My Korean American Story: Won Kang

“The world today seems absolutely crackers. With nuclear bombs to blow us all sky high. There’s fools and idiots sitting on the trigger. It’s depressing and it’s senseless, and that’s why…I like Chinese.

I like Chinese. They only come up to your knees. Yet they’re always friendly, and they’re ready to please. I like Chinese.

I like Chinese. There’s nine hundred million of them in the world today. You’d better learn to like them; that’s what I say. I like Chinese.

I like Chinese. They come from a long way overseas. But they’re cute and they’re cuddly, and they’re ready to please.

I like Chinese food. The waiters never are rude. Think of the many things they’ve done to impress. There’s Maoism, Taoism, I Ching, and Chess. So I like Chinese.

I like Chinese. I like their tiny little trees. Their Zen, their ping-pong, their yin, and yang-ese.

I like Chinese thought. The wisdom that Confucius taught. If Darwin is anything to shout about. The Chinese will survive us all without any doubt…”

Virginia Boys State is held at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. The same Liberty University founded by Jerry Falwell in 1971.

The same Jerry Falwell who made news by claiming Tinky Winky (a Teletubby) was intended to be a gay role model. He is also quoted as saying, “AIDS is not just God’s punishment for homosexuals, it is God’s punishment for the society that tolerates homosexuals.”

It was the summer of ’91. I was a junior in high school. I was admitted to Virginia Boys State, a prestigious program to teach young people about civic leadership and the government process.

After 20 years, I don’t remember much about how the city or state governments run, but I do remember a song, I Like Chinese. It is a song by Monty Python released in 1980, and I remember hearing it almost every day of my week at Boys State.

Having grown up in southeast Virginia, it was not that surprising to hear a song like this at Boys State. After all, is it really that offensive? It must be taken in the context of a time when the world was not so PC, and it was okay to poke a little fun.

It does not really say anything derogatory. It seems to tout a Chinese penchant for producing influential philosophies and faiths and even credits them with inventing a pair of rec room staples in Checkers and Ping-Pong. It talks about their delicious food. What could be the harm?

I grew up in Newport News, a mostly blue-collar, military area known for having the second largest shipyard in the United States, and being the hometown of Michael Vick, and Mike Tomlin, the current head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers, with whom I went to high school.

According to the 1990 census, there were 3,981 people of Asian or Pacific Island descent who lived in Newport News. That made up about 2% of the population. I can tell you that it felt like a lot less.

It may be that the statistics outstrip my perception because I would have had very little contact with the many military wives of Asian descent.

I remember one of my saddest days in elementary school was when the only other Asian kid moved away.

I didn’t know much about Boys State before arriving in Lynchburg, but it felt mostly like a military boot camp. It did not require a lot of rigorous physical activity, but it did require a very regimented routine: getting up early, marching, uniforms, and becoming a strong unit with your fellow mock city members.

One of the stated objectives of Boys State is “to develop in the citizens a determination to maintain our form of government, primarily by bringing them to the realization of how great it is to be an American.”

I was not an American citizen at the time, becoming naturalized later while attending college. As I recently thought back on my time there, I began unpacking some of the circumstances surrounding my memory of this Monty Python song.

I brought the Monty Python tape with the song on it. I brought a portable tape player about the size of my palm to play the song so everyone could hear. I volunteered to lead our “city” in marches around campus while blasting the song from the portable tape player. I led our group in song while leading the march.

I’m still not sure what motivated me to do all these things. Was each action unconnected, each explainable by its circumstances?  Or was it a deliberate plan hatched by a nervous high school student who always felt like an outsider to help him fit in with a group of strangers? A way to say “I’m not Chinese, Korean, or Asian, but I am like you, and we can both laugh at the Chinese because that’s not who I am. I am an American.”

My brother had brought the tape of Monty Python sketches back home after he started college. I wonder if the song bothered him. I don’t remember if I brought any other tapes to Boys State. I’m not sure why I brought the small tape player.

I must have played it for my roommate who must have found it weird that I was playing it for him. He must have laughed or showed some sign of pleasure.  Otherwise I probably wouldn’t have decided to play it during our marches.

I remember becoming some kind of mascot for my city. I remember winning some position for the city in an election. I remember one Asian young man, and the way he looked at me with confusion and anger. Did I not understand that he may have found it offensive? I don’t remember stopping. I don’t remember anyone trying to stop me. If anything, it seemed to make me more popular, more American.

When I began researching for this article, I looked up the song on Youtube (http://www.youtube.com/results?search_query=i+like+chinese+monty+python&aq=1). I read through many of the comments below the song. Here are some samples:

I fucking hate the chinky bastards. I have three cunting slitty eyed fags for neighbours in my student-flat and I had two of the yellow pricks last year too.

Japanese, Korean, Chinese whats the diffrence lol

haha yeah I agree
some one should write a song like this about Mexicans
Tacos, cartels, taco bell, chalupas, field workers, sí sí sí sí sí sí sí?

there’s nothing really offensive about it

They are virmin and needs to be exterminated by the decree of His Holiness Hitler.

i haaaaaaaaaate jeeeeeeeeeeews!!! they have long noooseeeeeeeeessssssss and theeeeeeeey surviiiiiiiiived the holocaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaust!!!!!!­!!!!! They come from Europpppeeeeeeee and theyre uglyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyyy­y>!

Very very funny 🙂
Actually, if you listen to the words, it’s not racist, it’s quite affectionate to the Chinese people and culture. 🙂

I wonder what my fellow students thought of me 20 years ago?

I think I may know how the few Asians felt, but what about the non-Asians. Were they offended as well? Did it make a difference? Or are some of them like the people who posted these comments, emboldened, even ever so slightly, by the Asian boy they remember whose actions told them it was okay to laugh?

wonkang300x300Name:  Won Kang
Age:  37
Occupation:  Career Counselor
Current Residence:  Flushing, New York

I Like Chinese

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