The Meaning of Mandela to an Asian (American) Woman

Sunday, December 15th, the day of Nelson Mandela’s final resting day.

I wrote this piece over on Hyphen magazine to honor him and to reflect on the impact that he has had on my life. In many ways, Thick Dumpling Skin is one result of his influence on me. 

“This is how you use a Taser,” my father said calmly, as he held the black flashlight-like device and made the electric shocks come alive in front of my brother and I. “Here, both of you try it. It’ll be underneath my pillow if we need to use it.”

It was the eve before something big was about to happen. In 1994, I was ten years old. Brian, my older brother, twelve. Typically, bedtime meant retreating to our own separate bedrooms, but that night, my reserved immigrant father requested that my brother and I sleep upstairs in the master suite with him. All my father divulged was that if a man was not elected the president of South Africa, then a riot would most likely breakout. Even though we’re Chinese and considered to be “coloreds” in most countries, we needed to be prepared because no one would be safe.

My ten year-old self wondered about the man I saw on TV with the contagious smile and the significance of the huge lines of people waiting patiently to vote for him.

Little did I know, then, that the man my father was referring to was a man named Nelson Mandela, a man who had been imprisoned for over 27 years because he fought to end apartheid in South Africa, a system of racial segregation under which the rights of the majority black citizens were severely diminished. It was only years later when I was living in the United States that I realized the magnitude of the history that I had witnessed.

Thank you, Madiba, for all that you’ve done. Thank you.

Read the full article here.

- Lisa