BY NHIEN NGUYEN
Rosa Parks was perhaps the heroine I remember most from my middle school social studies lessons. Parks bravery and defiant act on a city bus in the name of civil rights were characteristics I emulated in my daily life, at least I thought I did.
As a recent purchaser of a monthly metro transit pass, I took the bus home after a long day of dealing with a fax machine on the fritz, an interviewee disgruntled from an article I had written and construction workers filling our office parking lot with trucks. Other passengers carried equally gloomy faces from a typical trying workday, with hair as wet as mine from the autumn evening showers.
We all sat in silence, avoiding eye contact, listening to our iPods and reading our books.
The man across from me, glowing with warm smiles, had stricken a conversation with a young college student sitting next to me. He had discovered that she knew some words in his language. He taught her a few new words and corrected her minor accent mistakes.
He continued speaking very loudly on the bus, rattling off word after word in his native tongue. He said to her, in broken English, that he was reciting passages from the Qur’an.
It did not take long for an older white man two rows back to yell at him to stop disturbing the people trying to read, that he was in America now and that nobody wanted to hear his terrorist thoughts.
The young college student looked at the others on the bus, including me, hoping to catch a glimpse of recognition that what he was saying to her new acquaintance was wrong. Nobody looked her way. Nobody said anything to stand up for this Muslim American.
I could feel the white man’s words sting in my heart, for he could have easily been talking to me under different national circumstances. And my throat clenched wondering if words in retaliation would magically come out. They never did.
Many of us I’m sure walked off the bus that day, rationalizing to ourselves why we didn’t stand up for what was right. But in the end, the situation may have made us further retreat into our hardened social shells.
With news of Rosa Park’s death on Oct. 24 weighing heavy in my heart, I replayed what would have happened had she been on that bus that day. I imagined her standing up for him and others following suit, feeding off her courage.
Parks’ inspirational act lives on, and maybe next time, she will be sitting next to me on the bus and I will have the courage to follow her lead.
Your brief editorial columns continue to be wonderful. Short, sweet, and thought-provoking. While I don’t catch every issue, offhand I remember your columns on your brother, along the Gulf, and one I just came across just now in my Saturday clean-up, that I found I couldn’t put into recycling, on the connection between art and social action.
With each issue, you are imparting a gift to Seattle Asian Americans, present and future, especially when you write about your story, or that of your family.