The Moth, a not-for-profit storytelling organization sponsored a talk by Master Lee in 2008, newly available now as a podcast, titled Chink. I personally believe that title, Chink, remains as offensive today as it did to me in the early 1970s when I first heard that word used against me by school bullies. Master Lee is a powerful storyteller, explaining when he was first called Chink, and describing his experiences as a Chinese child in West Hartford, CT in the early seventies.
While most will laugh at his self-deprecating stories of being called names, being the only Asian in his school, and the anger he felt at the school bullies, to me the true telling moment and the one I related most was the end of of the story, where he says it took him “25 more years to become Master Lee.” Growing up on the East coast, in my case, Eastern Long Island, I experienced similar taunts, name calling, and the inevitable status as the only Asian in the school.
I too avoided some of the name calling and threats after the introduction of Bruce Lee and received the inevitable “Do you know kung fu?” questions. I can also say I had my doubts about being Chinese or even affiliated with being Chinese when I was younger. But now, firmly in forties, I can easily say I too am master of who I am, fully confident in my identity. I just can’t believe it took me this long to get here. Thanks Master Lee for a look back at where I’ve been and a chance to reflect on how far I’ve come.