred to her like peeling a banana. The author explains this by stating “ her appearance was Chinese, but her thoughts and values were American. ” (190) I pondered this statement quite a bit because though I refer to myself as African American, I am more American than I like to admit. I dress in jeans, t-shirts and sneakers. I wear my hair permed, long and straight. I do not wear the traditional clothing, head wraps and hair styles often shown worn by women of Africa.
Like the person in the essay, the color of my skin identifies me as one race and culture while my clothing, attitude and demeanor identifies me as another culture. As the author described how in kindergarten, “we colored paper dolls: red was for Indians, black for Afro-Americans, yellow was for Chinese. The dolls that we didn’t color at all—the white ones—were left to be Americans. ”, (190)I recalled my own childhood, when coloring faces of different races, I insisted on coloring “Blacks” (as we were referred to when I was growing up) with the brown crayons because my skin was not black.
I remember telling a peer that people may call us black but our skin is brown. This would eventually lead to a discussion of the Indians (Native Americans) having to colored with the brown crayon and how were we going to distinguish ourselves from the Indians. It is funny, now that I think about it. Even when I was as young as 6 or 7, they way I was seen by others was very important. As I read more of the essay, I pondered what in my own upbringing is attributed to the African culture. As the author described her home as a “haphazard combination of the past and present. scrolls of black ink calligraphy on the dining room wall , stacked Chinese newspapers and tofu and bok choy in the refrigerator” (191) I recalled very little in my home that related back to Africa. What I can attribute to the African culture, is the food we ate and how it is prepared. What we today call “soul food” can be traced back to African slaves taking the very little meat or foods they have and making it a nutritious meal. Yams, corn bread and collard greens were staples at the Sunday dinner table during slavery and continue to be today.
Another thing we can attribute to the African culture is love of music and dance. The heavy beat of the drum and movement continues to be a strong influence in the music we listen to today and the different dances we do. Though not a part of the African culture, but a piece of tradition as an African American, are the pictures of Martin Luther King, Jr, John F Kennedy and Robert F. Kennedy. Growing up in New York and visiting family in North Carolina as a youth, I remember these pictures hanging on the walls as if they were members of the family.
These three pictures, often displayed side by side, offers one view into the African American culture. Another point that hit home with me, was when Lee stated how Chinese immigrants “don’t want their first generational children to forget the way their ancestors lived and they don’t want their children to forget that China has a heritage spanning thousands of years” . (191) I remember as a little girl, when the movie “Roots” by Alex Haley was shown on TV. It was one of the few times I remember my mother allowing us to stay up late to watch TV.
It was important for us as a family to watch this movie and others that followed as they provided a glimpse of the African culture and impact on current traditions. The Chinese American desire to preserve traditions by teaching their children to eat with chop sticks, cooking, style of dress, and writing is the same as African American preserving their traditions through oral history and quilting. Lastly, as I neared the end of her article, I find I can identify with Lee’s experience as she described seeing a Chinese girl across the street.
Lee states, “ Though we look the same, we actually are of different cultures, and I may cross the street into her world but only as a visitor. ” (191-193) I can imagine this is exactly how I would feel if I had to the opportunity to go to Africa. Though I see people with the same skin color, there is little else we have in common. Even if I wore the traditional clothing and looked like then I would still be a stranger. The foods, smells and sounds would all be foreign and not ingrained from birth.
In conclusion, as Lee states, “However, I also realize that as a hybrid of two cultures, I am unique, and perhaps that uniqueness should be preserved. ”, (193) I realize I am unique also. Though I may not know as much as I would like about the African culture, it has had a tremendous impact regardless. I should preserved that uniqueness by learning more about my African heritage. As an old Chinese proverb states “To forget one’s ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without root” ( www. think exist. com).
Chinese Proverbs. ( www. think exist.com). Retrieved from the World Wide Web on January 28, 2011.
Lee, Wendy. Peeling Bananas. Reading Critically, Writing Well, Eighth Edition. A Reader and Guide. 190-192
Haphazard- mere chance; accident, disorganized.
Immigrant – a person who migrates to another country, usually for permanent residence.
There are many different nationalities of immigrants in the United States.