“Yeah, We Tolerate Racism Here.”

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“Get back in your cab!” The taxi stand man yelled aggressively and pointed at the man who was supposed to be driving me to Bushwick.

It was my annual NYC trip and I had just arrived at the long cluster of yellow taxicabs outside of LaGuardia. From what I’ve learned in my experience with taxis, particularly in New York, you have to be self-assured when you tell them where you need to go. “Make sure you seem like you’re from here,” someone once told me.

“Brooklyn,” I told the driver as I opened the door. He shook his head “noooo.” I cowered, like a rejected sixth grade roller-skater, who had confidently lined up along the wall to be picked for the couple’s skate, only to be overlooked by all of the cool boys, whose parents could afford the extra two dollars it cost to rent rollerblades instead….

While I walked towards the second cab, feeling the scorn of rejection, I almost missed the ensuing scene, which had stalled the yellow sea of cabs waiting to chauffer patrons to Manhattan [and only Manhattan].

“He does this every fucking time!” The second driver, MY soon to be driver, yelled.

“Stop banging on his window, and get back in your cab!”

He was knocking on the window of the cab directly in front of his, the one that had refused my passage to Brooklyn. That driver just shook his head with his hands in the air, and kept his window locked in the upright position.

As I watched what transpired before me, I tried to chime in, “I can wait—,” but my throat was so dry from being nervous and uncomfortable, anything I said was inaudible. I wanted to wait. I wanted to go back into the airport, wait 20 minutes, and come back out when there would be a less aggressive, more mild-mannered taxi driver. [Does not exist.] This was not the first time I have ruined a taxi driver’s day by announcing I needed a ride to Brooklyn. At both LaGuardia and JFK, it seems Brooklyn is like the Mordor of the New York taxicab scene.

“Get back in your cab! He’s off in 30 minutes so he gets to stay in Manhattan. You’re going to Brooklyn!” But apparently my driver had a different hypothesis as to why he was the one chosen to bear my burden.

I had not fully buckled in yet when I heard, “IT’S BECAUSE HE’S BLACK AND HE’S BLACK!”

We had just departed the airport, and in a weird innate, self-preservation, my ears turned themselves off to the outside world and I could only hear woodland bird chirps, and the sounds of magical twinkling fairies, and as they were transitioning back to reality, I mistakenly thought I had heard, “It’s because he’s black.”

“…… I’m sorry?” I whispered. “I don’t think I heard you correc—“

He interrupted, and frustratingly repeated, “It’s because he’s black.”

“It’s because HE is black and HE is black!” He was yelling at this point.

“Who and who? What?” I humored him. I humored him, regrettably, because I am a coward, and as I saw it at the time, I did not want to get into a racial politics argument with this crazy man that I was stuck in a tiny, confined space with, zipping around NYC. He was in control of my life, and I value that life very much.

“Do you have one of those phones?”

“What?”

“GPS!”

“Oh yeah…” Is he asking me this because, had I not, he would kill me and dump me somewhere for making him drive to Brooklyn? I am making this angry, blatantly racist man drive to Bushwick….. NOT Williamsburg, or even the recently gentrified and newly established East Bushwick. But BUSHWICK. This man hates me. [Or do taxis not come equipped with their own GPS in 2014? ANSWER: They do not.]

As he was going off about how the taxi stand man was giving the first driver preferential treatment based on race solidarity [except maybe his word choice was WAY MORE explicitly racist], I discreetly started sending my friend Holly, who I was planning on visiting, his cab information.

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At this point I did not think I would be making it out of this cab, and I needed her to start the search party immediately. (How do I get the license plate number from the inside?)

The City changes people. It toughens you, and gives you thicker skin. Every person I’ve known who has moved to New York City says the first year is the hardest. If you don’t develop thicker skin, well then I guess you better move to Portland.

Every year I would visit my friend, she would get sassier, and sassier.

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It wasn’t necessary, of course, but his distasteful approach to normal taxicab banter had shaken me up. [What happened to, “What brings you to New York?” or, “Can you even believe this weather?”] He drove away smiling and seemed unfazed by it all after we arrived at Holly’s apartment, like he hadn’t gone on a 45-minute rant about racial stereotypes.

“What happened?” Holly asked sweetly as I distressfully started removing my baggage. I felt relieved, like a Hobbit who had spent too long outside of the Shire. (And not on any kind of fun adventure with dragons and hot dwarves, but on an endless journey through Mordor to Mt. Doom….)

I explained the whole scenario to a rather unsurprised and unmoved Holly.

“Oh that’s all? Psssssshhhhhh…. Yeah, we tolerate racism here,” she said nonchalantly while picking up things around her apartment.

[THIS COULD NOT BE.]

This was the girl I had bonded with in mid to late college, as we tried to establish ourselves as independent, adopted Korean women, trying to navigate our way through a liberal arts education, with little accompanying racial diversity. We would complain about how racist West Michigan is all of the time. And now SHE tolerates racism? We used to write our friends’ names on a dry erase board and tally their microaggressions like body parts on a losing game of Hangman. (No one ever knew what we were tallying, or why their names were on the dry erase board, but we knew. And it gave us some kind of quiet satisfaction that, yes, we loved these people, but at least we would never say THAT.) [Also, we would never do this now.] [We I would just bloggg about it later.]

“New Yorkers tolerate racism?” I cautiously asked, with the possibility peaking in my head that, I may have died in that cab with that racist man, and now I am in HELL.

How. Could. This. Be?

In some kind of weird Walden reversal, New York was the place I quietly escaped to every year to gain culture. To be in a city surrounded with people speaking different languages, photography shows with content featuring the closing of the Chinese tenement at 81 Bowery, stuffing my face with Bahn Mi, arepas, and cheap dumplings. There are neighborhoods with restaurants, as far as the eye can see, where these dishes do not have to be served on white square plates with some kind of infused sauce drizzled on the side.

Holly could see how confused I was by her latest revelations. Is this what happens to a girl when gentrification pushes her further and further down the J Train stops?

“Julie, it’s better than everyone in West Michigan, who doesn’t know when they are being racist, because they’re STUPID. AT LEAST everyone knows they’re racist here.”

[My cultural Walden Pond is gone forever….]

Without having to ask, I knew she wasn’t referring to New York’s Stop and Frisk policy, and the Ferguson, MO tragedy had yet to occur. Indirect racism made me feel annoyed, and direct racism made me feel [fucking] scared. But either situation shouldn’t be ignored, or passed aside.

I let this fester for months as I questioned why direct racism [BUT NOT TOO DIRECT] is more tolerable than indirect racism. As I was no longer in NYC and had re-assimilated into the Midwest, enough awkward encounters [mostly with older Caucasian men] had passed, and I had to revisit my conversation with Holly.

“Why do you think it’s easier to tolerate blatantly racist people?” I asked.

“Because they will never say things like, ‘I’m not racist, but…’ Also, even though it’s wrong, at least they are being outwardly honest. And I can confront those people easily. If I call someone a racist in West Michigan they get uncomfortable and list reasons as to why they aren’t…. Which is infuriating.”

She continued, “To me, there are two types of ignorance. There are the ones who have higher education, and will use that higher education as their defense mechanism as to why someone else BUT them is ignorant, i.e., ‘African Americans are ignorant because they have less education.’ That is a racist thing to say. The other type of ignorance is just not experiencing anything. Which I feel both types are heavy in the suburbs….”

“But where do the city’s taxi drivers’ ignorance fall?” I asked, trying to get to the root of the discussion.

“Well, I am glad you asked that.” I imagined us being back in college, her mentoring me in some liberal arts course, ‘Understanding World Problems, You Will Actually Never Be Able to Understand 101.’

“Even though it’s racist remarks, it’s mostly from experience. Their remarks I wouldn’t say are ignorant, but slander, of course.”

“Hmmmm….”

“The cab driver knew what he was saying because he has experienced whatever situations to come to whatever racist conclusions he has. Whereas in West Michigan, a girl will say thank you to me in Chinese [xiè xiè, thank you Paul Pimsleur of the Pimsleur Language Learning System] because she assumes every Asian is Chinese. Obviously the latter isn’t as harsh, but it’s JUST PLAIN INCORRECT.”

[TRUE.]

“And she doesn’t think she’s doing anything wrong because her rich, white parents paid extra money for her to learn Chinese to be ‘more cultured.’”

[TRUE.]

“And that’s the beauty of tolerated racism,” Holly said, and I knew this was the end of the conversation. [Class dismissed.]

 

***DISCLAIMER: There are a lot of really awesome, intelligent, non-racist people here in West Michigan.

 

BUT, another story from Holly.

“Ohhhh also, yesterday on Facebook, my old babysitter posted a picture of her daughter (who is a Korean adoptee) and someone in the comments wrote, ‘She’s adorable; she looks like Lily from Modern Family.’ Naturally I was irritated because a. she does not look like her and b. this white woman has no idea how wrong she is due to the fact that she has only seen ONE Asian American little girl in mainstream media. And apparently ALL young Asian girls look like LILY FROM THE HIT SHOW MODERN FAMILY. Ughhhhh. It took all of my strength not to comment, ‘I bet you think that I look like Lily from Modern Family too.’”

 

I can attest to Holly’s story. I have only heard of the “hit TV show,” Modern Family, due to people telling ME (TOO) that, “ I bet you looked like Lily from Modern Family when you were a kid; she’s so cute.”…. etc. etc.

“Lily”

jazz

SO NO. I didn’t.

P.S. I Love Asian Women and I Would Treat You Like a Princess :)

“Should I write that I can do the splits on here?” I asked my friend Kevin after a large gulp of wine.

“Uhhhh. I think you might attract the wrong kind of….” He gave me a horrified look and I knew he was right. The Internet does not care how impressed I am with myself that I, only recently tried, and landed accomplished, the splits without practicing yoga in years.

I found myself doctoring up an OkCupid! profile last Wednesday as part of an ongoing joke between us. I helped him make an account months ago in an attempt to bring him out of his year-long glum, but it turned into a self-forum for deprecation and cynicism. Either way, I knew he would see to it that I enter the same excruciating humility of Internet Purgatory, even if it was for a night’s worth of entertainment. [God made friends so they could make each other dating profiles when they are jaded.]

okcupidkevin

In an age when everyone meticulously curates Internet personas for themselves due to the wide array of ego-driven, identity-building platforms, otherwise known as social media, you would think coming up with the perfect Internet dating profile would roll off my fingertips like Liberace on a baby grand.

When it comes down to it, do you list skills, favorite quotations, bladder irregularity? It’s a super intimidating process. How do you summarize yourself in 622 characters? It’s like a goddamn cover letter for a job you really want, or a job you want for a day [Creeps!]. Needless to say Kevin just started typing it for me.

“No, don’t word it like that.” I would chime in every now and then.

“I don’t think I would call myself that….” I had a hard time with how I wanted to be perceived, virtually.

“Well, I think you’re that way.” He would argue.

Gawd, is there some kind of Internet dating template you can follow? Could I have just Shia Labeouf’ed my profile? But Julie you’re not the former president of the Maldives, and you haven’t mastered Scarlatti on the harpsichord.

I finally just took over the keyboard, and cruised through that sucker in a few minutes. A couple of facts about my life experiences, just quirky enough to not be considered “wife material.”

Those familiar with OkCupid! and I am sure many other Internet dating websites, will be familiarized with the 1 million long questionnaire you can answer to find the highest percentage match. I cannot help but be reminded of sixth grade slumber parties where we would sit around asking each other juicy questions from a questionnaire book I would have purchased through a Scholastic Book Club. Anyone who grew up in the ’90’s, and had involved parents, would remember carefully selecting each quarter’s product line, marking the quantity on a newspaper quality slip, and bringing it to your teacher. By the time I hit sixth grade, in a pre-adolescent stupor, it was reduced to five-page celebrity biographies that could be unfolded to reveal a poster, and neon pink questionnaires. Slumber parties were all about Truth or Dare, TP-ing, and answering superfluous questions until you died.

And thus, Kevin and I entered the Second Circle of Hell.

One of the questions on OkCupid! is “Would you prefer to date someone from your race?”

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Fine, yes, I understand… I’ve seen Louis Theroux’s Weird Weekends enough times to know that people like THIS still exist… What I don’t understand is, why someone who answered “Yes” would take the time to message ME….

Was he drunk, illiterate, an ironic racist? Were there no other available Caucasian women in West Michigan that night? [Not likely…] Does he have an astigmatism, where he would be able to leave his glasses at home in order to better ignore how Asian I look?

“If you were going to have a child, would you want the other parent to be of the same ethnicity as you?”

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“I am going to set aside my racial eugenics ideology temporarily while I send this Asian chick an awkward message that starts with ‘hey hunny.'”

Last summer, a close friend casually told me he thought his dad had caught “Yellow Fever” while working in Southeast Asia for big-time business. This is a term I’ve heard tossed around, usually in jest, since Jr. High. As I get older, having any particular racial preference has remained strange to me. Once it was compared to preferring blondes over brunettes. [Easy peasy Japanesey.] Another time a man told me “Asians are the Cadillacs of pussy.” [Throws up. I hope you all can erase that from your memory.] I am honestly interested in discovering why certain people have racial preferences.

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Although, I should have known OkCupid! would not be the best forum for intellectual debate. Something tells me if the two of us were at the same t-shirt dating party, and it was left to pheromones alone, we would still not be higher than a 37% match.

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I believed giving a cold, crisp response would highlight how insensitive they were being. Apparently responding at all only provokes them more. (I appreciate the, “You are female right?”)

okcupidugh2

okcupidugh

[DEMURE!?] (So he basically described what I was criticizing….)

Do you want to admit this stuff to a stranger you don’t actually know in real life? Sure you can understand how hilarious and intelligent I am from my brief profile [Kidding!], but can you read? [I mean, HELLO, Kevin and I didn’t answer all of those damn questions so I could get messages from someone below an 80% match!]

Discovering the answers to any questions I have regarding why people have racial preference for partners in 2014 should be left to doctoral thesis papers and Youtube videos. I don’t really have time to argue racial stereotypes with older men on an Internet dating website known for cavalier sex and nothing else.

All of this solidified how I really just want to Eat Pray Love my way through this year. Yeah, sorrynotsorry literary friends. My mom suggested it to me years ago, and I secretly loved it, but never had the courage to allow it with the rest of my books on my bookshelf. Now that I’m older, I feel completely comfortable with announcing that I am modeling my year after Elizabeth Gilbert’s life post divorce. [I am looking at YOU Bali.] And when that’s done, I suppose I’ll probably live happily ever after with one of these fellows….

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jeremyscahill

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(If none of these options end up working out [sobs!], I am completely fine with leaving “love” up to an algorithm.)

 

 

Disclaimer:

Yeah I was originally pretentious about OkCupid! blah blah blah “desperate” “sick” “STDs” blah blah blah…

BUT, what’s even weirder is trolling for someone at a noisy bar where you can’t even hear them speak. [Probably for the better anyway.] You end up listening to their oh so funny story about that one time when they were drunk, and banging your head against each and every tap handle would be more stimulating than anything else that is happening. They’re trying to tell you how awesome they are, and Modest Mouse or some song that was popular 10 years ago is blaring. That is a fucking strange environment to try to be enticing! That is not a better representation of yourself than sitting in your own home behind a screen, eating homemade soup, learning french at the same time, in the comfort of stretch pants without the looks of judgement….

Why I Will Not Be Going to My Ten Year High School Reunion

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Yeah… Facebook. You really don’t have to look too far to find people liberally throwing around hurtful words on the Internet…

Remember when Facebook was new, so you just added back everyone who added you, and it was kind of cool to see what people were up to, people you hadn’t seen since, well, high school? There was probably a reason for that. Ten years later, and this pops up on my News Feed…

 

*I am guessing he meant “accept” instead of “except.”

 

 

No I Do NOT Want to Date Your 40-year-old Adopted Chinese Son Who Lives in Arizona

A woman, somewhere in her 60s, with a very warm and inviting face approached me not that long ago. Her copper colored hair fell into a tight layered bob, not in the same finesse of Michelle Obama’s, but in a way which had been frozen by a 20-year-old time capsule, never to change again.

Her glasses rested pointedly and purposefully on her narrow nose as she came closer, and closer. [TOO CLOSE.]

“Where are you from?” she asked.

Whenever I am asked this question, four to five times a week, I gingerly respond, “The East side of the state (Michigan).”

“No, where are you frommmm?” She asked, pushing her glasses higher up the bridge of her nose.

“Near Flint.” I generally try and do-si-do this question out until they break and realize how obtrusive they are being. [NO ONE EVER REALIZES!]

“No, I mean, WHAT IS YOUR ETH-NIII-CITY?”

“I am Korean.” I uttered defeatedly.

“Ohhh okay…” she emphasized the “oh” as if she was processing something. Something that was going to make me uncomfortable.

“Do you have a boyfriend?” she asked.

“Yesssss.” I answered with hesitation, the hesitation of wondering why she:

A. Cared whether or not I “have” a boyfriend.

B. Assumed I like men. (Answer: This is West Michigan. Everyone is straight in West Michigan. [I am kidding.])

C. (I’ve always wished I was Alex Mack, from The Secret World of Alex Mack, so I could turn into a GC-161 liquid puddle and slip away from encounters like this.)

She looked disappointed. “Ohhhh…. I have a son you know…” Her eyes fluttered upwards at an attempt to make eye contact. This was going to be more uncomfortable than I had originally planned.

I knew what she was doing. She had sensed the hesitation in my answer, which, in her mind, permitted her to continue. Was my relationship crumbling apart at that time? Yes. But my hesitation had nothing to with that, and only to do with A. B. and C.

“Ohhhh. Okay.” Because there was nothing else I could have said.

“He is Chinese….”

[Still not interested.]

“Yeah, he lives in Arizona. He works in computer arts, but I tell him to find something else all of the time, because there’s no money in that… You know, he is 40 years old.” A look of concern and desperation loomed across her face.

[Oh God. She wants grandchildren.] Her look said it all. I only took one Psychology class, but I didn’t even need that to interpret the disparity in her face. Why else would she try to lure a near stranger to her son? I could be crazy… [I wouldn’t know because I only took one Psychology class.] Her identity as a mother of a single, adoptive Chinese son, living in Arizona had kicked in. He is by no means old, but to a conservative, former professor at Calvin College, the possibility of her having grandchildren was passing her by. She too longed to dazzle her bare refrigerator with school pictures, drawings, and family Christmas cards.

How mortified would your son be if he knew his mother was prostituting him on the streets of Grand Rapids, Mich.? [and not very well for that matter!] (She probably could have picked a better location…) Or worse, he was completely fine with it, which raises more suspicions, thus the reason he needed his mom to play matchmaker states and states away.

I am not a love columnist, nor have I ever watched an entire episode of Sex and the City, but I do know, just because two people are what society views as the same “race,” (Biology 101 told me that race is a social construction) does not mean they are compatible in other ways. Particularly when one person lives in Arizona and the other person lives in Michigan.

Just because the two of us were adopted from different Asian countries, doesn’t mean the arranged marriage part of historical Asian culture is genetically running through our blood.

OR IS IT? SIDENOTE:

My dad had an interesting encounter with a Korean customer who owns a dry cleaning business. [Could not have made that up.] Being a proud parent, and overly talkative man, my father told him all about his Korean adopted daughters, told him our ages, even showed him pictures of us…. This customer made my father come into his dry cleaning business to meet his wife, and show my dad a picture of his son. This man wanted my dad to bring my sister (apparently my picture wasn’t good enough…) to the Korean church to meet him. He was sick of seeing his son, the soon to be Doctor, date these “American girls.” To further butter up the deal, a friend of theirs, from Korean church, owns a franchise of fried chicken stores, and my sister could “probably” manage one while her soon to be Korean husband finished medical school. Who needs a Master’s degree when that opportunity falls into your lap?

Luckily my dad is not his dad, or this man’s mother.

I wonder how many women she told about her son, the supposedly lonely, 40-year-old, computer arts guy, who just so happens to be Chinese. Why did she choose me? Me, someone who, like her son, has different-looking eyes. What do you think she thought we had in common? We could talk about how we are not quite the same ethnicity, but how I might as well be Chinese, since certain types of Americans have never heard of other Asian countries. Or, how his mother makes us feel incredibly uncomfortable.

I took a shot in the dark and guessed that this mystery boy man, was not my soulmate.

I am recently single; does OKCupid work? BECAUSE THERE IS NO SUCH THING!

[Sobs!]

Are Asians Intimidated by Caucasians?

A few months ago I was honored to be asked to contribute some of my paintings to a gallery’s booth for a local art fair. The art fair was small, and quite understandably overlooked, because it coincided with our nation’s largest (monetary) art competition, ART PRIZE! The streets of our medium-sized city were filled with nearby suburbanites scurrying around with official Art Prize venue maps, generally ignoring the smaller venues, and high-tailing it to the bigger, more established ones, that contained the sought-after TOP TEN… Of course, a lot can be said about Art Prize, but Randomencounterswithracism is not the right forum.

As for the local art fair, my paintings and I spent a good deal of the afternoon amongst booths of stationary, booths of jewelry, booths of salsa…. Marie curated our booth, mostly of fine art, and I was keeping her company for the day.  We were stationed next to the salsa lady, a LARGE boisterous woman, who formerly worked in the print advertising business.  As an advertiser focused primarily in the print world, she had lost her job sometime during the recession, and went into making salsa and corn bread full time. Of course, it is difficult to support yourself on salsa and cornbread, so I wasn’t surprised to overhear her offering to be Marie’s personal assistant.

I’m not sure when I found myself walking to the bathroom, but it was as if fate had given a stranger this one window of opportunity, and I found myself in the bathroom with her at the same time…

As I was washing my hands, a woman from the jewelry booth looked at me with a friendly, but purposeful gaze. She had short hair, glasses, a bright red sweater, and looked like she could be anyone’s mother. In fact, she was someone’s mother.

“Can I ask you a personal question?” she stared directly into my eyes so I couldn’t escape. She stepped closer to me and smiled. And then she stepped closer.

“Yes,” I smiled back, because I think, chemically, humans react instinctually to other people’s emotions and expressions. My body was reacting for me, but internally I knew that this question wasn’t going to make me feel comfortable. But I smiled nonetheless.

“Are Asians intimidated by Caucasians?” she smiled again and eagerly waited for my response.

“______,”  [blank stare.] “Uh. Uh, Uhhhhh. Uh.” [shifty eye glances].

In my mind I knew I had to answer, because I didn’t want to prove her question true without getting a chance to speak for my entire race.

In hindsight, why not respond with, “Historically speaking, what race hasn’t been intimidated by White people?” But I knew she wasn’t asking that kind of question. And though it seemed like she had all the time in the world, I’m sure she didn’t anticipate getting a history lesson. (Or a lesson in how not to talk to people.)

I wanted to answer with, “Yes, when you Whites corner us in the bathroom and ask us questions like this, our smaller, quieter race gets intimidated.” But I’m a coward.

“My son is dating an Asian woman, and she never wants to come to our family parties. I don’t understand. We are so nice to her. We always accommodate her and make her feel included [and etc.],” she explained, with Midwestern dignity and justification.

I told her I couldn’t speak for my entire race her son’s girlfriend, but I personally am generally not intimidated by Caucasians that look and act like her… (But I can get annoyed).

She went on to ask, “Do you think it’s normally a cultural thing? I heard that they’re quieter or maybe closer with their own families.”

At this point it was obvious that it had nothing to do with any kind of weird, celestial, Asian cultural shit. This was a classic case of an overzealous mother. People don’t want to be around overzealous parents, ESPECIALLY not their own. It took me five uncomfortable minutes in the bathroom for me to understand that her own son probably didn’t want to be around her. He was using his Asian girlfriend as a scapegoat to avoid spending time with his own mother. So yes, I did feel sorry for her.

Since she was standing in front of my exit, and directly in front of me, I was forced into participating in a conversation for which I had no interest. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that her son doesn’t love her, so I said my adopted Korean stump speech.  A speech I knew all too well in various forms, for various other questions, because when you’re Asian, strangers from other races, and even your own, will come up with all sorts of questions relating to being Asian that you have to answer despite how unknowingly uncomfortable it is to the interviewer.

“I was adopted. I know nothing about Korean culture, other than what my White parents told me. Yes, I was forced to go to Korean Culture Camp (for which I am thankful for now, more on that later). But, that was a place I dreaded going to; and I would have much rather spent that week rollerblading with my White friends. I went to public schools during the 90’s and early 00’s. I can’t speak for how history lessons are taught now, but we sure as Hell didn’t cover Korean history (and seeing as how I was trying to “blend in” for most of my public school education, I’m not sure I would have wanted otherwise)….  I just found out who PSY is, like two months ago…..” (And then I go on and on, until both parties are uncomfortable, and I get a harsh look of judgment from whoever started talking to me, like I’m useless to them. “Oh,” I can read their minds. “She’s practically a White person.”)  [The shame.]

“Well, I guess I just don’t know then. My son told me it was a cultural thing… Hmm, I’m sorry.” She, like every other person that asks me about being Asian seemed disappointed. I wanted to comfort her.  I wanted to apologize for being adopted. I wanted to leave the bathroom…

“Your son doesn’t love you.” “Your son is dating a bitch, who is ungrateful of your love.”

Does SHE speak English?

What do you call a person speaking three languages? Trilingual.
What do you call one speaking two? Bilingual.
What do you call a person speaking one language? American.

I am often times surprised by people being surprised at my ability to speak English. Yes, my eyes look different than yours, but their slight slant in no way prohibits my language comprehension.  I have been living in this country for, on December 11, 26 years. I have been speaking American English since my overzealous (I mean this in the most loving way) Montessori-school-teaching mother could make my vocal chords produce noise.

I am no historian, but people have been speaking English in this country since approximately the 17th century. While we (Americans) have no official national language, it’s pretty safe to say that, in a country where you can run for governor on the platform of being disgusted by the amount of languages (12) your state (Hi Alabama!) provides on driver’s license exams, you better learn FUCKING English. (Hello Tim James!) (I am in no way condoning this mentality; I’m just living in it. [sobs!] )

It would be nice if Americans were as multicultural as the ‘salad bowl’ we dreamed up. And yes, that can be the case on either coast, but as one adopted Korean girl in WEST MICHIGAN, my pot has been melted (nothing I am proud of, but that is life).

Much to my dismay, about a year or two ago, I met one of the biggest proponents of Michigan’s multiculturalism. I word it this way because I have no better explanation for what came out of her mouth.

I was in retail, and chatting working diligently with my friend/co-worker. A woman rushed into our store, looked at the both of us, and then looked at Sarah to ask, “Does SHE speak English?” The both of us froze in disbelief. Before either of us could respond with “Yes” or “No” she proclaimed, with her own sense of affirmation to her question, “You know, because I’m in a hurry. I don’t need a communication barrier.”

Now, at this point thoughts raced through my mind like, ‘This is West Michigan, not New York, there is little to no cultural diversity. NO major corporation would hire a non-English speaker in a customer service job where profits are solely based on precise execution of communication.’ AND BETTER YET, ‘If you were in such a hurry, why did you take the time to ask Sarah if I spoke English? Could you have just, you know, asked Sarah to help you? She, and I think she would agree with me, is as “American-looking” as they come.  (I realize that kind of description can conjure up many negative images…. I mean, she is healthy, beautiful, will probably own a Golden Retriever someday, and most importantly, CAUCASIAN! ) And anyways, all Caucasians in America speak ENGLISH (sarcasm).

I didn’t know what else to do so I just said “Yes.” I helped her, and she thanked me (all in English) and she scurried off to whatever the fuck was so important that she had to make sure there was no communication barrier, but not important enough so that she could first take the time to clarify whether or not we, I mean, I, could speak English.

Later that day I internally harvested a million better scenarios and responses for that question, one being Sarah responding in perfect Mandarin. Of course, to the best of my knowledge, Sarah has never spoken Mandarin, but in my witty daydream SHE DOES. She does SO well that the lady apologizes for her narrow-mindedness on race and language. THEN, a 180 happens and she talks about multiculturalism for at least a half an hour. She explains to us why it is really important for other cultures to maintain their own individual culture while, at the same time, transforming American society into a truly multicultural mosaic. That is why she didn’t want to assume that I spoke English, because she didn’t want to assume that I had ever completely assimilated. I would cry, and confess to her that I had wished I would have paid more attention during Korean Culture Camp. And then SHE forgave ME, and would end up late regardless….