I moved to South Florida after finishing college in New Orleans. In New Orleans, you couldn’t walk a couple of feet and not bump into another Asian. Not the case down here. Every once in awhile I would spy another Asian and then a slightly awkward exchange occurs. First there’s that moment of disbelief. Did I just see another Asian? Or was it a mirage, like when you’re driving and you swear the road looks wet.
Millions of Asians worldwide and I just happen to look like every one of them. People see my eyes, my hair, my skin color and instantly I’m the Asian they’ve seen on TV, the Asian they work with or the Asian they went to school with. I never knew I had the universal Asian face. This must be the reason why I’m the subject of so many cases of mistaken eye-dentity.
Other, the catchall category that combines together every ethnicity other than black and white. It’s the closet you hide all your junk in when you want to do a fast clean up. I hated the word other. It always connoted something that wasn’t a first choice: the other women, the other friend, the other child. I didn’t want to be other.
I remember a poignant scene from the movie What’s Love Got to Do With It? where Tina Turner is divorcing Ike Turner and she’s willing to give up everything as long as she gets to keep her name. œAll I want is my name, she said proudly. Her name meant more to her than all her riches or her royalties. I sat there watching this scene thinking would I do that? Would I give up everything for my name?
On occasion, the accompanied letter would sometimes describe grief stricken family members trying to crawl in the casket of the deceased. Whenever we got those letters, it would always spark a debate among the children as who in the family would be the casket crawler. Somehow I was always chosen being that I have a flair for the dramatics.
When he’s not scent marking, he’s busy retrieving miscellaneous items back to me. It’s usually mundane stuff like branches, plastic bags, paper cups, etc. Sometimes, he brings back items that are a little more unconventional such as condoms or dead iguanas. But those items are few and far in between. So much so that I rarely think about what he brings back to me. That is until the other day.
Asian mothers have the ability to change kernels of guilt into full-blown stalks of blame and penitence. When Asian mothers are in this mode, it’s best to lay supine on the floor and act dead. Hold your breath for as long as you can and stay still because if she detects you survived the initial blow of guilt, she will go after the jugular.
Powerless to stop it, my mother and the rest of the family stood on the perimeter clutching each other for comfort. She watched in anger and disbelief at his defilement. He didn’t cry out or lash back. He knelt in complete silence accepting the fate delivered to him.
I find it ironic that probably the most translated words in any language are cuss words. I don’t know how many times I have been asked at small get-togethers or informal dinners how to say, how shall I put it, less than dignified words. It got to point that I just started to expect it:
Excuse me, can you pass the salt and, by the way, how do you say asshole in Vietnamese?
He’s going to die. They are going to kill him. He lamented. He began trembling again. Fear is a cold no blanket or fire can ever warm. He surrendered to his bedroom and requested solace. My mother emerged from his room to the hungry stares of the crowd. Taking on the role of an understudy, she tried to address the crowd but not having fully digested the news herself, she found herself stammering underneath the spotlight.