The following is a description of a childhood gamed played by one of my classmates: “I went to a predominantly white elementary school. We did a lot of hand games during lunch and recesses, a lot of rhyming type games and hand clapping, that sort of thing. In the middle of one of the hand clapping games, you take your finger and make your eyes squint by pulling the skin around your eyes up or down…the point is to, and this really sounds bad, but to appear Chinese or Japanese. Up is Chinese, and down is Japanese. So, during the game, you say ‘Chinese, Japanese, Chinese, Japanese…’ changing your eyes with each…so as you say ‘Chinese’ you squint up, and as you say ‘Japanese’ you squint down. It’s about children exploring basically what they can get away with in a fun, subconscious way. At the time I played it was just fun and funny to make ourselves look like another ethnicity. But now I see the larger meanings with childhood, boundary exploration, and identity development.”
I agree with the analysis and the larger associations and meaning inherent in the game. It is like most, if not all, of children’s games. They explore boundaries while speaking to what may not be acceptable by employing what agency they do have. A game of this manner is perfect for exploring identity and indirectly discussing what makes “us” different from “them.” It is but one more example of the child’s way of coping with the authoritarian world and transitioning into a time of exploration and curiosity.