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.



Sunday, 11/8: what’s so great about Charlie?
November 9, 2009, 8:32 pm
Filed under: identity, life progress, politics

Despite having gotten Not Much Sleep the night before, I was kept fully alert this morning at the airport by the terror alert level (orange) and the news that one Republican had crossed over to vote yes on the health care debate. I was a bit surprised, until I heard that it was my beloved Anh Cao. Say what you like about the abortion compromise (which is a topic for another post another time, or perhaps it isn’t); I was mostly happy to see him not acting like a partisan asshole. He’s not going to make many friends by doing this, which I think is pretty admirable. Also: do they even let people fly on red? And, given my own lack of knowledge on this subject, do people even pay attention to this sort of thing anymore?

I’m here in Boston for a grad school interview, and I took the time to see Auntie Phu, who is a family friend, and Ba Muoi, who is my ninety-five-year-old great-great-aunt. Aunt Phu promptly whisked me off to a birthday party for her niece, which featured awesome Viet food and a durian-flavored birthday cake that tasted like a combination of fish, onions, and whipped cream. It reminded me of the episode of Friends where Rachel accidentally makes a trifle-shepherd’s pie hybrid. I wonder if people my age are the last group to use Friends as a reference point. There were just so many episodes that it’s easy to find what you’re looking for, I suppose.

I bought a copy of both The Atlantic and Details at the airport, as is somewhat customary, and saw that the metro system in Boston has better names for its stops (though there’s certainly no Tooting Broadway.) but otherwise appears to be dirtier and more expensive than the DC metro, which makes me question Rooms and K’s March assertions re: my fair city’s transport system. Care to explain?

Monday, 3/31: on not fitting
March 31, 2008, 9:18 am
Filed under: identity, IGR Recommends, media

The music in Holly’s today is unusually bad. However, one of the girls watched my backpack while I went to the post office.

I meant to share these earlier:

Who Are We? New Dialogue on Mixed Race (NYTimes)

Mixed Messenger (NYTimes) 

I don’t think these articles say anything particularly new about race. And it would be disingenuous for me to say that I’ve ever truly suffered due to my ethnic background. I feel, quite honestly, that it’s been something from which I’ve benefited, almost like an advantage others might not have.

But yes, there are identity issues. Everyone has them; I, and others like me, might have a few more than the average bear. What I do like about these pieces is that they call attention to the fact that our notions of race are changing. I don’t fit into most categories, and neither will my children, and neither will theirs. Our spectrum, our heritage will continue to grow. The question is whether or not America, outside these elite circles where such a thing is a mark of distinction, can keep the same pace.