Spring had sprung. It was this anticipation of a new day that spring cleaning felt in order. Digging through the skeletons in my closet, I unearthed my 4th Grade class photo. But why was my own picture missing from the group? It was the only day I ever missed elementary school, the day that I broke my perfect attendance record, and the only year my straight “A” average fell to a low “C”.
It was 1965 and my family moved from South Central Los Angeles, barely escaping the racially-charged Watts Riots, to what they thought was a “safe” neighborhood. At my new school, I was the new kid on the block—and the only Asian American in my class—practically in the entire school.
For what felt like an eternity, I was bullied on my daily walks home. My nemesis was a boy in my 4th Grade class. He would chase me down, shout racial slurs, and spit on me. I was a latchkey kid so my parents didn’t know about it, until the day I could no longer hold back tears—when bicycle-tire tracks permanently blackened my white knee-hi’s where I was literally mowed down.
Why had my teacher not punished the boy, instead of calling both of us out? Maybe it was a reflection of our culture at the time. Why had my parents not instilled greater self-confidence in me? I understand now, that as American-born citizens locked in US Internment Camps during WW2 due to their Japanese descent, their own sense of dignity was challenged. All of this took a toll on my childhood, and effects me even today.
My one refuge and what saved me was my art. There, I could play and dream as every child should. I drew pictures, made cards, and built towns out of junk-drawer findings. That’s where my confidence was formed, and ultimately what lead me to create ZoLO together with my art partner and best friend Byron. It’s no coincidence that ZoLO is a multicolored microcosm that includes all the diversity found in our real multicultural world. And the idea that all of ZoLO’s pieces “go together as one”— well that was an idea imagined a very long time ago…in the mind of a fourth grader.
To explore these topics: