I experience acts of racist stupidity on an infrequent basis enough to lull me into a false sense of security, but frequently enough to remind me that I belong in the Other category. The category where I have to defend my nationality and citizenship, despite being born in this country. The category that involves putting up with people who assume that I am a perpetual foreigner in my own home country.
Your English is so good. What’s your real name? How do you say this in Vietnamese? Have you ever been back? What are you? Where are you really from? I really love phở! You’re so exotic looking.
In the land of suburbia, people of color are outnumbered by White people. This leads to POC being some sort of weird novelty or “exotic” by stupid racist people’s terms. These questions are weirdly personal for someone to immediately ask upon meeting them. Regardless on how personal the questions are, they are ridiculous things to ask of someone. Do you ask these questions if the person is White?
Coming back to a question of “Have you ever gone back?” What are you trying to imply? There is no going back to. I was born in this country. I cannot physically go back into my mother’s womb.
Of course, we all know what the question really means. It basically means, you are not of here and what spit of land did you crawl from?
I have gone to Vietnam and during the entire three weeks I spent there I felt mostly absolute misery. My body made for harsh East Coast winters and little sunshine was not built for the humid tropics.
Being gawked at by my relatives like I was a zoo animal on display was not high on my list of things I want to do. I was pale and covered in mosquito bites. My twelve year old self towered over all of the grown women there. I spoke in terribly American accented Vietnamese.
The constant guilt of living in a developed nation things like like hot water and freedom of speech did not ease any anxiety I had. Food poisoning, skin reactions, and being eaten alive by mosquitoes added more to the DO NOT WANT list.
I felt mute in a country where the secret police still existed. My terrible Vietnamese limited any sort of communication I had with anyone. I felt isolated. My English speaking cousins did not understand my need to not be constantly stimulated by constant yelling. There was no such thing as quiet. I was on edge and ready to snap from the nonstop noise.
I may have been too young to appreciate the experience but I hated it. So yes, I have gone back and it was terrible.
I did not belong in Vietnam and I am reminded that I am not welcomed here either.