Intrepid Girl Reporter

Thursday, 11/12: it takes a nation of millions to hold us back
November 13, 2009, 1:10 am
Filed under: 공부방 (after-school program), identity

I’m going to preface this with several caveats: Most aspects of my job are terrific. My hours are borderline unbelievable, I get daily hugs and affirmations from the cutest children I currently know, and I get to both play games and problem solve. Compared to other stuff that I have done, this is a cakewalk.

That having been said, I do not think it is unreasonable for me to become frustrated when some of the other teachers and staff confuse me with one of the other teachers who works for my 공부방. This teacher is white. So am I, apparently, which means that it is okay to mix us up.

Except that:

a) I am not white. I am Asian (Vietnamese) and white, aka hapa, aka mixed-race or multiracial. It is not the same thing. I repeat: IT IS NOT THE SAME THING.  I have a unique cultural identity that comes with its own benefits and struggles, and choosing to ignore that is, quite frankly, a bit insulting. My upbringing was neither fully white nor fully Viet. I identify as both white and Asian, not exclusively either, because I’m not exclusively either – the mix is part of the identity. That’s why it gets its own separate classification.

b) I don’t look white. For those readers who may never have met me in real life, I have been told that my ethnicity is generally difficult to pin down, but as I have been told by countless well-meaning adults, “You can tell that you’re something.” Which is cool, because I guess if I was white, I would be nothing? I have black hair, dark eyes, a very Vietnamese nose, and skin that is somewhere between yellow and tan. In the past I and members of my family have been mistaken for Mexican, Chinese, and God knows what else, if that helps.

c) I don’t look anything like this other teacher. She is very nice, and very pretty, but she has at least six inches and 25 pounds on me (which is not an insult – I look like a twelve-year-old). Her skin is white; mine is not. Her hair is a medium brown. We don’t resemble each other in ANY WAY, SHAPE, OR FORM except that we both work with children and we are both under thirty.

I’m in a class at Sacred Heart and we talk a lot about compassion, which is obviously something that I – like most people – could use a bit of work on. Of course I have no idea what sort of backgrounds everyone involved comes from, and I should work to learn more about why they insist on considering me interchangeable. But I do feel aggravated – I can’t help it – because I know everybody’s name, and in order to tell them apart I look at things like height and hairstyle and eye color, not just race. Because that is how you tell people, both of the same race and of different races, apart. And to not even be willing to do that – well, it just makes a job that is already pretty stressful even harder.



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