The Colour of My Skin
Are you from here?
In the west coast of Canada where I've lived for the last eight years, I have the fortune and misfortune of being just another Asian nobody. It's a weird minority to belong to since the stereotypes aren't the worst, at least relatively speaking and especially not where I live. When I feel discriminated against or disadvantaged unjustly, I am hesitant to blame the colour of my skin because it could as well be my gender. If it's due to my organs, I have at least half the population on my side. If I have an inkling that it is for my ethnicity, I sometimes still chalk it up as a loss for being a woman. It's an easier defeat to accept and a twisted blessing in disguise. I am not required to question my sense of belonging for the colour of my skin, not as frequently at least, the way many do in North America.
Nah, I'm from Chicago.
My response lacks enthusiasm and a smile. My response is rehearsed. Looking directly into the eyes of the questioner, I do a quick head-nod at the 'chi' in Chicago in a small effort to appear tough, and I halt. I wait to assess their 'oh'.
There are different intonations of 'oh's. Ones that lift up intertwined in an explanation mark, signalling an eagerness to know more or to share their anecdote on deep-dish pizza. Another that lifts up in a question, as to request a moment to recalculate a deep-seated equation in their minds: Greater Vancouver + Asian = Girl from Richmond... oh wait, no, Girl from Chicago. Neither of these bother me all that much. I draw conclusions of my own, too; I think it's only fair that I do. Whatever they gather based on a city, I learn a lot from their reflex response. The worst are the short 'oh's -- the, 'oh, but where are you really from' oh's. I hope this one doesn't require an explanation.
I am not from Chicago nor a small town in Illinois -- I spent only half my childhood in those cities. I am certainly not from Kobe or Hiroshima -- I was born in the city of Okayama, but I just list these because they're easier or more familiar for North Americans to pronounce. I tell a lie to every stranger I meet for the convenience of others and mine, to spare myself the occasional worst in humanity.
I am labeled by the colour of my skin. Then, I am defined by the city I claim and my accent lack thereof. Maybe I am throwing away my responsibility to accept it all - the stories of mine, the reaction of others, whether in love or in vain. After every atomic bomb joke, kamikaze drink, and the perceived clunkiness of my name and the names of others with coloured skin, it felt more convenient to accommodate. But that convenience is a facade. And maybe, just maybe, that's starting to crumble around North America. We have always been diverse, at least since the lands were stolen from those to whom they belong. We have always had these issues; we just now have control over the narrative. We have always had a responsibility to hold those in power accountable; and this is the time for solidarity.
We are not an inconvenience.