Folk Speech

Pam demonstrated a game/demonstration that she used to perform as a child.  She said “Chinese, Japanese, Americanese.”  After saying “Chinese,” she used her hands to pull her eyes upwards and sideways.  After saying “Japanese,” she pulled her eyes downwards and sideways.  Then, after saying “Americanese,” she touched her own knees.  This is a play on words, insinuating that “Americanese” sounds like “American knees.”

Pam said that she learned this game from one of her neighborhood friends growing up in Elgin, IL.  She said that the neighborhood was mostly white and Hispanic children, and that there weren’t many Asian children at her school or in her town.  She said that kids would show this to each other just for laughs.  Once you saw someone else perform this for the first time, it lost much of its humor because the punch line was already learned.

Pam says that, looking back on the game, she thinks it is awful because it’s obviously racist.  She acknowledged that she almost felt bad about performing it at her age because of its use of stereotypes.  However, she said that it was probably just a way for kids to deal with differences in race that they were just starting to realize.

I agree with Pam’s observation that children preform this game at a time in their lives when they are just beginning to notice differences in race.  Eye appearance is a commonly highlighted difference between Western and Eastern people, and it makes sense that children would find a humorous and innocent (although occasionally offensive from a retrospective view) way to understand this phenomenon.

In addition, the game is likely a way for children to show off their new understanding and mastery of words.  Many children games and riddles include wordplay, because young children are just beginning to understand how words work.  That “Americanese” sounds like “American knees” is a humorous example of wordplay.

I also remember preforming this activity as a child, but with slight variation.  After saying “Americanese,” I would simply drop my hands so that my eyes returned to their normal state (rather than touching my own knees).  This still demonstrates the same concept of differences in race.

It’s interesting to note that this activity is usually performed by children, who have less of a concept of societal race relations.  While an adult might appear racist when preforming this game, children have the innocence of just beginning to understand differences in appearance.