Sunday, May 6, 2007

Just Minding My Own Business

That's what I was doing - just minding my own business one day. I was dropping off some old clothes to the local Goodwill glad to finally get some clutter out of the house and happy to be able to cross another thing off my to do list. I was in my car pulling out of the parking lot when a middle-aged Caucasian woman motions to me that she wants me to stop to say something to me. Curious, I stopped and rolled down my window. She then says rather abruptly, "Yeah, hi, are you the one that's here to open up LA Nails?" Barely a hello, no recognition that she was interrupting me, and no explanation of why she asked what she did.

I was confused and thrown off guard for a moment, my brain was unable to process what it was that she was asking me. I had thought she was about to ask for directions or something and it took me a moment to register what was happening. It dawned on me that she thought that I was there to open up the nail salon.

She thought I was the manicurist.

I imagined how it probably happened - She had come, was disappointed that the shop was not open as it should have been, was about to leave, saw me and thought that she would be able to get her $10 manicure after all. I didn't understand why she would have thought that until I realized that it was because I was Asian American. I told her no and drove away sad that her main concept of an Asian American woman seemed to be limited to someone that does her nails.

It bothered me not because there's shame in working in a nail shop. But rather it bothered me because I felt like I wasn't really there. I am a whole person - with likes and dislikes, connections and relationships to other people, a history and a story. But all she saw was someone that looks like the person who does her nails. I guess that's the sting of a stereotype - it reduces you to such a small silver of who you really are. Like all Asians are good at math. Maybe you are, maybe you aren't. But even so, there's so much more to you than that. When others don't see that or interact with you that way, it just serves as a reminder of how much distance there is left to go.


Reyes-Chow said...

Damn, that sucks. Not much more of an eloquent response can be offered. Sad that these kinds of things are still not too much of a surprise.

Scot McKnight said...


We almost walked down your way tonight and we would have stopped by to say hello.

Eugene said...

Geez. I love it when stuff like that happens.

Tracey Gee said...

It was interesting because I was angry at first. But later on I mostly just felt sad that we live in a world where there is so much distance between people that all we can see are stereotypes and caricatures of others. It seems so hard to really know people and have depth in relationships across all kinds of different barriers including ethnic ones.