By Alisa Tanaka, Guest Blogger
As I was waiting for the light rail on my way to work recently, an old Chinese woman came and sat next to me. She proceeded to start speaking to me in Mandarin, asking me if I was Chinese.
I said, "no" in English.
She asked me if I was Chinese again, this time in English.
I said, "no" in English again.
“Are you ABC (an acronym that I am assuming stands for American-born Chinese)?” she asked.
I said, "no" again.
She asked me a few questions about a cell phone that her son had recently purchased for her, none of which I knew the answer to. She thanked me for my time and walked off as the light rail rolled into the stop.
I tried to focus on something different: the cute dog I saw walking down the street, the audiobook I was listening to, the lyrics of the song that I chose to play when I couldn’t focus on Patti Smith’s voice as she narrated her memoir through my headphones…but my mind kept coming back to the conversation.
It took me a while to figure out why it made me angry. Normally it wouldn’t have; I have gotten questions about my background, since I understood that I didn’t look like a Barbie. Customers ask me where I’m from all the time. Some of them are surprised when I respond in unaccented English. It surprises Japanese customers even more when I answer their questions in their native language.
It bothered me because this perfect stranger saw me, judged me, and made a choice to come speak to me. She made that judgment based on one thing: the fact that I looked Chinese.
I’ve since come to terms with the fact that no one is above being judged; within seconds of looking at (or talking to) someone, we judge them. We judge them on what they wear, how they talk, what they choose to share…you get my drift.
I don’t know what sort of opinion this old lady formed of me during our short conversation. But I do know that the opinion she formed of me does not mean that I am who she thinks I am. She could have thought that I was lying; she could have thought that I was a traitor to the homeland.
But I know that I have no control over the opinions she formed of me. Those are within her control, formed from her experiences and beliefs.
But the one thing that gave me comfort and helped me move forward was the knowledge that she doesn’t know me.
The opinions other people have of us are a reflection of them, not of ourselves. We make the CHOICE to form certain opinions of certain people based on what WE see. The people we judge are not who we think they are. And you (yes, you, the person reading this right now) are not the opinion of someone who doesn’t know you. (Thanks for that little tweet, by the way, Taylor Swift).
So thank you, little Chinese lady at the light rail, for giving me a wonderful reality check.
Let's chat! Have you ever been judged based on your appearance? How did it effect you?? Share with us here!
While the phrases “passionate mental health advocate,” “bilingual college graduate” or “confused 20-something” would all be accurate ways to sum Alisa up, she doesn’t want to settle for just one of them. When she’s not working, she dreams of traveling the world (having already traveled to/lived in China, Japan, Ireland, England, and Australia), writes her blog, plays with her puppy, watches copious amounts of Netflix documentaries, and curls up with a cup of tea and a good book.
image via the centerforchange.org