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Staffer a winner in campus essay contest

A meditation on cultural signals

11 March 2009

Linda Finch HicksLinda Finch Hicks

Linda Finch Hicks, manager in the history department, is the staff winner of this year's Lili Fabilli and Eric Hoffer Essay contest; three students also won. The annual competition is open to students, faculty, and staff, and this year's four winners shared $3,000 in prize money. Hicks' winning essay, on the theme "Rock, Paper, Scissors,"
is reprinted here.

Jan ken po, ai ko de sho ... So went the game when I was a child in Tokyo. Foreigner, red-devil, or friend? Always the questions ....Where did you come from? What are you to us? How can you sound Japanese when you don't look Japanese? Jan ken po, ai ko de sho ...

Rock, paper, scissors, rock, paper, scissors ....What do you mean you never lived in America before? But aren't you American? You said your sister was born in Japan, she doesn't look Japanese?

Jan ken po. Rock, paper, scissors. Are you part Japanese? Me with red hair and blue eyes! No, why do you ask? But you can speak Japanese. Well, you're Chinese and speak English. What's the difference?

Rock, paper, scissors. Foreigner, red devil, friend. "Yes, yes" I interject so that you will know I am listening. No, I haven't heard what you are saying before. Wrong cultural signals. Again.

Henna gaijin! Weirdo foreigner! So come flying the rocks and spit.

Paper covers rock as politeness covers feelings.

But cruelly scissors cut paper, causing separation. Let's not play with her today — she's not one of us.

And rock breaks scissors — solid, whole, unchangeable. I am all these things: foreigner, red devil, and friend.

We all have stories of alienation, of finding our place. We are defined and in turn define ourselves, our space, our world. Who am I today? Foreigner, red devil, or friend. How do you know me? Jan, ken, po … rock, paper, scissors … always a gamble, sometimes a choice.

— Linda Finch Hicks
December 2008