In addition to getting ni hao’d earlier this week while trying to buy a chocolate bar (should’ve gone for an apple, I guess) and then being asked to explain why I didn’t speak Chinese, today a guy pulled me over while I was waiting on my bike at a red light and asked if I wanted to hang out with him because he liked my eyes. We talked for a bit, I missed my green light, he asked some invasive questions about my facial paralysis. But it was when he said, “So where are you…your parents from?” that I decided I’d had enough. I said “They’re from Canada,” shook his hand, and biked off.
I’m done with this. On my ride home, I fumed and planned to make pamphlets with my family’s immigration history and give them to strangers who asked, because clearly they’re not interested in interacting with me as a human anyway. But now I’m thinking a business-sized card would suffice: “WHY DO YOU EVEN CARE?” And to be clear, I have had good, interesting “where are you from” conversations before - with white people, even - and I myself am interested in these things too, both as someone with mixed-culture, mixed-immigration heritage and as someone who studied sociolinguistics (I mean, that whole thing is basically “what language did your parents speak and why do you speak this way”). But I know better than to ask it of a stranger under the guise of getting to know them better, when I’m really just collecting data or satisfying my own personal curiosity, an interaction out of which they get nothing but the discomfort of being reduced to an anecdote. And my immigration history is fairly recent, too. I can’t even conceive the indignity of having family roots here from before your grandparents were even born, sometimes with ridiculous pains taken to establish them, and still being asked, “What are you doing here?”
All this is to say I need to learn to say, “Fuck off, it’s none of your business.” My mother once got mad at me for sharing a private family story at a writing workshop for Asian youth, with fair reason that it was private. I understand that, but I wish that I had also grown up learning and internalizing that these private stories are okay in safe spaces (among family, or peers who have similar histories), but that not everybody deserves to hear them just because they ask. I want to teach this to any children I have, and maybe to my current relatives, too: You can’t stop it from happening, but you don’t have to put up with it.