My Mother Told Me

My Mother Told Me, installation view at Emily Carr University of Art & Design, 2011

When I was being born, my mother says (whose second name was stupid, apparently), she was in labour for three days (eventually they took me out with forceps). While in the labour room at the hospital a black woman was brought in and put in the bed beside her. My mother, a newish immigrant (called damned DPs, I heard), tells me she had never been so close to a black person before (guess that depends where you come from). She felt afraid (of what?). She was suddenly feeling unsure of herself. How do I talk to her, she thought. She had no idea how she should relate to this woman (like she’s not a person). She tells me, she felt afraid because she didn’t know how to act or what to say (except that’s never been a problem before). No words passed between them. My mother lay there passing the time with contractions. When I was six, my mother says, she was browsing in the downtown hardware store looking at dolls (they sold toys there in those days). She noticed a single black doll (I didn’t notice a lot of blacks in our town, but I recall the Chinese boarders that lived in our bedrooms after the divorce – I thought it was strange how you could see their fallen hairs on the pillows). She decided that she would buy it for me. She thought, she tells me, that if I played with a black doll that I would never have to feel afraid the way she had been.