Real Asians

This past weekend I was in California visiting my sick grandfather.  As I walked up the front desk at the skilled nursing facility he’s staying at, the Asian woman behind the counter said to me, “You’re Asian.”

“What was that?” I said.

She smiled.  “You’re Asian.  What kind?”

I didn’t take offense.  Living on the East Coast for the past twenty years where people constantly ask, “What are you?” with a sort of mild disgust, it was kind of nice to have someone ask to identify me in a positive way.

“Indonesian.  My mom was born in Jakarta.”

“I see it in your eyes.  I can tell.  How about me?  Guess what I am.”

“Um…I don’t know.  I live on the East Coast now and I’ve lost my powers of guessing Asian heritage.”

My six-foot-four white dad was nearby, and she pounced on him.  “You guess!”

He took on the challenge far more willingly: “Vietnamese?”

“No!  Guess again!”



I’m not sure what charmed me most about this experience.  Maybe it was the way that I felt identified by my race in a positive way, rather than the quizzical suppositions that I’ve become accustomed to in my adult life.  Maybe it was the way my father so easily jumped into the conversation without a hint of discomfort.  Maybe it was the brief respite from the long hours spent with my deteriorating grandfather.  Or maybe it was simply my childhood nostalgia for California, somewhere I identify as the land of abundant Asian immigrants.

Whatever the reason, I appreciate that Chinese nurse and her willingness to ask about racial identity rather than hiding behind the facade that we are all the same.


One thought on “Real Asians

  1. What a nice exchange. To be honest. I like to hear about peoples backgrounds but with everyone getting offended so easily, I just keep quiet. At a doctors appointment my mother asked an nurse if he was dr Jong. He laughed and said that he was Vietnamese and dr Jong was a different kind of Asian. lol

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