Saturday, July 31, 2010

sorry to disappoint you, but...

Mulan, as portrayed by Disney. I can safely 
say I've never donned this look...
"Excuse me, are you Vietnamese?"

I looked up from my sketches. The man had taken a seat at the empty table next to mine. By now, I've gotten used to the random conversations that arise at Peet's, but rarely do I ever enjoy them - especially since the last conversation contained statements of overt racism.

I shook my head and hoped that would be the end of the conversation. The man was young, in his late 20s most likely, and sporting a casual appearance. "Chinese?" he asked. Clearly, I wasn't getting rid of him anytime soon. I nodded and he started speaking Mandarin at me.

Since moving to southern California, I've been surrounded by Mandarin speakers. My Cantonese has never been the best, but at least I can understand the words. Mandarin is completely foreign to me. I quickly interrupted the man and informed him I didn't understand Mandarin. That'll end it, I thought to myself, hoping the rejection would be enough to embarrass and quiet him. But he kept talking, telling me about how Bruce Lee was his hero growing up and the reason he began taking martial arts lessons. When it came to learning Chinese, he taught himself Mandarin, even though Bruce Lee spoke Cantonese. "More people speak Mandarin," he said and it almost felt like he was trying to embarrass me now. Here was this Caucasian man, speaking better Mandarin than I probably ever would in my life; but I only shrugged. He then asked me if I did any martial arts. I said no. "But you've seen all the Bruce Lee movies, right?"

Bruce Lee, kicking ass

Once again, the stereotypes persist. All Asians know kung fu. All Asians drink tea from dainty ceremonial tea cups. All Asians wear cherry blossoms in their hair and sit on the floor because they have no "real" furniture. Etc, etc.

I never took karate and I don't think I've seen an entire Bruce Lee movie all the way through. And when I sit on the floor to eat, it's mainly due to the fact that I'm a college student in an apartment. I like the floor.

I remember the kids at Mustard Seed asking similar questions. Their experiences with Asians were limited to what they saw in Mulan and Japanese anime. I couldn't blame them. Being young and homeless didn't allow you much exposure. But this random man in Peet's who chose to engage me in conversation would hopefully have known better than to assume I was his idea of the "perfect" Chinese girl - a walking stereotype whom he could converse in Mandarin with all day long.

Or maybe this was another one of those instances where I'm really oblivious to his true intentions. You all know how I am.

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