About Me

My photo
MCG, a Chicana feminist, for sure, teaches community college English

Monday, October 22, 2012

Faking It

MCG sophomore year
MCG freshman year

Lolani Hawkins was popular, and she was Hawaiian. She wasn’t Me-wuk or Mexican, but she was popular anyway. Everybody knew Lolani Hawkins, but no one in Tuolumne knew that much about Hawaii apart from what we learned about leis and hula dancing from Lolani and her family. We certainly didn't know that most Hawaiians are a mixed-race people: Polynesian, Japanese, Puerto Rican, Chinese, Portuguese, Malaysian, Korean, and white. Lolani had dark skin, long dark hair, and dark brown eyes. From elementary school to high school, everything about Lolani set her apart from the others and in a good way. Striking but not particularly feminine in the way she moved her athletic body, walking with purpose, her broad shoulders sturdy and her head held high, she was smart, did well in school, had friends, was close with her family, and she was proud to be Hawaiian.
         PE teachers and coaches loved Lolani because she was good at sports. Growing long, powerful legs in fifth, sixth, and seventh grades, she was best at basketball, easily dominating the court and intimidating the girls from neighboring schools, with the exception of Jamestown, whose team of girls we kindly referred to as amazons.  Lolani was the kind of player who made the teachers, doubling as coaches, feel their time after school coaching the Summerville team worth it, though it was hard to ever tell if Ms. Martz, who rarely smiled, unless it was to sneer like she was smiling, was ever glad about anything. I remember her barking orders from the sidelines of the court during games, always with a look of disappointment, in her weird beige loafers, beige polyester slacks, and shiny, white windbreaker. Maybe it was the school mascot that was getting her down, coaching a team of girls whose mascot was a beaver.
         Summerville teams were never viewed as much of a threat, didn't have a reputation for winning most of their games, or having whole squads of excellent players, largely because there were girls like me on the team, girls trying to find their way, sports being one uninspired stop on the journey to finding the one thing in which they truly excelled. But Lolani's tenure in school sports changed the Summerville reputation a bit. She became well known around the county --  a real stand out. Most girls were either intimidated by her, or in awe of her power -- usually a combination of both. And the boys thought she was cool. She was in with them too. Practically one of them, she could speak their language, copy their swagger, hold her own.
         In fifth grade, I went to a couple of basketball games to see some of my friends play and got it into my head that I could do that too, not remembering that I was only about 4'9, afraid of getting hit by any kind of ball, and usually picked last for any teams during PE. I played basketball with Lolani just one season in the sixth grade, but I was never any good on the court. With all the passing, dribbling, and running about, I couldn’t remember which way I was supposed to be running, which basket I was supposed to be taking the ball to. My best move was grabbing the ball at the toss, as it was coming down, and holding onto it in a tug-of-war, waiting for the referee to blow the whistle.  Of course, Lolani was the star of the team, and she would go on and be one of the stars of the high school team too. The court was her universe, and the rest of us on the team were just in it -- she had those she relied on for rebounds, like the super tall Emily Ames, but everyone knew to keep their eyes on Lolani; she was the girl to watch, and she never got too big-headed about it either. Making baskets and scoring points for the team was just a fact of life for her -- it's what she did. Everyone called her a jock and tomboy, which seemed just fine with her. Nothing seemed to phase Lolani, either, not even my terrible plays. In fact, she didn't come down on anybody for not holding her own. Cool under pressure, she did what she needed to do to score points for the team. 

         But for me, basketball was something that I was just trying on, and watching Lolani play down court, in possession of the ball, made me realize that it didn't fit. I was at middle court, waiting around, not really playing at all when Lolani stole the ball from Jamestown. A handful of friends and parents in the stands, were whooping wildly, when she made a run for it, a pack of black and red jerseys a ways behind, unable to catch her. Just south of the net, she shot the ball, and course, she scored. Her power was impressive, and it made me think two things: I was never going to be that good, no matter how hard I tried, and I didn't care enough about basketball to try. Lolani went on to become the star of the high school basketball team, and I began to find my way in the high school pep band, marching band, jazz band, and choir where my actual talents were put to good use.                  

          However, in high school, my talents didn't get me cheers, trophies, or accolades, or popularity, which I tended to look down on. What they got me was a snowball with a rock inside upside my head. I thought I was just being myself, but to everyone else, choosing to be a punk girl and a band geek, I was just asking for it. One snowy, winter day, sophomore year, Jeremy Fong, the school counselor's son came after me more viciously than he had before. He had been taunting me for weeks, calling me a freak, and purposefully crashing into me in front of my locker. I was leaving pre-Algebra which took place in a classroom in the same building as the administration office. Passing in front of the flag pole and the school mascot statue, a giant black bear, when whap, a snowball nailed me in the temple. Breaking apart on impact, icy snow skidded across my face, and I could feel a lump forming, where something harder than a snowball had hit. Jeremy was ahead of me, laughing and carrying on -- the only Chinese guy in the whole school, not particularly tall with thick, dark hair and almond-shaped eyes, had assaulted me, to make himself look cool, and he would get away with it. Holding my head, and trying not to cry, I turned, and stomped through the snow-covered grass toward the school's office. I busted through the door and demanded to speak with Mr. Fong. I was prepared to be greeted by his snide smile; he had a way of making you feel like he never took you or anything you said seriously. He wasn't there.
         "I want to speak with Mr. Fong, right now," I shouted, startling the office assistant behind the counter.
         "Is there something that I can help you with?" her voice light and airy and without urgency.
         "I want to speak with Mr. Fong," I repeated, holding my head.
         "Michelle, I don't believe that Mr. Fong is even your counselor."
         "I need to speak with him."  By this time another office assistant had come out of the back room to see what all the commotion was about.
         "Mr. Fong is not in," the second office assistant announced. "Is there something we can help you with?"
         "Mr. Fong's son just hit me in the head with a snowball, and it had a rock in it. Look at this, look at my head," I said turning my face in their direction. They both looked at my head from their place behind the counter, not bothering to move too close.
         "We will let Mr. Fong know about this incident," said the first assistant, "as soon as he gets in." They didn't even offer me an ice pack.
         I didn't understand it. I didn’t want to be popular for things that the popular kids were known for, like sports, having an upperclassman for a boyfriend, for being a cheerleader, but how did Jeremy Fong rate? How could someone like Jeremy Fong be popular? Was it simply because his dad was the school counselor? I got it with Lolani, for the most part, and I understood why I wasn't. I was a weirdo, and she had great athletic prowess, a great personality, and she was Hawaiian, which seemed somehow cooler than being Me-Wuk or Mexican, and maybe the hula dancing helped too, but I didn't think so.
         Lolani had literally sweat a lot for her popularity, but maybe she was just doing what came natural. Maybe this is what made her a standout. I was doing what came natural to me too, the weird clothes that I could afford because I bought them from second-hand stores, the short hair because I was tired of people pointing out that I was a Mexican girl, and the heavy dark eye-liner just in case anyone didn’t get the point that I was trying to make. I just wanted to be noticed for something other than my skin color and my last name, the stuff that made me visible and invisible all at the same time.
I had seen what happened to many of the other dark-skinned kids. Many of the native kids who lived on the Me-Wuk reservation and not in town had dropped out of school already. School didn't seem to fit them at all, and it certainly didn't support them being there, not like elementary school had, or attempted to, at least. The curvy and quick-tempered Rhonda Kerzer who always wore a folded navy blue bandana on her forehead to hold down her full, thick mane, Jimbo and Louis, who I slapped once for whacking me on the head on the back of the bus, and several others, who I had shared teachers with in elementary school had long dropped out and been forgotten. The Maria sisters, the few only bilingual Mexicanas were practically invisible too until the older Maria got on the yearbook committee and made sure there were lots of pictures of her and her sisters in it that year. And during my four years at Summerville High, there were only three African American kids: Mona, Jay, and Lloyd. The best we could do for them was to pretend that we didn't notice that they were black.
         But for all I know, Lolani could have been pretending too. I remember watching her perform with her petite and beautiful mom and older sister at the high school. To see her swiveling her hips in her grass skirt and bikini top seemed wrong somehow. Each time I saw the act, I never quite bought it. Nonetheless, she, her mom, and her older sister continued performing here and there around the county, a kind of exotic novelty act. Instead of her face serious with sweat and determination, she smiled awkwardly with a gardenia behind her ear, her thick muscular legs fouling up her attempt at femininity but getting her noticed just the same.


  1. I went to Summerville Elementary when I was in first grade....wow! That must have been in the early 70s. Nonetheless, I had a lot of great memories for the brief time I went there. We lived in Tuolumne and I lived near Alisha Morrow (on the same road anyway). The main thing I remember about my time at Summerville Elementary was when the whole class did a play "Is There A Lion In The House?" I played one of the main characters. That is about all I can remember right now though. Keep up the good work on writing. I always look forward to your writings.