On Being Asian in a Military Town
Growing up in Southern California, there was a plethora of people of all ethnicities. My family lived in an area abundant with Chinese supermarkets, boba tea shops, and Korean BBQ buffets. I did not know a world without these wondrous things until I moved to Georgia last April.
|Funny because it's true (source)|
In Georgia, I was a strange being. I felt like an exotic creature in a strange place, and I received stares wherever I went. It didn't help that I would walk in to places with my half Hispanic husband, either. When I saw another Asian person, I would smile and be reminded of home because it was such a rare occurrence. More often than not, I am the ONLY Asian person in the room.
To emphasize how rare this was back home, let's rewind to the day before our wedding in 2009. We had a couple of out-of-state groomsmen with us and we wanted to show them the marvelous fast food joint that we Californians like to call In-N-Out. My husband's best man is over six feet tall and as he turned around from the line, he towered over all the rest of the customers. At that moment in the afternoon, and I'm not exaggerating, every single customer except for my husband and his friends were Asian.
"Are we in Hong Kong or something?", he joked.
I remember being in the beautiful National Infantry Museum and an older woman in a thick southern drawl said, "Oh, you look so peerrty!" before she patted my behind. This may not have anything to do with my thick black hair or squinty eyes, but I think I stood out for looking different from the other passersby.
Years ago when I walked into the New York Public Library on my own, the security guard asked coyly, "Where are you from? Japan?" I answered abruptly, "No, I'm from California." And then I peaced out.
And again one time at JFK airport, some man said to me with a wide smile and obviously pleased with himself, "an nyoung ha se yo," which is the Korean phrase for "hello." This did not impress me. It did not make me happy. Instead, it made me furious. Please say hello to me in English. Just because I look foreign, doesn't mean that I don't understand America's primary language!
Things have not been any different in Texas since settling in here at Fort Hood. I only know one wife here who is Asian. We met at an officer's wives coffee months ago. As soon as I walked into the house where the coffee was hosted, she locked eyes with me and darted in my direction. She asked me if I was Korean, and I saw her heart drop when I broke the news that I am Chinese. She did not know much English, and I did not see many other wives try to break the language barrier with her so I kept her company for as much as I could.
And all I could think of was what the other wives must be thinking. "Oh, of course the only Asian wives would get together."
There is a Korean market near post and The Hubby gets his haircuts there for a dollar cheaper. I would tag along every now and then and without fail, I would be greeted with "an nyoung ha se yo." And again I would disappoint them when they discovered that I knew no Korean.
Being Chinese is always the last guess people can think of when they try to determine "what" I am. The number one assumption is Korean, and then Japanese, and lastly Chinese. This has to do with which countries have an American military post. It's as if they never think that my American soldier could have fallen in love with an Asian woman in the States.
I often wonder if The Hubby's colleagues are surprised by my perfect English when I first meet them. I know for a fact that his West Point friends teased TH for his Chinese girlfriend with the very non-American name of Min. It's a sad thing, really.
I've always found the Chinese language to be high-pitched, whiny, and unnecessarily loud, which is why I never thought that I would miss it. But if I hear you speak Mandarin in a store, I will no doubt follow you around just to take in a little piece of home. I stare at Asian families on the rare instances that I see them in the the mall, and I'm sure I've scared a few tweens.
All of these words to simply come to the point of this: Californians, be thankful for the diversity in your neighborhood because you will not encounter it anywhere else. Enjoy not getting stares from strangers or being told that "all ya'll look the same." Embrace the fact that you can get sushi, burritos, and burgers all in the same shopping center. It's a wonderful thing.
Also, please send me haw flakes, dim sum, pad thai, pineapple fried rice, and pho. K.Thx.