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Asia and Me?

Noraini Kassim of Malaysia, Li Mei Ge of China, and Subbarra-man of India were the first Asian RCers I ever met. In fact they were the first Asian people I ever met, since there were no Asian communities in my country. And since my country has been separated from the rest of the world, there were no tourists to meet either. After meeting the three of them, I was astonished at how much easier it was for me to be around them than around other RCers. I didn't know why, and I didn't think about it for a long time. I just found them beautiful, and I enjoyed that they were people whose eyes I could look into without getting a pain in my neck (they were of similar body size). They walked the way I did, they talked the way I did, they were quiet and respectful, they stayed in the background but watched everything, just like me. I didn't realize this then, but I now know that they reminded me of the people whose pictures I often saw in a book as a child, long before I could read. The book was about the everyday life of the people of Vietnam and their respected leader, Ho Chi Minh. I treasured that book more than any fairy tale. That was the one I asked my parents to read to me before I went to sleep.

As Noraini, Mei Ge, Subbu, and I went on making friends with each other, we talked about our lives and countries and I found many similarities between their lives and mine. I told them some of the history of my people.

I made it clear that I wasn't sure about the oldest part of the history because it was not taught well enough in school. Most Hungarians know little about the 'Asian period' of our history. What people usually know is that the old Hungarians (or Magyars as we call ourselves) were a group of tribes living in northeast Siberia more than ten thousand years ago. They were violent folks, under female leadership, who hunted, fished, moved around, and started/joined in wars which they usually and brutally won. Their special way of fighting (shooting with the bow backwards while riding small, very fast horses) was well known and feared. In some families (like mine) parents still tell children the old sagas of those times-stories about nature, earth, wind, water, and fire; about the Gods and the mystical tribal and religious ceremonies; about the healers and the magicians. I have memories of songs I never heard, shapes of jewelry I never saw, rhythms and movements I never experienced, and a longing for something-I don't know what it is. Water and fire, especially, fascinate me. Some of us have heard that the Natives of the North American continent are our brothers and sisters, that we used to be the same people and that they turned to the east when our ancestors turned to the west. They walked the path which at that time was between Asia and Alaska. The rest of us wandered many, many years. Some tribes settled down on the way. Some are still in the territory of the former Soviet Union. Some have just a few thousand or a few hundred people left. Some are losing their last speakers these days and disappearing.

There was a major separation at the end of the western journey: the many who turned north now live in Finland; the others, our ancestors, reached what is now Hungary sometime between the seventh and the tenth century. (The official year we celebrate as the conquest is 896.) They looked around, found the place was like heaven, and made it their homeland. They killed or adopted many of the folks who already lived here. The rest ran away. There is no conclusive scientific evidence for this early part of the story. What archeologic sites suggest is questioned by linguists; what many historians believe to be true is challenged by early design experts. We see ideas rise and fall about our possible origins and a strong connection with places like Japan and Turkey, Mongolia and the Shumers. But we don't know for sure where our ancestors came from, who they were, or how they lived.

There is more we know about the time since the conquest. For another hundred years or so our ancestors still made their living by attacking and robbing other communities. They plundered all over Europe. In the year 1000, the first king, Stephan, crowned himself with a crown put together from two pieces: one from Byzantium and the other from the Catholic Pope. Stephan established the state and accepted Catholicism, making it the official

religion of the country. He started a war against his own people who did not want to change and become 'civilized.' In a short time everyone was killed who did not want to become a taxpaying, settled-down peasant. Objects, dresses, and everything that could remind people of the 'primitive, barbarian' period were destroyed and eliminated. Memories had to become secret. People were forced to assimilate, to act like Europeans. Otherwise there was no chance for them to survive. It took just some hundred years for the typical Hungarian skin color to become light, the hair light, the eyes light, and the body tall and big. This was the time when our ancestors began to act on the rigid desire to prove they were good enough to be accepted as Europeans. They started this behaviour about a thousand years ago, and we haven't stopped yet.

In about 1992 Noraini led a lunch table for Asians at a worldwide RC leaders' conference and said in a matter-of-fact tone of voice that she expected me to show up. I talked to the person who represented Finland, and we both went. She was as blond as one can be, with the 'whitest' skin you can imagine, and my skin was the second lightest there. The 'real Asians' were surprised to see us. They were a wonderful group of people-warm, calm, modest, cooperative. Being with them made me realize and begin to say openly what I have always felt: I am like the old Hungarians. I felt confused and embarrassed about it but tried to say it proudly.

I look different from most of my people. The moment I was born a male doctor declared I was not big enough for this planet and told the staff they shouldn't be bothered with me; I would be dead by the following morning anyway. I didn't start school when I was close to my sixth birthday as the other children did. I was told they expected me to grow bigger in the extra ten months. Adults, and then children, began to make bad jokes like: 'How come your eyes are so black? You should have washed them in the morning.' They commented on my 'dark' skin color and my hair, which was 'too fine and straight.' (For the first nice comments on my appearance I had to wait till my late twenties.) I always got the last turn in the gym-no matter that I was a champion with a regional gymnastics team. 'Come in one more time to make sure we recognize you're here' was the simple version. My mom used to say: 'You know, my little flower, you'll have to do everything twice as well asanyone else to be credited for it once.' There was constant questioning of my capability, the two main versions being: 'Are you sure you can do it?' and 'Oh, I'm surprised, I didn't believe you could do this.' Because people think I 'don't look my age,' young people's oppression still hits me as an adult. There are men whose patterns get attracted to me because they make them feel that being with me is like being with someone very young. I often hear that I'm sweet, cute, etc.

Some of the good things I experienced: no major sunburn, cheap clothing, no overweight problems, more attention.

Whenever I worked in my sessions with other Hungarians on what our Asian heritage meant to me, people seemed surprised. No wonder. We were raised as white Europeans. At a workshop this summer in New Mexico, USA, Native American RCers told me that the notion of a common past in Asia was a lie created to make Native Americans believe they came from somewhere else and thus that the Americas weren't their land. They found my behaviour towards them racist. That shouldn't surprise me, but it did. They also said it needs to be challenged when whites have romantic, sentimental feelings about a supposed Native-American or colour heritage and try to reclaim it, when in reality it has never existed. On the other hand, they talked about the necessity of reclaiming one's 'non-white' heritage if there is such. Which category am I in? Francie Chew put it very simply: 'You're Asian,' she said, or at least this is what I remember her saying.

This summer I stayed at a hostel in Seattle. We had one African-American woman staying with us for one week and another for another week. They both told me that when they walked into the room and looked around they said to themselves, 'Thank God, there is another person of colour in the room,' and they both meant me. At the women's conference in China many locals started to talk to me in Chinese and were surprised that I didn't speak their language. Some of them knew about my people having lived in the north of China a long time ago.

I'm getting used to the idea that I am Asian and European. A good next step for me seems to be to contact the new and growing 'real Asian' communities in my city and make more friends among the Roma-Gypsy people, who are the biggest minority in my country and are very oppressed.

I'm just back from a workshop that Mike Markovits, a USer of Hungarian origin, led near my city, Budapest. In an evening class he asked the question: 'Who here identifies himself/herself as a person of colour?'

After a moment I raised my hand. None of my Hungarian fellows did . . . not yet.

Molnár Gabriella
Budapest, Hungary

Last modified: 2021-06-01 12:29:59+00