Thursday, September 26, 2013

The Race Card Project

I recently took part in The Race Card Project.

It was a project to be a conversation starter on the topic of Race. People are being asked to think about their experiences, questions, hopes, dreams, laments or observations about race and identity. Then, they take those thoughts and distill them to just one sentence that has only six words.

People can expand upon their sentence with more background if they like, but it's interesting to see just in six words what people have to say.

I submitted one titled "Don't ask me "What are you?"

Alternative title could also be "I hate the Asian Guessing Game."

I really don't mind people being curious about my ethnicity. What I do mind is how people go about finding out my ethnicity. "Are you Chinese? Japanese? Korean?...[list goes on]" Believe me, they'll keep going until I stop them.
And they will get some sense of relief because now they know. I am Vietnamese and no you can't "tell" that I am Vietnamese by looking at me; I can't tell who else is Vietnamese just by looking at them. At any rate, if I don't stop one soon enough with "No, I'm Vietnamese," I have been asked "What are you?" 

What a loaded question! Reasonable answers are:

- a Human
- a Woman
- a Sister
- a Daughter
- a UT Alum with an Advertising Degree
- a Gamer
- a Fully Employed Project Manager
- a Spirited Austinite with a Penchant for Making Cards, Cooking with Friends, and Loving Her Life and the Important People In It

What Am I? Sick and tired of answering that question in particular, that’s what. 

I know that this is rant-y -- I just worry that some people don't want to know me, but know "my people" just using me as a basis. I was born in Brenham, Texas (where they make Blue Bell ice cream), yes I am Vietnamese, but I certainly can't be your only representative sample.

As I mentioned, I actually don't mind when someone is curious about myself or my culture. As someone who is always fascinated with learning about other cultures, I think that is always empowering to introduce yourself to more and more perspectives in life. In turn, I know that I also need to work harder when I encounter people whose approach to learning about culture is different than what I'd prefer.

I try to be very patient, but sometimes when someone catches me on the wrong day... I just can't. I was at Radioshack a few months back and the guy behind the counter kept trying to start awkward conversations and bless his heart I'm sure he is an alright person, but shopping for me at a place like Radioshack is very transactional. I only want the one weird battery that I can't get at the normal store; that's it. I'm pleasant enough though. Anyways, he rings me up at the counter and as I am swiping my credit card he just nonchalantly says "Ohayo~."


Go away
Ohayo is a Japanese greeting. And he didn't even say it to me, he looked everywhere but at me when he said it. I guess he's feeling me out to see if I respond... it means he can determine if I am or know Japanese, without actually engaging me by asking a question. Honestly, if he looked at my credit card at my "Smith of the Vietnamese Last Names" (Nguyen) and greeted me in Vietnamese -- even that would be totally cool. You used your power of deduction and I can appreciate that. But that's not what happened.

I don't employ it often, but I actually have good deadpan delivery for comedic situations such as these. I look him in the eye and I ask, "Do you mean like the state?" Then he goes on to babble about how it was Japanese and he only said it because he saw something that reminded him of it. (Perhaps the one Asian person in the store) The whole exchange felt like a scene in a Wes Anderson film, or at least that's how I like to imagine it. Well at least he didn't try and sell me a new cellphone plan like they usually do the one time a year I go. That was an "opportunity" for me, I suppose... but I am just going to chalk it up to he wasn't being malicious, just a little awkward this time.