Monday, December 21, 2009

here nor there

I got to talking to a coworker the other day, a teacher that I don't often see because he works at different locations and on different days. We were rapping about the usual jabber, and it came up that I am a part-timer, and not going to school. The question of my visa was raised, at which point I mentioned that I'm half-Japanese, which removes some of the visa hoops that other folks have to jump through.

"No way!" said my co-worker. "You don't look it at all! You're NOT Japanese."
Yeah, well. I am.
"But you have such big eyes!"
"And your English is so good! Your intonation is so natural."
DUDE, I am a native English speaker.

On the flight over to PDX, I did the unsteady tiptoe to the back of the plane to go to the toilet. The galley was stuffed with half a dozen guys shooting the shit, (alchoholic) beverages in hand. Waiting for the w.c. to become free, I stood next to a middle-aged geezer (MAG for short) of the type that you might find in Venice, CA, or Eugene, OR: shoulder length grey hair, overbaked skin, cargo shorts, bullshit life philosophy studded with gems like "It is what it is".
Trying to inhabit as little space as possible (a skill that I've perfected living in Japan), I squeezed myself into a corner, eyes fixed on the red-lit "occupied" sign. MAG, seeing me there, began performing a series of tipsy antics that he dubbed "stretching". At first, I tried to be a good sport, joining in for a simple spine stretch that I needed anyway after six hours stuffed into an overbooked flight next to an arm-rest hogging seatmate. MAG contorted himself into a jerky, rabid downward dog, arms and legs akimbo, face red and shirt flapping. He righted himself, sloshing coffee, and went in to woo me.
"Are you Israeli?"
Nope, I'm not.
"You're not American."
Yes, actually, I am.
"No way. You're not American. What could you be?"
DUDE, I was born in San Antonio. (I seem to have a propensity for using DUDE with these geniuses, these men among men.)
"But you don't look American. And Mexican doesn't quite fit either."
Yeah, okay.

I didn't have the patience to argue with him. What do you say to people who insist on telling you, in their infinite wisdom, what you are not? I am what I am. And it is what it is.


  1. LOL. My fav is when Jppl insist that I must be African!!! Why??? Do I look African!!! UGH!!!

  2. yes, I had to deal with this just this week (with a chinese woman, a doctor) where I was visiting to give a talk. It was tiresome, as usual.

    The answer I am planning to use from now on:

    "I am the future!"

  3. i love this post, selena

    i am always being told i am american or canadian and, in winter with all the hats , russian. i ain`t russian!! i have no idea why i take such offense. none of these nationalities are atrocious. i just hate it. and i especially hate it when RUSSIAN people think i am russian. it freaks me out when they rattle off to me in russian when i am out and about, i get flustered and yell back in japanese

    ah selena. but your english is so good! :p

  4. the type that you might find in Venice, CA, or Eugene, OR: shoulder length grey hair, overbaked skin, cargo shorts, bullshit life philosophy studded with gems like "It is what it is".


    amazing post.

    my best friend is american and kind of exotic looking and she tells me about random people constantly demanding to know WHAT she is. it sounds so gross. it never occurred to me that so many people would have a mind to poke and prod someone about her ethnicity, and why they're so intense about it.

    fab post!

  5. Everyone thinks I&m Russian, foreigners in Japan and Japanese alike. No-one thinks I&m Russian outside of Japan though.

  6. love it.
    i have a lot of asian american students here,(so american-never been to asia) this one last week wanted to play the race game. so by popular vote i am 'you look so white!',
    thanks. and ' you are so educated'.
    - runner up is always hispanic.

    after the lesson is over i almost always get.."some -kind of asian, half? korean? was my next guess. '

    glad we are guessing becuase i am pretty sure you told me i was white.

    but i do like to stay out of the sun.

    scoot :)

  7. Wow, thanks for the love, gang.

    Kelsey, don't even get me started on some J-folks telling me what I am or am not. I could rant and rant. I was a little surprised to get it from two Americans in the span of two days, one guy living and working in Japan and one on a flight from Japan to Portland. You'd think these conversations were taking place in, like, Bumfuck Oklahoma.

    Andy, that is brilliant. Love it. May steal it.

    Sarah, but you DO look so Russian... on the same note, it's pretty annoying when people automatically speak English to me when seeing my face. It doesn't bug me THAT much, but I'm sure it would make me so ticked if I was not an English speaker. Say, French or Macedonian or something.

    Thanks Beth! This is definitely not the first time something like this has happened; I often feel like the great pan-ethnic: can pass for almost anything! I don't mind curiosity so much, though it can get tiresome. But the burning NEED to EXCLUDE me sets me off.

    Jen B., are you sure you and Sarah aren't sisters?

    Scoot, just think of what Tetsuya Alejandro is going to face! He's so cool :) But like Andy said, we are the future, and he is the future's future. I think and hope that it will be more sorted by the time he's old enough to have to deal with it. xo.

  8. That must be so annoying. It's surprising that even people on an airplane (aka presumably well-traveled) would say that to you.
    Julie (

  9. Hi Julie,

    I was a little surprised too. I thought someone on an international flight between Japan and the West Coast would be a little less clueless. I later heard him spouting dumb euphemisms to some backpacker in the immigration line, and giving him some wink wink nudge nudge about his adventures in SE Asia. Classy.

    Happy new year!