Not-too-serious post about race, pt 3
My dear friend Phuong of Mibellarosa is Vietnamese, and I asked her for some anecdotes of race faux pas she’d experienced for our (apparently) ongoing discussion of race and misunderstandings. She is a treasure trove:
I guess you’ve hit the jackpot with me but I’ll only give you a few stories since I may write a memoir one day and try to sell it as a sitcom to white people who are curious with how it is to be Asian…and by Asian I mean Chinese.
1. “Konnichiwa! Anyoung! Ni hao?”
My favorite experience is getting accosted by street vendors or vendors in general in very touristy areas. The experience I speak of is walking around and getting greeted/yelled at by vendors in Japanese–always Japanese first, which I guess is a compliment because A) they think we are light-skinned Asians, which consequently means B) they think we have money. When we don’t respond in Japanese because we are not Japanese, they resort to Chinese, then Korean, then they get curious and asks where we are from. America is never the answer they care to hear. When I’m in a good mood, I tell them to keep guessing. They never guess Vietnamese. My favorite is when they playfully respond with “I love you” in other Asian languages. Please note this has happened in Cozumel, Cancun, Santorini, Rome, Florence, Los Cabos, Playa del Carmen, Athens, Montreal…basically anywhere not near Asia and Hawaii. It makes me think Vietnamese people must be too poor to travel since they haven’t learned how to say “hello” in our language yet. One time I told a vendor I’m Vietnamese and he said “No way. Where are you from really.” I guess I should be flattered that I look like I have money?
2. “Are you Filipino? No? You look like you’re Filipino.”
Are you stupid? No? You look like you’re stupid. The correct thing to do is ask someone what their ethnicity is before you tell them your assumption. It’s never okay to assume someone is of a certain ethnicity and it’ also never okay to be in denial by what ethnicity the person really is.
3. “Nguyen? You must be Vietnamese. I had/met a girl in ‘Nam during the war. You look JUST LIKE HER,” smiles random old white men.
I used to work in the geriatric field, so I had comments like these almost every facility I visited and I would visit at least 3-4 venues per day, 5 days a week. It got old fast. If that didn’t creep you out just from reading, imagine them holding my hand or trying to get a feel of my hair to remember their days in ‘Nam. I would get anonymous fan mail sent to my office with phrases like ” your porcelain skin” and “Oriental eyes.” I know they’re from creepy old men because who else still tries to hit on Asian girls with that stuff? This doesn’t just happen at these facilities by the way. I have been hit up at grocery stores before.
4. “We visited Korea once. We love your people.”
A sweet old lady once took my hand at a carnival we participated in at an assisted living facility. She and her husband walked up to my company’s booth and she was so genuinely happy to see me and then proceeded to tell me about their trip to Korea (South, I assume) and how pleasant it was. She was really sweet, so I just let her talk until they moved on.
5. “Wait, that’s your sister?”
When someone asks me, “Oh, you’re Vietnamese and you went to UT/you live in Houston? Do you know (fill in the blank here). I also go, “Of course! That’s my sister/brother/cousin/mom/evil aunt/etc.” The reaction always is, “OMG. Really?! Small world!”
6. “Why do Chinese people always do this?” I don’t know.
Go ask someone Chinese.
7. Non-Asians aren’t the only people who commit these type of faux pas by the way. I’ve been to grocery markets where Asian women and men will just start speaking to me in their native tongue and then walk away when they see the blank look on my face. One trip to Paris, I was shopping and a Chinese woman ran over and tugged on my arm going off in Mandarin. I had no idea what she was saying, of course, but she was very adamant about whatever it was. After two times of telling her I don’t speak Chinese, she looked flustered and left. Apparently, there was a sale at Louis Vuitton, but they had a two-item-limit per customer, so the woman was looking for people to buy bags in her place so she can walk away with more bags.