Sunday, August 31, 2008

Twinkies and Racial Incidents

From Wikipedia: The slang "Twinkies" used by Asians describes other Asians with very little difference in lifestyle and/or mannerisms to caucasian or "white" people. The term is further described as being "yellow" on the outside and "white" on the inside, identical to the composition of the Twinkie snack.

I am a Twinkie. I was born in South Korea in November of 1974 and adopted by a Minnesota couple at five months old. I do not speak Korean, I don't have any memories of Korea and if pressed, I'm not sure I could immediately locate Korea on a map on the first try. (My high school geography teacher is rolling his eyes). I was raised in a small farming town in Minnesota, with a population of 5000. Three Asians, 4997 white people. I don't have an accent (unless you count Minnesotan as an accent), I don't hate the Japanese, and I can assure you, I've never fought your people in a war.

Now that we've gotten that out of the way, let's talk about racial incidents. I moved to Arizona six years ago and since then, I've had quite a few of these incidents. My first job here was working at Barnes & Noble. The very first racial incident happened at the check-out counter. A guy came up to buy a book and there was some small talk and then out of nowhere, he says "are you black?" I was thinking fast that day (unusual for me) and said "if I am, is that going to affect whether or not you purchase this book?" He looked at me rather oddly and then said "no" and I took his money and he was on his way. That was the first of many incidents that happened in that bookstore. I overheard myself referred to as "that little Japanese girl", and I had someone ask me if I could tutor them in Japanese. I always told my co-workers about the incidents and they kind of laughed. Then came the day I was standing at the Information Desk with two of them and a girl walks up and starts speaking to me. In Chinese. I looked at her blankly until she said "oh, you don't speak Mandarin?"

The worst incident was when I was working as a teller at the credit union. An older gentleman (I use that word facetiously) walked up to my station and said "Hi, Kim." I kind of looked at him and pointed to my name tag and said "my name isn't Kim." He said "I call all you people Kim." I looked at him with one eyebrow arched (I'm not good at it, but I try hard) and said " 'you people'?" He replied "don't look at me like that. I fought you damn people in the war." At this point, my boss overheard a bit of what was going on and made the very timely suggestion that I walk away for a few minutes.

The ironic part, of course, is that when I was placed at the orphanage in Korea, I didn't have a name because I had been abandoned, so they gave me a name that involves "Kim". Tim laughed a LOT when he saw my birth certificate after hearing that story.

A few weeks ago when I was having the sister of a friend cut my hair, her 5 year old son and I were talking about the Olympics. He asked if I was from China and his poor mother was mortified. He's a child and I laughed it off. Most of the time, I am able to laugh off racial comments, but they are tiresome. I have never in my life asked a white person, a complete stranger, if they're German or Norwegian or Irish. I am not ashamed of being a Korean, but I also don't think it's appropriate to walk up to someone you don't know and ask them what race they are.
Am I being too sensitive?


kat said...

I think with children its general curiosity about someone who looks different but adults! you'd think in this day & age people would be a little more multicultural, geesh.
By the way, I consider Minnnesotan and accent, as do all my friends who make fun of mine ;)

Carrie said...

I can't believe how RUDE that guy was at the credit union! That's awful! I'd be pretty ticked too, if I were you.

I do agree - most kids are pretty innocent and they naturally just notice differences in people. It's just then up to the adults to teach them differences are okay.

lol...yes, Minnesotans have a slight accent. Unlike those of us in the Pacific Northwest...hehehe

Geggie said...

So rude!

That being said, I love learning about different cultures and people who are different from me...whether it's where you live, your heritage, religion, etc., but I hope that my questions are a little more tactful and that the spirit of intent is clear, which is to learn and understand about people. I'm a social anthorpoligist, what can I say!