When John and I first arrived in Shanghai, I called up this guy whose client (an area school) was looking for English teachers. Based on my resume, he had decided I was worth an interview. When I called to schedule it, I asked for him in Chinese. Big mistake. He immediately asked if I was ethnically Chinese, because if yes, his client wasn’t interested. They wanted a “Caucasian face.” I argued that I was American-born, that my first time to China was September 2003. He asked if I was mixed. Almost instinctively, I seized that as my crowbar to pry open the door. I am “purebred” Chinese-American, but, I explained, people often ask if I’m mixed. In the past, people have asked if I was part-native American Indian or part-Latina even. The guy agreed to an interview. After I got off the phone, John shook his head and burst out in laughter, “Native-American Indian? Are you kidding?” What? It’s true, damnit. When I was younger, I’d get really dark being out in the sun. People said I looked N.A. Indian. I mean, of course now that I’m NOT tan, the comment sounds a bit ludicrous but whatever man, it’s not like I’m lying. Anyway, John’s never let me live that one down. And actually, when I met the guy for the interview, the first thing he said was, “Yeah, you look totally Chinese to me.” Well gee, sorry to disappoint. Whatever. It shouldn’t even be relevant, but you asked and I told the truth: that’s what other people have said. Needless to say, I didn’t get the job. And to make matters worse, he asked if John wanted to teach. Apparently his client’s only prerequisite is white skin. No teaching experience? No problem. Nice.
Of late, I’ve been getting these ethnicity questions again. Cabbies. Salon people. Classmates. Random people in the elevator. I just want to know what it is that throws them off? Is it the Chinese face and the native English. I mean, hello? Chinese are all over the damn world… it’s not that difficult to fathom overseas-born Chinese! Or maybe it’s the Chinese face coupled with the stilted Mandarin? Like the Mandarin isn’t exactly local but it’s also not completely foreign. I don’t know. Half the time, I don’t even speak. Beats the hell out of me. All I know is people give me very confused looks. What’s puzzling them? I’m not that difficult to figure out. Really. My blog is public after all.