Monday, 18 May 2009

Cheese sandwich

I found out through Facebook that one of my grade school principals died. I'm not sure exactly when he passed but I heard that his wife died within six months of his death. Mr. Gibson was a nice man.

My most vivid memory of him was the year I was seven and attended school for the first time. We were adopted the June prior and spent the entire summer learning English. My parents (the people who adopted me) wanted to place my sister and I into our age appropriate grades even though we had never been to school. My mother, who was a grade school teacher herself, had conveniently forgotten to mention to the school that this would be our debut into the education system. So she spent June, July, and August prepping us in a way that didn't betray her oversight.

Besides a mulatto boy we were the only brown kids, my sister and I, going to that school. It was 1978. Culture shock could not aptly describe what we faced in those first several months in Canada.

Every morning we boarded the school bus, lunch boxes in tow. By our stop the bus was already half full of rowdy kids, laughing and boisterous, deaf to the bus drivers shouts to "SIT DOWN!" We attracted some curious stares with our wary immigrant dispositions, me, shy and always in my sister's fearless shadow.

It didn't dawn on me that the chanting was aimed at us. On the way to and from school it was the same boys in the back of the bus whose rhythmic shouts finally caught my full attention.

"Paki!" "Paki!" "Paki!" "Paki!"

In truth it was the wad of paper that hit me on the back of the head one day which clued me to the fact they might be shouting this at me. I had never heard the word before.

"Paki!" "Paki!" "Paki!" "Paki!" Every morning and every afternoon.

Soon, the same boys would greet us this way on the school yard.

"Hey Paki, you stink!"

My sister and I discussed this and concluded that it most certainly was not a good thing to be called Paki.

She had made fast friends with a wonderful girl who lived down the street from us. Kathleen was beautiful and fun and very kind. But she was also very knowledgeable especially in our eyes. She told us that we needed to yell back at these boys. She even told us what to yell.

"You can't do nothing when they throw things at you either. Throw something back!"

Her words were empowering.

The next day we boarded the bus, anxious but equipped with a proper defense. The boys in the back of the bus began their chant as soon as we came into their sight.

"Paki!" "Paki!" "Paki!" "Paki!"

"Shutup you Honkey!" we both said shakily but loud enough for them to hear.

The boys started to laugh hearing our feeble attempts to retaliate. They began wadding up paper and throwing them at us. Not backing down, my sister opened her lunch box, unwrapped her sandwich and hurled it at them. She missed the boys and hit the back window of the bus instead. The boys were giddy with this reaction and grabbed the sandwich and whipped it back. It hit me square in the face. Cheese and Miracle whip.

I bit my lip to keep from crying. My sister shoved me into a seat and grabbed the sandwich and threw it back. It became somewhat of a food fight with kids throwing all sorts of things. In the background the bus driver could be heard shouting and threatening.


And this is when I had my first meeting with Mr. Gibson. Our conversation went something like this.

"So I heard that there was a foodfight on the bus today. Can you tell me what happened Kim?"

"The boys were calling us names and throwing things at us." I croaked shaking with fear that I had really gotten myself into big trouble if the principal was talking to me.

"What names were they calling you?" he asked gently.

"Every day they say Paki! Paki! Paki! Then they say 'You stink Paki!'"

"And so tell me what happened today. What did you say to them? It's okay, you won't get in trouble. You just tell me the truth, okay?"

"I said 'Shutup you Honkey!'"

I could tell from his reaction to this that he already knew what we had called those boys. I couldn't be a hundred per cent sure but I think that he was also trying to keep from laughing.

"Kim, can you please tell me what that means, that word you called those boys?"

"I don't know." I started to cry.

"It's okay, you're not in trouble." He came around the desk and put one arm around my shoulder. "I'm going to talk to those boys. They won't be calling you names anymore."

And sure enough the name calling stopped after that.

Mr. Gibson moved on after that year. I ended up going to highschool with his kids. I learned then that he was married to a Chinese woman and his two kids Mai Ling and Mark were biracial. I was sad to hear of his death this year.


  1. He sounds likes he was a great principal and a great person. I loved reading your memory of him...and just hate reading about kids being cruel to other kids - I wish everyone would just be nice all the time. I know, pretty simplistic, but it's true, I do wish that...

  2. Oh, this post made me laugh and cry at the same time! What a story...and what a wonderful man! This is brilliantly written! I loved it... wished your story would keep going, and that I could find out more about your experiences afterward as well...Thanks for sharing! ~Janine XO

  3. Sharing that memory is a tribute to him. Children can be so mean and it really sounds like Mr. Gibson was a great principal and a fair man.

  4. You have such a wonderful way with words! Thank you for sharing more of your story with us.

  5. this is a sad story. so sad that you had to deal with jerks in school, but there are always jerks in school to contend with. ugh. but it was so sweet to hear about kathleen and the principal. a glimmer of hope. thank god they were around to help!

  6. i am sorry that you had to go through that. I went through something like that too. I went to a school that was predomintately african american and here I am the only asian girl in the whole school. they would call me chinese and say things like "ching chang chong" to me all the time.

    sounds like the principal was a good guy. i am glad he was on your side and not another bad person.

  7. Isn't it amazing how some of the most influential people in your life (or those who were around when you had turning points) - probably had no clue they affected you profoundly. A kind word, a small gesture... those things can go far.
    I love hearing about your childhood. Your parents seem like they're pretty amazing.

  8. I am sad for your loss - it is amazing how sometimes certain people come into our lives when we need them most.

    I also feel bad you had to go through that taunting from those kids. It is terrible how cruel some kids can be.

    I'd love to see a photo of your sand/water table!

  9. What a great story. I bet his children would love to hear it.

  10. Bless Mr. Gibson, hope he rests in peace. The world could certainly do with more like him.
    Kim, you write so beautifully, I was waiting for the next installment too!


  11. Sad story, but one very well told, and with a good twist. The principal sounds like a man of great character and it was fortunate (providential?) that he was there at that time.

    Thanks for visiting Family Fountain and following! WB

  12. Wonderful, touching post. A reminder to be grateful for all the people who have made a difference in our lives.

  13. Mr. Gibson was truly a kind and enlightened man. Thank you for sharing this personal story. It is terrible that you and your sister had to listen to that taunting. Your sister does sound like a feisty fighter though :) I would like her in my corner any time. Kim, this is written so beautifully. Mr. Gibson looks down at you with pride and gratitude for this moving remembrance of him.

  14. This is a wonderful story, and I'm sorry to hear of Mr. Gibson's passing. He sounds like a wonderful person, and one who was there at the time you really needed him. The worst part is, did those boys ever grow up to be more accepting or open-minded? (I'm guessing NOT.)

    I hope he gave those boys a swift kick in the ___!

  15. Fantastic story! Sorry u were teased.
    He sounds like a kind and wise man.

  16. Wow, where do I start. First off, You and your sister amaze me with your strength. Children who have been bullied and treated unkindly tend to turn around and do the same to others. That is what you experienced but I am happy to see you turned out to be such a wonderful person. :)

    Your principal, may he rest in peace, was wonderful for the compassion he showed you. :)

    And from one brown sister to another, I have been there. I pray our boys never have to encounter such ignorance! :) much love

    Thanks for the kind words regarding my family members as well. :)

  17. He sounds wonderful. This made me so sad-- I grew up in a very sheltered little town, I wouldn't have had the first idea what "Paki" meant and any newcomer, whatever color was always a welcomed event.

    I'm agree with Sniffles, I want to hear more (that's what you need, me making post requests--hah!)

  18. What a touching tribute to your old principal. Kids need someone to stand up for them.
    P.S. I'm sure those boys one day got what they deserved...I believe in Karma.

  19. Thank goodness for Mr. Gibson. What a compassionate heart. Also? I'm so glad you had someone to stand up for you. What you faced is so painful and hard. I have tears in my eyes right now. I remember once when I was 4, a boy at my daycare making fun of me b/c my skin color was different. I remember the teacher taking him aside and snarling at him that everyone was the same color and we were not to make fun of one another. I was relived she stood up for me. I hadn't realized that I was a different color.


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