Back when I was an idealist, living in the boondocks of Japan, I wanted to share the world with my students. Most of them lived in very small towns; the nearest movie theater was 1-2 hours away. McDonalds had yet to arrive. Life is surprisingly traditional there; gender roles are well-defined, formal rituals observed. Most housewives still get up at 5 am to make breakfast and box lunches (obento) for their family, and women are looked down upon if their obento lack sufficient artfulness, if they don't have the right balance of colors, don't have rice balls decorated like soccerballs and sausages fried into cute mini octopus shapes. I wanted my students to get out and see the world --not that I didn't appreciate all that is great about Japan --but I wanted them to just know that there's a different way to think, act, feel. That their ideas of appropriate speech and behavior aren't universal. That women and men can interact in much different ways, and that's okay. That the nail sticking out doesn't always get hammered down. Probably much of this desire was actually self-centered: I wanted them to understand American culture so that they would understand me. I was such a weirdo there: American but not white, Chinese but didn't speak Chinese, knew the proper greetings but not the right way to sit, could speak but not read, yadi yadi. Maybe if they understood the world, they'd realize how cool I am, (my unconscious logic said). One of my students was especially good at English and ended up doing an informal exchange with my brother. Jon stayed at his house, went to his school, and Kosuke came here. Kosuke would return again to the Bay Area as a college student for a few weeks, and has gone on to become a sophisticated, hip kid. He's lived in Paris, traveled around the world, and is stationed in Charleston for 5 months doing research on frog's eyes. He's become, essentially, everything I could have hoped for my students in Nagano. But South Carolina has been a trial, of sorts. He returned there today, after a 2-day visit to San Francisco in which we ate Ethiopian food, shopped at thrift stores on the Haight, and he finally got to see Alcatraz. "There's a lot of Asians here," he said on his first day. "It feels more comfortable." A few weeks ago in a Charleston Walmart, a man passed Kosuke in the aisles and spit at him that familiar invective, "yellow monkey." Kosuke's english is excellent. He understands hate speech just as much as you or I. And unfortunately, in his travels, in his increasing sophistication, he has experienced the ignorant bigotry that all of we non-whites face at some point in this country. There is so much about America that I love. It's so easy for me to forget, in San Francisco Land of a Thousand Asians, that across much of the land there's prejudice, resentment, misunderstanding and hate just below the shiny happy freckled faces of wholesome family values. I used to get beat up at school in Kansas because I was Asian. If Kosuke had responded in the WalMart at all, who knows what the man might have done? Luckily, Kosuke was wise enough to bite his tongue. But what a disappointing lesson to have to learn. The research Kosuke is doing right now may one day lead to advances that will prevent that man from turning blind in his old age. When will he, and the bigots of America, learn their lesson? How many ways will he have to benefit from Asian science, technology, art, production, generosity and kindness before he sees an Asian face and thinks something other than "yellow monkey"? Is there any way to change a mind like that? Sometimes I feel like we're spinning our wheels, like we're making no progress at all. Sometimes I despair that we haven't even begun the fight.