This is the second installment to last week’s post on my experiences as a half-Caucasian, half-Filipino living much of my life in Texas. I’ve always been a fan of lists, and Jason Cushman’s 10 Things Not to Ask an Asian brought back so many memories and topics for discussion. In the last post, I wrote 5 250-word recollections relating to items one to five on the list. I realize I wrote a second piece for item no. 5, but decided to keep it, leaving you with six more memories (After “Johnny Rivers was a Great Man,” the posts correspond with items 6 through 10 on the list). I didn’t anticipate such a positive response to my first post. Thanks so much for your feedback and encouragement!
Johnny Rivers was a Great Man
We sat at the coffee table, graced with the latest from the Audubon Society, a pinewood pipe, and a taxidermied sugar glider. The Bishops were an eccentric bunch. Another weekend, the third apathetic wheel.
Three months ago, I awoke to a text. A girl in lilac, seated on a bench. Not exactly a porcelain doll, but a miniature cobra about to strike.
“My first Asian!”
I roll my eyes, notice the organics of her chestnut hair, and ask, “Is she half?”
“Nope, just a quarter. But damn!”
Mr. Bishop was kind, happy that we were there, and relievedly unabashed in his insistence that I keep my shoes on. Stocky, cheery, the shade of mahogany. But as we sometimes notice the severity of dogeared pages, Anthony couldn’t contain himself at the sight of eyelids not exactly unfolded.
Mr. Bishop walks to the back, says the barbecue will be ready within the next hour.
“I better be on my best behavior. He’s probably got a katana back there.”
Bree and I don’t know each other, but roll our eyes in shared annoyance.
Her mom arrives with chips and salsa. Avocado slices dance in semicircle.
I wait for a joke about the Japanese, and how they don’t fuck with their guacamole. Anthony’s now in the back, singing with his arm ’round Mr. Bishop. A Kirin Ichiban in his callused hand.
“…secret ASIAN MAAAANNNN….”
Bree was three months pregnant. Their baby, mostly Italian, had only a hint of Thai. The rest was Costa Rican.
We’re Not Exactly Related
We were in lab, again. Squeamish and grieving over pale pigskin, I scribbled our notes as throughly as possible.
“We can do that later. We’ve got to label the parts.” Aimee would later recall this episode to remind me that maybe I shouldn’t pick biology and pre-med as we filled out our college applications.
“Pick up the scalpel. It’s dead. It’s not gonna bite you.”
I halfheartedly picked at his bones, poked at the trail of small intestines and gagged at the off-white marble lodged in his left side.
“What in the hell is wrong with you?”
“Look! It’s an eyeball! Oh my God, how?! There’s an eyeball inside! I’m NEVER eating bacon again.”
“Grow the fuck up.” Aimee would later tell me, in four years’ time, that I annoyed the hell out of her.
Ten minutes left. We’d continue the next three days. And while I sighed in relief to learn the eyeball was actually a tumor, I frowned to learn we were getting yet another fetal pig.
Though Aimee and I had few things in common, we’d always be deferred to when others had questions about manga, katakana, the origins of Pokemon. But see, I wasn’t Japanese.
“Maybe it’s the frizzy hair. From afar, we look like sisters.” Aimee shrugged. Neither amused nor annoyed.
I wonder if that’s what our English teacher thought. Somedays, he’d address us with the same name.
“No, I don’t make bento boxes.” I looked at the box he brought to class from Kowloon’s.
Blizzards, or Orange Chicken?
The last time I stepped in a Wal-mart, I was four. And for a span of six years, I’d toddle through the base exchange, enamored by kiosks peddling waterbeds, paintings and sketches that included the meaning of your full name. Still, nothing compares to the PX.
So while Mom hyperventilated at deals aplenty and notepads of coupons welded to shelves, I wandered to the music aisle. Overseas, CDs and movies hit the stands within a month’s delay. My cousin, blue flannel tucked into Wranglers, was eager to serve as a guide. The rainy frontier. Baytown, TX.
“So, my mom wants to take you all out tonight.” My aunt was just as eager. Even at ten, I could sense the rocking of eggshells beneath our feet. Multiple times, my mother would say, “No sushi. Please, no sushi.” She didn’t grow up with raw fish, she said. Eating it made her sick.
“Do you know of any good Asian food?” A general question. My cousin sure liked his Dairy Queen.
“Pancit canton, lumpia, chicken adobo. You’d like some?”
He nodded in famished vigor. But my aunt believed in treats.
“They’re visiting us this week. We’re treating them, so she doesn’t have to cook. You’d like that, wouldn’t you?”
“Are there any Asian grocery stores?” They squabbled this way the next six days. My mom was on the defense, remembering when Grandma asked her if she was borderline retarded.
“This is your week. Let us treat you. What’s a good Chinese buffet?”
“Apologize, to All the White Nurses.”
If anyone has seen that movie Ten Things I Hate About You, you’ll probably remember the black English teacher who jabs at the protagonist’s white female privilege.
Femi-nazis, man haters, and professors glided from podiums to issue some sort of politically correct apology to a student who wasn’t white. Another pop culture reminder. Remember that scene from Saved by the Bell?
Awkwardly, I’d sit, my head bowed down. Today’s lecture: Outsourcing, “Asian” SAT scores, and the overwhelming ratio of Indian to non-Indian physicians. A few days before, she wanted to discuss racial diversity. I erred to divulge my childhood experiences, how the Chinese differ from the Thai, how Filipinos are not Korean.
“I’ll take this as a teaching example, shall I?”
I blinked, perplexed.
“You are just another example of someone who really doesn’t understand what diversity means.”
At this point, I was decided. I’d delve into the adventures of my local Ron Paul chapter.
We’d meet in various places. Doctor’s offices, park pavilions, classrooms at my college. People of all backgrounds, culturally, financially, temporally. We got along, had similar grievances, but bring up immigration and mosaic tiles scatter.
I learned what birthers were. And debates on the veracity of Obama’s certificate got a bit old. Laboriously unproductive.
“We’ve talked about this the past two meetings. And it’s gotten us nowhere!”
“And who are you to talk?” Laura coughs in her nurse scrubs. “Your mother is the reason I’m getting laid off.”
“My mother works at a gas station.”
“Practice Makes Perfect.”
Spanish, Portuguese, French, Arabic. Mandarin.
Spanish and Portuguese, offered in heaps. Four years of courses. A minor, a major.
While the last two languages were “top demand,” and given my intentions to try my hand at applying for the task of Foreign Service Officer, I thought, “I’ll take Arabic.”
My friend at the time, she’d laugh at me. Echo the cringeworthy clang of my sentences, tell me it sounds like “you’re speaking Spanish.” The same was said from a classmate as I attempted to learn Japanese.
But dammit, I would learn Mandarin.
My friends at far-off Ivy Leagues were busy learning characters, and I thought, “I’ll never get bored.”
Either my professor was exceedingly kind, or my “pals” were simply assholes. I did come home convicted in my strength as a nonverbal learner. My sentences were written neatly, I wrote decent emails without flipping through a dictionary every two minutes, and eventually, I wrote a short story. The equivalent of one page, single-spaced. Times New Roman. 12-sized font.
But dammit, I wrote a story!
Nonetheless, she sent me links upon links. Films on Youtube and songs I’d like. Tones. They slash your confidence.
“Always, work on your tones,” she’d wag her finger as I left my desk.
“Nǐ yào shén-me?”
“Wǒ yào yī-ge fàn.”
“Nǐ shì nǎlǐ de rén?”
“Wǒ shì Fēilǜbīnrén.”
“Again.” She smirked at my tongue-tied butchering.
“Wǒ shì měiguórén.”
“That’s not what you said previously.” She tapped her desk.
“Wǒ bú shì zhōngguórén.”
“No, this you aren’t.”
Eating with Our Hands
He spat an orange rind into the trash. These aren’t things you microwave. “Not my smartest decision.”
Alas, a lime lands onto wood. A fish out of water he throws back in.
“I am such a klutz.” He shakes his head, adjusting his hold on over-shaved chopsticks a fifth time in four minutes.
“Dude, I wouldn’t know. I just use my hands.”
He snickers, knowing full well that this is no consolation, but a reiteration to dispel misconceptions repeated and dispersed, with confidence.
Stickiness never bothered me. Grains of rice, pungent oils, fish scales gleaming in summer’s wrath. I’ve promised many, I always wash my hands.
Not that manual deboning is a foolproof practice. I once saw a cousin rushed to the doctor’s, a sliver of dingy white poking through her throat. It didn’t deter her, and dinner that night continued without a single plastic fork.
We did, however, nibble our fill on paper plates.
“I think I’ll just stick with pretending,” he says, hopelessly grasping at wild lo mein.
A month later I laid on the couch of a friend who had the same challenge: getting her friends to eat Spam without fear.
“Tell them it was all your parents could afford when they came to America.”
“Tried, doesn’t work.”
But tonight we ate the usual. Dried fish, rice, some bland soup with bean sprouts. Every chair sheltered in plastic.
She gives me chopsticks. I decline.
“You’re Filipino!” She moans, disapproving.
“And you’re Korean.” I shrug and dig in.