Prima Facie

Posted: August 18, 2015 in Lucas Nguyen
Tags: ,

Yo, I was at a party and like this woman came up and said ‘now don’t be offended’, and I guess that should’ve been as loud a herald as those trumpeters announcing guests, except her herald was announcing, TOOT TOOT Something Offensive This Way Comes (But Don’t Complain About It When It Does), and then she said something to me in Korean.

I responded, “I don’t understand.”

Then she said, “Then the answer would have been ‘no’, because I just asked if you were Korean.” It turned out that this woman, whose name may have been something like MJ (from what I could gather from the nametag she had), was learning Korean and was hoping to practice.

When I told her I was Vietnamese, she said, “Well, you look more Korean than Vietnamese, so.”

It led me to think of this: What is anyone trying to prove in their attempts to identify Asian races? That you’re more aware than people who just think we’re either Chinese or Japanese? I have one really good idea of how you identify an Asian person’s race: you ask them. Don’t try to identify for us who we are based on what you think we should look like.

And when you (blindly) get it right, does it make you feel a lot better about yourself? You tuck that little instance away in your brain, fit it into whatever part of your identity that makes you A Good And Aware Person, and give yourself some more cash in your I Can Identify An Asian account so you can withdraw from it when you look at another Asian person and tell them what you think they are?

Oh, and if you don’t feel comfortable just straight up asking an Asian, “What’s your race?” obviously you don’t have to ask. And if you don’t feel comfortable asking, then don’t try to identify us without asking.

There’s a very good reason why it seems so very hard to “identify” us, because there’s no good reason you should be able to.

Oddly, it’s not the first time someone has confused me for Korean. Many people who first meet me think I am Korean, before they find out I am not. Someone I worked with for an entire season at Delaware Theatre Company thought I was Korean. I guess I’m supposed to apologize that I look like the wrong Asian or something?

Oh, I’m sorry it’s so hard for you to “tell us apart.” It must be so hard to be so Aware of Things, but then Koreans like me make it difficult for you by being Not Korean, which you fairly expected me to be based on the few Koreans you met or thought you met. I’m really sorry about that. I’ll try to look more Vietnamese in the future, so you don’t feel embarrassed when I make you or your friends think I look Korean, only to use my Asian cunning and turn around and tell you that I am Vietnamese.

So sorry.

I mean, she didn’t even ask me my name first.


lucasLucas Nguyen is a Vietnamese-American man who was raised around Galveston, Texas and now lives in West Philadelphia.

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