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!”

“Chinese?”

“Yes!”

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.

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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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