Thursday, July 7, 2011


Yesterday I had a class of 5th graders who were starting to study numbers. I had a fun activity planned for them, but thought I would do a short self-intro beforehand since it was my first class with them this year. When I finished introducing myself, the Japanese teacher decided they should all stand and ask me a question. After they asked one, he or she could sit down. Everyone took their turn, one by one, until one girl was left standing. A Brazilian girl, who I presume already has already been labeled 'foreigner' amongst her peers. Most likely she was born in Japan, speaks only Japanese, listens to Japanese music and eats Japanese food. But nobody considers her to be Japanese. She's not like them because her blood is different. When it was her turn to ask a question the teacher told her, 'Oh, it's okay. Just sit down.' It put my blood to boil. There was no chance for her to be empowered by learning, because she wasn't given the chance to struggle like everyone else. For the rest of the class, the girl didn't speak a word. It seems that the teacher was trying to spare her from any embarrassment of not being able to answer, but instead he made her even more isolated. She was now both 'the foreigner', and 'the girl who didn't answer'.

My heart reached out to that girl because I'm 'the foreigner' here too. The difference is, for me that is okay. I will be treated differently, for better or worse, and I expect that. I am an adult and I can handle being told 'you are not like us', even though I think that's just some racist bullshit. But that child is Japanese, has no freedom to go anywhere else, and she will probably always feel like an alien in her own country. 

Maybe I'm assuming way too much, but I can't help but think, "What a pity".

1 comment:

  1. Well said. I saw this way too much during my time in Japan. I always felt such a kinship with my fellow "foreign" kids and tried to reach out to them the best I could. Blood boiling is a good way to describe the feeling.