where-i-liveI am walking down the street when I hear:


Ni hau



Should I be offended? I know if a Caucasian person was walking down the street and a local Hawaiian yelled, “Eh haole” that would not be a good thing. Or maybe it’s more like when Brendan Fraser’s character from Blast from the Past says, “Oh my lucky stars! A negro!” Not exactly kosher, but based on the marshmallow world of naïve sweetness.

Of course as I have already mentioned in siam i am, I’ve been called Pocahontas and Mulan. So, at least being called Chinese is the truth. (Although now that I think about it being misidentified as a cartoon character, let alone two legendary women, is not necessarily a bad thing. Suck it up Lani, suck it up.)

But in college when white guys would say konichiwa to me, I would sullenly reply back, “I’m not Japanese.” Should I have replied konichiwa back? Or how about a big, head held up high, “Konichiwa mutherfucker!”

When I’m walking the streets of Cuenca, why don’t I say something? Should I fight back? Or is it really better to ignore these remarks, as I do now. Is this my personal Groundhog Day? Is this my opportunity to think of something clever to say? To change history from repeating itself?

I swear Asians are subjected to more racism and stereotyping than any other ethnicity. But you wouldn’t know it because we never say anything about it. Until now. Now, my generation is starting to say something. Oh sure a little has trickled out (people no longer say Oriental), but not really.

Because we’ve been told not to complain. And we’ve been told we are the superior race. I mean that’s the program I graduated from – old school, and I know I’m not the only one. My mother told me that Asians are the smartest. And while I never wholeheartedly believed her, I now see the strength behind the bow, the wai and the humble head.

The ironic thing is, and life is laced with irony, is that indigenous people of the Americas are most likely descendants of the Bering Strait crossing, that is to say, Chinese. I’m struck by how some Latinos look Asian too. In fact there is a student at the school where I teach whose nickname is Chino.

But the irony doesn’t stop there. When the teenage boys say these things to me, I feel vulnerable and untouchable all at the same time.

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